Scripting a Winning Season
THE Dallas Cowboys set a new pace for turnaround time with their Super Bowl victory. From a single season victory four years ago to the championship now, Dallas under coach Jimmy Johnson made itself into the youngest and fastest team with bold trades and a steady focus. He developed precision pass patterns and a bone-crushing defense.
Other teams will be looking at how Dallas did it. The coming era of free agency already will lead to more players shuttling everywhere. Added to the example of Dallas's new owner Jerry Jones, who brought a culture of risk and change to Dallas in approving 46 trades, greater emphasis will likely be placed on management and coaching style and less on individual stars.
As sports holds a mirror to society, nonsports organizations - at least those of a masculine model - will also be studying Dallas's turnaround. Already many businesses are unloading workers or shifting to more flexible and mobile units. Industry is, in its own way, shifting to a younger work force, with less institutional commitment and greater focus on the activities at hand. Leaders who hold to the way they've done things are being displaced at the blue-chip companies. The American economy is getting m ore competitive again.
Not all groups or institutions have competitive seasons. How do schools compete, for instance? How does a city compete? A church denomination? A theater company? A household? These compete mostly against themselves, and for self-improvement rather than in comparison with others. What skills and style will help them most?
One need is for a self-replenishing aim or goal. The "season's" purpose should reflect a congruence between individual and collective progress. A franchise disintegrates under the conflict of competing egos. The leader must have the wisdom and strength to bring individual talents, which can get wayward under the heat of competition, into a single flow or focus. There is no one way to do this. But steadily each "coach" must eliminate the mental lapses and the disinclination to pay attention that lead to m istakes under pressure.
In winning sports programs today, seasons are scripted. From recruiting and training camp to the final championship game, all efforts and preparations are anticipated. Quarterbacks are brought along over several seasons and trained in the team's system.
It is too bad that achievement in sports is thought primarily to have to do with athletic skills. Size, speed, agility have to be there. But a "system" has to be in place for these individual athletic gifts to have effect. And the system has to be a direct expression of the coach's and organization's character.
Ultimately, character will out. It will reveal itself. If it is dominated by willpower and aggression, this will show. If it is susceptible to emotional surges, if it is too cerebral, this will show.
America can be too preoccupied with winning seasons. In the most significant areas, such as teaching in the schools, the payback lies well beyond the horizon of the current academic year. Here the teacher tries to evoke the spirit of learning and doing, to set a pattern for achievement for later recall. Wouldn't it be great to hold a Super Bowl one year and just invite teachers, ministers, youth counselors to attend, as a testimonial to their unheralded contributions to society?
What is a winning season? Bill Clinton has four years ahead of him, the same unit of time it took Jimmy Johnson to turn around the Dallas program. Clinton, frankly, has not started out with a clearly understood script and focus, despite claiming the Reagan transition as a model. When Reagan took office in 1981, he had a team and legislative program ready to go. Clinton broke his early rhythm by the abrupt handling of the military and gays, by appointing his wife to a semi-executive role, and by continuin g his campaign habit of jogging up to any crowd of citizens for a handshake.
Discussion over the next six months, in Congress and elsewhere, of the role of gays in the military should prove useful if it clarifies the range of views on the subject and leads to a practical policy.
Likewise Hillary Rodham Clinton's definition of her role will have an impact on public thought. But such steps have about them more an air of improvisation than of leadership.
If it took four years for talk of a new dynasty to fix on Dallas, a fortnight is too quick to settle on conclusions about Clinton.