Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Captain Queeg?

A couple weeks back, Hobbes stopped by and left a comment that 1) quoted the following passage--
When Chizik told the players he inherited that he wasn't going to come down to their level, his legacy of all-hat-no-cattle sound bites was in motion. Few of those players had ever been part of anything as wretched as the two seasons Chizik presided over. He'd have been fortunate to have them bring him up to their level. And when he made the players spend 20 minutes of the first spring practice of 2007 precisely lining up their helmets, you wondered if a real life Captain Queeg hadn't taken over the ISU football program.
--from that widely read no-punches-pulled takedown of Chizik at the Iowa St. Rivals site 2) finished by saying "Nothing Chizik says or does re: spring sounds any different from what he did at ISU."

This was a bone-chilling comment to read, in part because at this point it really is awful hard to tell what changes Chizik's made to his personal approach from his arrival in Ames to his arrival on the Plains ... and in part because I realized I couldn't place the "Captain Queeg" reference and was in danger of having my English Geeks of America membership revoked. Turns out Captain Queeg is the obsessive, paranoiac captain of the U.S.S. Caine in The Caine Mutiny. From the Wikipedia article:
Another episode which highlights Queeg's behaviors occurs when a quart of strawberries vanish from the wardroom icebox. Remembering how he helped solve a mystery involving a similar theft when he was an ensign earlier in his career, Queeg attempts to recreate his former accomplishment by insisting the strawberries were pilfered by a crewmember with a duplicate key. Queeg orders every key on the ship collected, and a thorough search made. During the search, the captain is confronted with evidence that the messboys ate the strawberries. Queeg loses all enthusiasm for the search, though he orders it to continue, and it is continued in a desultory way amid public mocking of the captain.
Now, let me preface the rest of this post with the following: Gene Chizik has done precious little--if anything--wrong since being hired as the Auburn head coach. His assembled staff is light-years better than most Auburn fans expected and just about as good as we could have possibly imagined. He's evinced a genuine sense of affection for and gratitude towards Auburn, both the school and the community. His Signing Day haul was genuinely inspiring given the many, many factors working against him. More than anything, he's instilled a sense of confidence and hope around the program I for one hadn't expected to feel for a much, much longer period of time.

But there are still, of course, a ton of "buts," and one of the them was how violently disliked Chizik seemed to be at ISU. It's one thing for a coach leaving for a bigger and better job--especially after leaving the previous one in worse shape than he found it--to come in for some bitterness and sniping, but the abuse heaped on Chizik by both the ISU media and his former players went far past hurt feelings. His critics there didn't just see him as a poor coach and a turncoat--they just didn't like the guy. Their complaints were personal as well as business. And that's troubling--it's not been my experience that football teams play their hardest for head coaches they don't respect.

The reports coming out of Auburn's spring practice don't completely explain how Chizik came to be so unpopular in Ames ... but they do maybe give us a starting point. Most players aren't going to take naturally to a rigid dress code, to rules about how neat a locker has to be, to an atmosphere revolving around the word "strict." Chizik has talked about how he wants his players to take a professional approach about playing for Auburn ... but don't we all want to have a little fun at our jobs? Don't we all want our bosses to treat us like responsible adults? I'm not saying Chizik's rules are aimed at squashing fun like some kind of Footloose-style dance ban or should make our players feel like children, but they don't exactly encourage the players to feel comfortable or at ease, either.

Certainly, the feedback to this point has been nothing but positive, and as long as Auburn wins, it'll stay that way. But players are always unhappy when their efforts in practice don't pay off in victories. If the extra effort to keep one's locker clean and check your cleats at the door and remember not to wear your lucky chain doesn't pay off, well, I'm guessing those are going to be the first things players question when they wonder why they're doing what they're doing. Really: what does not wearing an earring in the locker room have to do with winning football games? Win, and of course it has everything to do with winning. Lose, and that Caine Mutiny analogy starts hitting a lot closer to home.

Beyond that, what does it say about Chizik himself that he's worried about this level of detail? I understand the argument that you have to take care of the little things before you can worry about the big things, but there's also a point at which the little things are so little they're not worth worrying about, a point where you're so detail-oriented all you see are details. That story about Chizik spending 20 minutes of his first practice focusing on how the Cyclone's helmets should be lined up could be exaggerated or apocryphal ... but does it doesn't exactly clash with what we've seen from Chizik in Auburn, does it? If Chizik feels such an overwhelming need to be in control that he can't bring himself to tell reporters the scoring system for his team's scrimmages, much less let reporters watch said scrimmage, it's not so hard to see him taking up precious practice time slide-ruling those helmets into place, right?

