Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Instant or Percolated?

Long day at the office again (boss is out of town - guess who gets to fill in?) - so my apologies on the hour, and no clue as to what the length will be.

Saw this post on Mlive this evening and thought it was great:

Posted by stickety on 03/18/08 at 3:16PM
Rod went 7-9 with Matt Millen as his GM.
That's the equivalent of a 14-2 season with a competent GM.
That explains the LOVE for Rod...

Considering Millen's history, just struck me as hilarious and a perfect explanation as for why Rod is getting so much respect around the league still.

On to the title: Instant or Percolated? Rod's comment on coffee has the Lions fans abuzz about the fact that Rod doesn't expect the Lions to be good for 5 -10 years, with many dropping the 5 and just going with 10 -- and then asking why he thinks he'll be around that long. I was an English and Communication double minor in college, so I thought it would be fun to examine the quote in question, and logically examine the overall meaning and intent of the statement. Seriously good stuff in there.

First off, lets examine his analogy as that - a way to simplify and explain a complicated topic by comparing it to a familiar one. First, I will start with the actual quote. (I know that is not considered proper journalism in this day and age, but I'm not a journalist, and I'm more than a little old-school at times.)

"It might seem crazy, but I'm looking at this team five or 10 years down the road, and it is filled with good young players from the draft," he said. "I'm percolating coffee here. I'm not making instant."

False assumption #1: He does not say, or even infer, that the Lions will not win for 5 -10 years. He just says that in 5 -10 years he is envisioning a team that is mostly comprised of its own draft picks, versus mostly comprised of free agents. For current examples, it would be like Indianapolis versus Denver (draft picks vs FA roster), or GB versus Wash.

He prefaces the first phrase "it might seem crazy" because Lions fans are used to seeing draft picks leave to fail elsewhere either before or after their initial contract is up. My interpretation of this is "Listen, your drafts were total crap for 5 years before I got here (and it could be argued 5 years before that), so while you're not used to seeing intelligent drafting, it can be done in Detroit and I know what kinds of players I need to draft in order for them to be successful here for the team in the long term picture to become and remain competitive."

This also inherently implies that the Lions are going to do a better job of drafting to fill the positions of both current and future need on the team, so that they have not only a core, but the majority of their roster filled with players they have drafted and developed specifically for the Detroit Lions. If this seems to be the way Indianapolis does things, it's because IT IS. They draft for a need a year or two before a hole will appear, so a guy is there ready to step up, and has had time to learn and adjust. This is how Marinelli learned to build a team under Dungy, and that is how he is planning to build his team. Lets not forget that Marinelli has a SB Ring (with Tampa) and knows what it's like to be there, and how to get there.

The implications that the Lions had/were changing their draft strategies first started appearing early in the season, and came out even more during the losing streak, and then heading into the off season. At one point, Millen came out and acknowledged that Rod Marinelli had changed the way they looked at the draft. Essentially, he intimated that WCF (and thus Millen) had placed the major emphasis of research and drafting on who had the most talent and athleticism, and choosing the BPA. But they did not put much consideration into the character traits. Rod has pushed that the first thing is football character, work ethic, and love of football. And then pick the most talented men off that list.

No matter the field, a person with a little less talent and a lot more drive will go much further than the guy with the best talent, but no motivation. It may sound elemental, but looking at the history of the Draft as a whole, you will see teams that make the character mistake time and time again because they are lured by the "what if" of potential. For every character questions guy that succeeds, 3 times as many bust spectacularly, and at least twice that never live up to the dreaded "P" word, and end up at the same or lower level as the less talented, more motivated players.

Now, the second half of the phrase drew more one liner quick jabs, but is less obvious in some of its meanings, and, IMHO, more important than the first. To begin with, if you don't drink coffee, or never have, then you will not understand this at all. Just a warning.

I've been a habitual coffee drinker since the age of 12. (Seriously) I started out with instant coffee because its, well, instant and I was 12. Powder, water, drink, done. Quick, easy. But the quality...well, lets just say that if you don't care what crap you drink so long as it is caffeinated, then Instant is fine. Or in a pinch.

