Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Chess or Speed Chess?

A little while back, there was a very good article on MVN - LionsDen that talked about Rod as a great coach. Of course, there were some very defined qualifiers that pointed something out that was much more detailed, and less banal, than going "peter principle."

The "Peter Principle" is a fairly pessimistic theory which indicates that people rise to the level of their own incompetence. Now, I'm not that pessimistic. I look at the Peter Principle and point out this one fact: In most cases, you don't know what you can do until you try. Would Rod Marinelli be able to make the transition from position coach to head coach? There looked to be potential, but there was no way to tell until you gave him a shot.

The skill sets of an NFL assistant coach and those of an NFL head coach are very similar - enough so that one often leads to the other, but success at one does not preclude failure at the other. The biggest difference is that assistant coaches are all about practice -- whereas the head coach is about coordination, overall goal/focus, and in-game adjustments.

Rod is a practice coach. Pure and simple. He motivates "his guys" to practice hard, and on a smaller scale, to play hard. Joe Barry is very similar. But, on game day is where the Lions on the field have shown the difference between practice and games. Especially the coaching staff.

As the season has worn on, the Lions are doing well to start out -- the pre-planning is excellent, and they have tuned into what the other team is going to start out with. However, as soon as the other team starts to make even minor adjustments, the Lions coaching staff as a whole is unable to come up with changes to make in game. It's not that they don't want to make changes, they just don't know which changes to make. They don't know which plays to call.

After watching film, with 20/20 hindsight, they realize what they should have done and try to adjust accordingly -- for the next game. Unfortunately, opposing teams see the same thing and can often predict the adjustments the Lions will make (since they are perpetually a week behind) and plan for them.

I am immediately reminded of John Ritter's character in the movie (or play) "Noises Off" [If you have not seen it, it has Michael Cain, John Ritter, and Christopher Reeves among others and is a hilarious film]. In the movie, he is a very good actor -- but when not following a script he is totally incapable of finishing a sentence. For instance, at one point he needs to say "open the door, the handle has fallen off on this side" -- but, he says "Just open the... turn the thingy.... the thing has come off of the ...just, you know.... you know the thing you need to you know...." etc.

This is was all I could see as the 4th quarter was progressing and I was listening to the game on the radio. John Ritter bumbling around unable to figure out how to say what he wanted to say because he didn't have a script. Knowing what you want to do, executing a play, and knowing which play to call are all entirely different things. Sure - you want to pick up 4th and 1. But a draw play into the ought-to-be-suspended Williams Wall? ?????? With Daunte "I've already missed 2 QB sneaks already" Culpepper? There are a lot of ways to pick up a yard without doing a run up the middle when you have no power to your running game. (see: Panthers-Bucs on MNF last night for examples of both alternatives, and true power running)

This brings me to my next point, and the title of this article: Chess Vs Speed Chess.

In the movie "Independence Day", at the beginning of the film, Jeff Goldblum's character is talking with his father as they play chess - a timed match. In timed chess, you have a set amount of time to make your move and as soon as you complete it, hit the timer starting the next person's turn. "I can beat anyone" he says "as long as they are on the clock. Lots of people think they are good, but put them on the clock and all bets are off. They can't handle it." At this point, Jeff Goldblum says "checkmate" and essentially shows he is better on the clock.

Rod Marinelli may be a master of chess. He can, I am sure, break down film and see some weaknesses and may even be able to set up a plan of attack. In chess, there are a limited number of moves for the first turn. Each turn, as you factor in the opponents moves and possible moves, along with your possible moves and each permutation the numbers are too much for even the best minds to track. However, with unlimited time to make each move one can study, predict, and look over their choices before making a move. In practice and planning, there is plenty of time to discuss why to either make or not make a certain call in a certain situation.

But what is nearly impossible to plan for is how each player is playing, how the other team is reacting...momentum, confidence - the human elements. There is also the factor of needing to dial in a play NOW. There is no time for discussion and debate -- teams don't have enough time-outs. Rod can plot, but not call. Coletto can put together a decent simple plan, but is not good at knowing what to call when he has to do it NOW.

Just like in speed chess -- the grand master doesn't have hours to contemplate the scenarios and possibilities stemming from his move. He has to make one NOW. It involves going with his gut and knowledge of both the game, and his opponent.

On the football field, add in knowledge of your own players, and what they can do at that time. What is the message your play call is sending to your players?

There is a psychological as well as technical aspect. The Lions coaching staff may talk a good game when there is no pressure, but when the timer is on...they fold.

Football can be called a chess match, but only if you are talking about speed chess. Because the pressure is on and moves are immediate - there is time for contemplation and planning before -- but not during. And after, as the soon to be 0-16 Lions have demonstrated, is much too late.


CHIEFGER139 said...


Isphet said...

Lol Chief, i had heard that rumor but couldn't find anything actually written about it except on mlive.

If it's really true; I'm not even sure what to think about it. I might lose all hope for the Lions; or I might not.

DetFan1979 said...

Chief - I've seen no corroboration yet other than stories citing the original Canadian piece.

I disagree with the Roy trade as "proof" Millen is still calling the shots. That was actually more than value for Roy, and a Millen move would have been turning it down!

Besides, the Lions don't need Millen to be calling the shots -- they have his players, coaches, and personnel on hand to continue the momentum long enough to go 0-16. After last week, even I'm having a hard time seeing them win any game this year whether I want them to or not.

Right now, I would chalk up the Millen rumor as just that - a rumor started by one guy tossing something out there as what appeared to be an afterthought into a routine column.

minker said...

Great article DetFan. This really explains a lot. So many people in the press and television have talked about how good the Lions look in practice and how bad they look on the field. It also explains why they tend to fall apart after halftime adjustments-the ones the other team makes.

DetFan, if this is really what's going on, who would you suggest for the coaching staffs (offense and defense) that would be considered speed chess players?

Joe Willy said...

I've pretty much said the same thing in comments to Killer's articles. I think Rod's a good teacher but he is just too conservative and predictable in a league of advanced chess players. That's why I think Martz helped this team. That's why I have no sympathy for Rod in this debacle- how many capable coordinators and coaches did he fire? How many Pro Bowlers on the D?