And so I wonder. When things go wrong this season, and next--and things will go wrong, from time to time--how is Chizik going to respond? Is he going to continue to let the offensive and defensive coordinators do their jobs rather than jerking his knee and taking responsibility himself? Is he going to make adjustments that will help the team, or will he just demand that lockers be even neater, sideburns be even more neatly trimmed, helmets be even straighter? You can't be a good captain if you're wasting your time looking for a quart of strawberries, so to speak.

With all of that said: I don't think all this is going to be a big issue. I think Chizik has learned from at least some of his mistakes in Ames. I think Malzahn and Roof and Taylor and Luper and Rocker are smart enough to help keep the train on the tracks. I think the team is simply too talented to slip into 3-9, 2-10 despair. I don't think Chizik really is Captain Queeg.

But until the games start for real, can I help but wonder? Not yet, anyway.


easyedwin said...

JH, were you ever in the military? Boot camp was nothing but details. The reason is simple. Get your soldiers accostomed to blindly following orders. Once that is accomplished, the rest is easy (entering combat with killer instincts). We hated our DI at the beginning but would fight to the death for him at the end of boot.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Ed, no, I haven't served, and before anything else, thank _you_ for serving.

I definitely see what you're getting at, but I'm not sure the analogy holds. There's only one military, so there's no other military to compare your experience to, nowhere else to go if you don't like your experience, and the consequences for half-assing your way through things or ignoring orders because of low morale are, um, severe. In football, it's a sport these guys have played their whole lives for any number of coaches, the consequences for not falling in line are just losses, and if all else fails they can always transfer. I'm not sure there's as much to be gained by the boot camp approach in football as there is in the military ... and in any case, Iowa St.'s guys were most certainly not willing to go the extra mile for Chizik at the end.

SEC Homer said...

I am assuming he somewhat learned his lesson at ISU and will tone down some of the extreme analism(like the helmet thing). One thing I think you will be able to count on is that there will be no tolerance for on or off the field incidents. Hopefully the players will abide.

Michael said...

Hate is closer to love than indifference is.

tiger7_88 said...

Come on, Jerry? A whole column of "I'm not sayin'... I'm just sayin'..."? REALLY?

"I'm not saying things are BAD. No, look... good things! Things aren't bad! But... you know? Look at these SCARY BAD THINGS! Aren't you scared too? But I'm not saying things are bad! But are they?"

And oh, by the way... I was a military professional. Seven years as an officer in the Navy. And each and every young man who worked on that ship knew better than to be wearing "bling" when they crossed that quarterdeck. Or to be unkempt or look unprofessional. When they got out on the town outside of our direct supervision? Let it all hang out, brother. But on or near the command? You better act like and look like a professional.

Now I'm an I.T. professional. And if I come into the office wearing pants down around my knees and/or I leave my desk each and every day as a bug picnic, I'm likely to be one of the first ones out the door when it comes time for "downsizing", you know?

God forbid young men these days be required to show a little discipline and be provide a bit of structure in their everyday lives. What a horrible, horrible thing. God knows kids these days don't need THAT.

Nice job, Jerry. You nailed it.

(In the years I've been reading your awesome blog, I think this is one of the very few times that I have to say I couldn't disagree with you more.)

tiger7_88 said...

And am I mistaken or wasn't Iowa State trying to sign Chizik to an extension to his contract prior to Auburn stepping into the scene?

Jerry Hinnen said...

tiger7, yeah, the wishy-washy "I'm just sayin'" aspect of this post could be improved. I think the best way to describe my position is one of unease--if Auburn comes out this fall and wins, it's not going to be a big deal at all. If they lose, though, I think things could really unravel. I could have done a better job of straddling that line, I guess.

As for your other points, yes, ISU was trying to sign him to an extension, but that's pretty much standard operating procedure if they weren't planning on firing him.

And as with easyed, I see your point in trying to enforce some discipline/professionalism, and some of that is quite obviously necessary ... but I don't think it requires the level of discipline we're talking about here. In some ways college football is like the military or a business, but in an awful lot of ways it's not, too. Pete Carroll is probably the best possible example of someone who takes the exact opposite approach, and wouldn't it be nice to have his problems?

