Childress advised to watch his step
Posted on Mon, Sep. 11, 2006
[size=13pt]Childress advised to watch his step[/size]
NFL coaching legends offer Vikings rookie coach lessons learned from their first games. One tip: Don't trip.
BY DON SEEHOLZER
After eight seasons as an NFL assistant, Brad Childress makes his head-coaching debut tonight when the Vikings play the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. John Robinson, who coached the Los Angeles Rams from 1983-91, has one piece of advice:
Watch your step.
"It wasn't my first NFL game; it was my first UCLA game as head coach at USC (in 1976)," Robinson said. "I was running out in front of the team coming out of the tunnel. I was younger and more athletic in those days. Somebody clipped my heel and I went face down and the whole team ran over me."
Robinson scrambled to his feet before the last players passed and thought his mishap had gone unnoticed, until he got a postgame phone call from lifelong friend John Madden.
"We won the game to get in the Rose Bowl, and I thought he was calling to congratulate me," Robinson said. "Instead, he starts laughing and says, 'I saw what happened. You looked really bad.' "
If it means a victory for the Vikings, Childress might be willing to put up with a little Pamplona-style trampling tonight, but his Hall of Fame adversary said he won't be dispensing any pregame advice.
"As a matter of fact, I need to ask him a few things because he's definitely outcoached me (this preseason)," Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "I'd say, if anything, I need to be asking him. I think he's got his football team well under way, and we haven't."
Gibbs, entering the third season of his second stint with the Redskins, said he has only vague memories of his NFL head-coaching debut: a 26-10 loss to Dallas in 1981.
"I'd say other than throwing up on the sideline I can't remember much about it," he said. "I got off to a horrible start. I went 0-5 in my first stretch... . I don't know if I actually came to throwing up, but I couldn't have been more nervous. Of course, I'm going to be the same way on Monday night. You can count on it."
Jimmy Johnson, who spent nine seasons on the sidelines with Dallas (1989-93) and Miami (1996-99), said he wasn't nervous for his NFL head-coaching debut, but only because he didn't know any better.
"We were extremely optimistic," he said. "In my last four years of college coaching (at the University of Miami), we'd only lost two regular-season games, so I had a false sense of security. I put a lot of emphasis on preseason that year, and we went 3-1. Then all of a sudden the regular season started, and we realized that we weren't real good."
Starting with a 28-0 loss at New Orleans, Johnson lost his first eight games with the Cowboys and suffered through a 1-15 rookie season, but three years later he won the first of back-to-back Super Bowls.
If he could give Childress one piece of advice, it would be to stick to the basics.
"Coaches too many times want to out-think and out-scheme the opponent," Johnson said, "which is doable once you get into the season and your players have their basic fundamentals down. Especially when you're playing rookies and new players, you really have to keep it simple early in the year because mistakes are what beat you. I would say overemphasize the special teams and keep your offensive and defensive schemes simple."
If Johnson could give Childress one more piece of advice, it would be not to get too carried away with the outcome of this first game, win or lose.
"Because it is a long season," Johnson said. "Especially for a new coach, they sometimes live and die with that one game. If you take a loss too hard, it can carry over into the next week in dealing with your players. And by the same token, if you get infected with too much optimism with a win, you're going to have a setback pretty soon. So try to stay on an even keel, regardless of what the outcome of this game is."
Marv Levy, who coached Buffalo to four Super Bowl appearances from 1986-97 after five years in Kansas City (1978-82), said he spontaneously came up with his trademark, "Where would you rather be than right here, right now?" pregame speech on the sideline before his first game as a head coach, for the University of New Mexico.
His advice for Childress?
"Keep your eyes on the target, the opponent," Levy said. "My best advice, and Brad's probably already done this, is just prepare so darn well that you can go out there on game day and enjoy it. I used to tell my players: 'You don't get paid for the games. You get paid for the practices you go through to prepare for the games.' Monday night is a little unusual for a debut, but you just have to immerse yourself in the moment."
In other words, enjoy it while you can. Because as soon as the game is over, Robinson said, the real work begins.
"I remember reading a quote from Bear Bryant where he said the most important time for a head coach is the second the gun goes off and you're walking off the field," he said. "You've got to make a plan right then about how you're going to deal with the team and the press, how you're going to set the tone for the next week. There's no time when the focus is on the head coach more than right then."
Unless he happens to get run over while jogging onto the field, that is.
Don Seeholzer can be reached at [email protected]
Re: Childress advised to watch his step
The game is time to execute what you learned.
The first game of the season is always a time of optimism and it seems like the holidays as a child. Game-time is finally here.