The difference between instant and percolated coffee (done right) is the difference between boxed wines at the grocery mart, and an aged French Merlot...Budweiser in a can and a premium Lager fresh from the tap.

Instant coffee is putting powder in a cup, and trying to get it to dissolve together. If it isn't right, you throw in some more powder, and hope it helps. (it usually doesn't) -- then you try adding things like creamers and sugars, and french vanilla creamers hoping it helps more. In the end, you still can tell that those not-quite dissolved particles are there. It doesn't mesh.

Brewing a good pot of coffee (percolating it) involves getting the right mix of coffee blend(s) in the filter, and then methodically adding the water to bring out the flavoring you desire. It takes more planning, more patience, and more time. But in the end, you have a base that is a cohesive whole, and has a much better, much more directed flavor than instant.

There are other interesting Rod Marinelli beliefs in there as well. A team is made up of individuals, but individuals don't always make a team. A player is like a cup of coffee - a team is like a pot of coffee. How many times have you ever made a pot of instant coffee. It just doesn't work out. To make a halfway decent CUP of instant coffee isn't too hard -- but to fill a pot of coffee - a roster - and get something that is good is a much different proposition. Denver has been using FA to make up for poor drafting for a few years, and it finally really caught up to them last year. Baltimore, same thing. Atlanta as well. Rod knows that making a flash in the pan can be done instantly (maybe) under the right circumstances, but that the team will be worse off in the long run. (salary cap, lack of youth, dependence on overpaying FA)

Oakland went to the Super Bowl on a roster of mostly FA and guys at the end of their career. They have a worse record than the Lions in the time since. It worked one year, and then collapsed. Rod knows that in the salary cap era a team as talentless as the Lions were when he arrived cannot be fixed in one, two, or even just three off seasons. It takes time.

I've seen many comments about how teams "turn it around" from lousy to contender in one or two seasons. BULL. If you look at those teams, they started putting the core pieces in place earlier, and started making the more high-profile moves in the latter stages of the process--when they begin to really improve and other teams and the media finally take notice of what is going on. But they never seem to look back. I am going to look into and prove my point with a post or two on some of these "miracle" teams -- how they got there, how long they stayed, and how they did it.

While to each their own, I'll take a brewed pot of coffee any day. And in case you are wondering, but the time I was 13 I was getting up early so I could put on a fresh pot of coffee every day. I even saved up my own money and bought a 4 cup coffee pot -- because nothing beats a nice fresh pot of well brewed coffee -- and if Rod brews a good team for the Lions, not many teams will beat them either.


Mark in AZ said...

Well said and totaly agree. To all that agree or disagree see the Red Wings for slow brewing and drafting as well as the Colts and Patroits(hate them) for instant see the Yankees and imo Saints. Very well thought out. Go lions.

Anonymous said...

I love the analysis and couldn't agree more. I think one other subtle message he's trying to get across is that this tendency to sign Tampa Bay players is a short term solution and his true solution is going to be finding players through the draft.


JJLions20 said...

I think you over analyzed this one my friend. He was simply saying he's having a little patience, and he is building thru the draft. The team will be built to be competitive for many years. Then he doesn't plan on trading Roy because he thinks between Roy and CJ they can create real problems for a defense. It's pretty simple. I don't think Rod writes out speeches and dissects his words before speaking. PS, what he didn't say was that if he thinks they can be so dynamic, then not using them in that way must have been a big mistake. Maybe that was the falling out with Martz just as much as the running the ball issue.

DetFan1979 said...

LOL - jjlions20, that is why I prefaced the entire thing with "I was an English minor..."

I once had to write a 4 page research paper on a Haiku involving Swan dung. Not Kidding.

It was an excuse to look at what he was saying, and get in some Lions where the team is headed analysis. I use a lot of metaphors and analogies to help explain concepts to my customers.

Rod is first and foremost a teacher of football, and while it is true that he likely isn't conciously thinking about it anymore, looking at his phrases can be fun for just that reason. He is letting us look for the meaning behind what he is saying;

With exploration comes understanding, grasshopper.