I don't blame anyone for taking the opposite position on this--and certainly, a little more discipline here and there on last year's team would have been a good thing. But I can't shake the feeling that head coach who thinks it's important to not tell the press what the scrimmage scoring system is probably thinks a lot of other things are important that frankly just aren't.

Anonymous said...

truly frightening. I haven't feared that things would turn out as bad for Chizik here as at ISU... until now.

Marcus said...

It's not like this sort of thing is foreign to the players. Aren't they required to wear suits for Tigerwalk? Well, maybe not. Still, their counterparts in the NFL are required to wear suits to the stadium before games (which to me is kinda stupid since they are in the public eye for like 2 minutes before changing for the game).
Why is that kind of analism okay but expecting a player to act the part of a representative of the school while in the athletic building not?
On the flipside, how ironic is it that our players are expected to look professional, yet Trooper runs around with a backward baseball cap? Now, I've been known to rock the backwards cap, but I also know that it makes me look like I'm 18 (well, at least like I'm trying to look like I'm 18) and I wouldn't do it anywhere that I was trying to present an image of maturity (such as my son's soccer game or at a company picnic or something).

Hobbes said...

Well let me say this about the military analogies. Football is not the military. Shug Jordan, who participated in amphibious landings in WW2 and Harold Hallman, who was in Navy ROTC while playing football at Auburn and went to Parris Island would probably both tell you that.

I was never in the military and never played football at Auburn or anywhere else after 2nd grade for that matter. But I do have a rather intimate knowledge of Auburn football during Pat Dye's first four years. I can't remember what Coach Dye's dress code was, but I am sure he had one. The reason I can't remember what it was is because it wasn't that damned important, and Coach Dye inherited a hell of a lot more discipline problems that Chiznick has.

And speaking of Coach Dye, in the video's I've watched, I've seen Chiznik spend more time on the field in those minutes interacting with players than I ever saw Dye in 2 three full spring trainings (when you could have essentially unlimited practice time) and four full football seasons.

So I am as equally non-impressed (and I say that instead of unimpressed) with Cheznick's hands on approach as I am with his disciplinary, attention to detail approach. Dye and Tubs both proved that being a hands off coach can lead to success.

Yeah, I'd like that players to get rid of the grills, and the flat brim sideways hats. But I wore some goofy stuff when I was college, too.

And the word from ISU is that despite Chiznick's sticking for detail, his sidelines were complete chaos, wasted times out, bad plays call, delay of game calls, etc.

BinOBA said...


Grotus' Acorn said...

First off, it can not be overstated how much I (we) appreciate all the coverage of spring ball. You know how, sometimes, you get so hungry that the very first bite of food makes your mouth hurt? Like that. Truly awesome.

That said: I have to put myself firmly in the "disagree" category.

I tend to agree with easyed and tiger7: God forbid a football team be required to exhibit discipline. Especially - painfully so - the post-2008 Auburn Tigers. Queeg's strawberries were a meaningless detail, but discipline for our football team is anything but meaningless. Auburn football is in a serious nadir. We've endured the season of DEATH. We've had our noses ground into the dirt by the Bammers. This is a genuine time of crisis, and in such crises the head coach has to assert control, and no detail can be overlooked until the ship is righted.

Moreover, Chizik is a head coach with a losing record. He has everything to prove and no time in which to do it. He's got to act fast and no opportunity to fine-tune his vision can be passed up. My guess is that he had to be in a similar mindset at the Iowa "perpetual crisis" State, which may help explain his nit-picking in Ames.

And lastly: being that a lack of discipline radiating down from the coaching staff was a key feature of Tuberville's late tenure, Chizik's style even serves to distinguish his reign from the failures of the past. War Eagle. I'm ready for our boys to be more than a herd of cats.

So, Chizik must at least begin his tenure as a hardass - for his own sake, for his team's sake, and for the fans' sake. Beginning this tenure as a micromanager is wise.

Now, that says nothing much about whether this is a bona fide tendency of Chizik's. Maybe it is. Maybe he's a raging control freak in his heart of clockwork hearts. But I don't necessarily see that as a problem. You bring up Pete Carroll as an example of the fun-lovin', loose 'n fast type who's enjoyed great success. And sure, it would be great to have Pete Carroll's problems. But it would be even better to have Jim Tressel's problems. Or Joe Paterno's. Or (AAAAUGGH IT BURRRNNNNSSS AAAAUGGH) Nick Saban's.

