When you go in the lion's den, you don't tippy toe in — you carry a spear, you go in screaming like a banshee, you kick whatever doors in, and say, 'Where's the SOB?' -- Brian Billick, former Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens
I was reading something the other day from Brian Billick (who is now a FOX Sports football analyst) and I came across the quote above. I remember when he said it, it was 2000, the year the Ravens won the Superbowl. They had just beaten the heavily favored Tennessee Titans in Tennessee in the playoffs and a reporter asked him in the press conference why Billick was so confident they would beat the favored Titans. That's when he replied with the now famous quote: "When you go in the lion's den..."
It's still smack dab in the middle of the summer but I'm already jacked up about the upcoming seasons for both football and basketball. The school I am at has a storied basketball tradition and our Varsity team is touted as a pre-season championship contender. By contrast, the Varsity football team (relatively new, in year five) graduated most of the talent and is predicted to finish dead last in our division, the prep beat writer wrote in his preseason predictions that we would be lucky to survive the season. What's interesting is people think that it must be weird to have the two opposing set of expectations. I tell them the expectation for both is the same, to get into the playoffs and win a championship.
As coaches, there's always talk about what makes a championship team, or how to turn around a struggling program. By moving around and being a part of both rebuilding programs, and championship teams, I've seen what has worked, what hasn't, and I've had many chances to reflect on these ideas. There is one commonality regardless of the situation you find yourself in. As a coach, you must never compromise your expectations; you have to set high standards and commit yourself fully to achieving them. Coaches lead, and players get their confidence from us as coaches, and they lose it just as easily from us as coaches as well. If you're going to stand in front of all of your players before a game, before a season and say "lets just try to survive out there", or "I think we have an OK shot at winning," what kind of message do you think you are sending your players. You've already thrown up the white flag before the fight.
As a teacher, I've had the similar opportunity to teach in both public and private schools. Last year, I taught at a prep school which boasted a 100% university admission rate, and was ranked as one of the top high schools in the country. People always think that prep school kids are smarter, or more studious than public school kids, that it's a matter of money and genetics. That's a load of BS. There is one singular difference between private and public, successful and unsuccessful -- level of expectations. Prep school kids (and their parents) expect their kids to go to college and get good jobs. The kids at public schools who have similar expectations do just as well. The kids (and their parents) who have low expectations achieve what they aim for, mediocrity or lower.
Back to coaching to close. Some of you are probably reading this and are skeptical. You say, "yah, but Coach, we're just not a good team this year". The question I ask you is this: Did your preparation change as a coach when you were a "good" team? Do you take your foot off the pedal because the team you have this year isn't a "championship contender"? Winning is hard, winning championships is even harder -- a lot of things have to fall into place and a lot of things are out of your control. I get that, we all do. But you are in control of how you plan and prepare for your season, and each game. A coach is a leader, and part of being a leader is to set the expectation. As your seasons approach, I ask you to assess and evaluate your expectations of your own teams? What kind of signals are you giving to your players? Coaches, I'm asking you to stop tippy-toeing and kick that freakin' door in.