Thanks for the comments guys!

I also totally agree with streetworm that I missed his implication that taking TB is a short term step in a long term solution.

jjlions - didn't catch the Martz mis-use inference, but going back and reading the article, you are right on -- big indictment of Martz there, and some food for thought as well.

jreffy said...

To turn around a team in any sport is the same across any competitive level . If you're the coach of a High School football team that has a long tradition of being at the bottom of the conference, the first thing you do is try and break the "losing" mentality of that team. You do this by recruiting and playing the kids who bust their butt every play, and always show up with a positive and hard-working attitude.

This is what Pope Marinelli has been doing. He is bringing in those "football guys". He has got to know that the Detroit fanbase is one of the most negative out there, and in order to break that, he has to get players who aren't affected by it. I think this is what happened with S. Rogers at times, especially the 2nd half of a season.

Rod's got the right idea. Don't necessarily draft the "A+" athletes. DetFan said, potential is such a dangerous word, and he couldn't be more right. How many times do we see teams taking players with "tremendous upside". I can hear Kiper saying that in my head already. I'd rather take a guy with very little upside, but who has, and will continue, to work himself into the ground. I think this is what Rod is doing, fans just need to be a little patient (2-3 years) to really start seeing the payoff.

CHIEFGER139 said...

hes looking long term as well as the short term-but it does make you wonder if he doesnt expect much this year-theres too much to do and we need patience. myself-im expecting something better this year-not a superbowl but possibly a winning team or a playoff team. i think if they were looking long term only they wouldnt of bothered getting darby or kelly either one and just would of went young guys period. thats my hope anyway-ive been bragging these guys up so much im gonna get hammered big tim if they pull off a 3win or less season.

Anonymous said...

There was no over-analysis. There is much power and value in subtleties of what is said and not said. (Body language says even more).

If you look at the greats,(Bo, Lombardi, Tom Osborne) the first thing they did is change the culture. Hard workers get playing time, etc. Then, they can implement their system. College works quicker than the NFL because of contracts, caps, etc. Look at some of the unknown colleges like UCF and West Virginia. Nationally repected programs have bloomed from nowhere because of their coaches.

That is why CJ had to "earn playing time". There was no doubt that he was the most talented receiver. There was no doubt he still needed to learn plays. But he still was shown the need to work hard and "earn time".

I do not believe Rod writes out speeches, either. That is why his words are even MORE powerful and insightful. It gets to the core value or his "ethos" of belief because it comes off the cuff from his heart. When coaches (good coaches) listen to other coaches, the same core values keep coming out and keep gettting preached. Every person has a few sayings they use, and repeat them when they lack for thought provoking ideas. (EXAMPLE: Kid says, "But I want that." RESPONSE: "I don't care what you want..I care what you need." A tag I learned from my Grandpa. These saying Rod has is just that, learned responses that teach what is in his core.

I've said before, the reason you bring in those veteran guys (the Former Bucs) is to mentor. It's to change the culture. It's to change the locker room. No more defeatest attitudes. It's to be a positive role model OUTSIDE of work-off duty. They will bond and bring cohesion when the young guys are away from the coaches.

Marinelli isn't giving up on shit; either. He's not saying "We're three years away." Every step is important, and if you're saying you're three years away...why start walking. Marinelli knows that with a little luck, they can sneak into the playoffs this year and get a taste. Then it's a Championship appearance, then Super Bowl. They started to catch that swagger last year. (After Denver they started saying they were disrespected). They started hunting and weren't the hunted. They were able to dominate a team for the first time in a LONG time (Dnever). They were able to keep a team circling around the drain, then slam the toilet seat on their neck (Bears-twice). Last year was only disappointing because of how hot they started. If the Lions would've started 1-7 and finished 6-2; we'd all be jacked up waiting for the off-season to end.


CHIEFGER139 said...

from rods letter to ticket holders
"I believe the changes we have made in our coaching staff will positively compliment our talent, and with some key free agent additions and another successful draft, there is no reason why we should not be in position to compete for a playoff berth in 2008."

well they got the free agents so i hope he holds true to shooting for that playoffberth