Let's not forget, either, that Chizik's detail fixation isn't nearly as bad as boot camp. No droves of ISU players chose earrings and unstraightened helmets over Chizik's Cyclone team. We are at Auburn. If kids will suit up as Cyclones to play for the guy, they'll certainly play for him at Big Blue.

As for the bitter residents of Ames, well, you said this:

His critics there didn't just see him as a poor coach and a turncoat--they just didn't like the guy. Their complaints were personal as well as business.

I don't put much stock in the personal complaints. After all, ISU was hoping to keep Chizik around, and the players were buying into Chizik's long-term goals for the program. Seems like they're more unhappy he bailed than anything. Besides, you know what they say about the first person to get personal...

Sullivan013 said...

Can't say I played football past high school, but did serve 22 years in the Army, from private to Major, where teamwork was a byword.

How do you instill it? The basic training analogies are misplaced. That process is to create the blank canvas from which you build a good soldier. The real training is at the unit, where micromanaging is minimized but a 'hands on' leadership is still required. The process is to establish a 'team culture' to match your team to your leadership style, within a given set of parameters. Despite the percieved rigid discipline of the military, leadership styles vary greatly from leader to leader.

Ever wonder why Tuberville separated the seniors and treated them differently (BBQs, seniors only meetings with the coach, etc.)? He was establishing the culture of his coaching, and enlisting players as junior leaders. His 'style' if you will was to grant some of his authority to these young men. For a great majority of his teams, that worked well, but I don't recall him doing that in the first few years - he hadn't established his team culture at that point. That came later.

It's my view that the culture for Chizik will be slightly different, but it is still evolving, and won't be fully in place for a couple of seasons. To expect what he is doing now as what he will do in the future is premature. Call it a 'familiarization process with his team, his players and his coaching staff. Once he feels comfortable that his philosophy is being instilled and his players and coaches 'get it', expect his days of 'on the field' coaching to diminish.

As for the ISU experience, every new lieutenant in the service can remember his biggest gaffe of the initial few months after assuming command of his first platoon. I'm pretty sure Patton, Eisenhower, and MacArthur had their share. Afterwards, though, they too learned their trade and did well.

Have patience. Like you said, he's made some astounding progress so far. Let the man coach his team and judge him based on what his young men do on the field of play over the next couple of seasons. Then you can be critical of his leadership style.


P.S. A slide rule was not used to measure distance, but to calculate equations.

Also, Captain Queeg was best portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in the movie 'The Caine Mutiny.'

Hobbes said...

If kids will suit up as Cyclones to play for the guy, they'll certainly play for him at Big Blue.
No one says the ISU players didn't play. At 5-19, they just didn't play very well. Or else winning Gene didn't coach very well. Or both.

And I must have missed that lack of discipline the past ten years you mentioned. Tub has his share of faults, but to accuse him of no discipline?

easyedwin said...

AND..............UAB is a mid-major!!!LMAO

Grotus' Acorn said...


No one says the ISU players didn't play.

Yes. However, I was responding to Jerry's implication that strict discipline would drive players from the team. I didn't see that happen at ISU. And considering the tradition of winning that Auburn enjoys (and that ISU does not,) it's my opinion that players will be more likely to stay with Auburn. Discipline alone is not enough to make players leave the Plains.

I must have missed that lack of discipline the past ten years you mentioned. Tub has his share of faults, but to accuse him of no discipline?

You're right, not all ten years of Tuberville's coaching tenure were marked by deteriorating discipline. But as I said, his late tenure was. Chop blocks. Infighting amongst the coaches. Strange personnel decisions. Poor fundamentals. Etc.

jd said...

If it makes you feel better, Jerry, two days later I agree with you. I'm nervous about Chizik. I'm worried he can't see the forest for the trees (or something like that). I'm worried he's missing the big picture and focusing too much on specifics. I've said all along that this Auburn team will only be as good as the level to which he allows his assistants to do their job. The more hands-on he is, I fear, the worse we are.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Awesome thread, guys. I'll do a Feedback-type response in, uh, response early next week.

Anonymous said...

Hobbes, how did you have time to write all of these posts and think up this many pseudonyms?

Anonymous said...

What do you think now?