Kyle Brady

Mastery Takes Time

It’s not hard to understand why Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone likes this year’s team. He’s said more than once how close he feel to the 2020 Jaguars. And it’s easy to see why. They play hard, they’re fun and they’re an easy group to root for.

But watching them can drive you crazy.

They’ll play great for a couple of plays, then look like they just drew something up in the dirt on the next. Talent and consistency win in the NFL. The Jaguars have plenty of the former and not much of the latter.

Even Gardner Minshew admitted that after last week’s loss to Houston. “We were actually just talking about that in the locker room,” he said. “Trying to figure out what it is, what’s missing, because we have moments where we feel really good about it, and then moments that it just all goes to s***.” kind of, and we just got to figure out how to be more consistent.”

In his book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that it takes 10.000 hours to “master” a particular skill. Ten-thousand hours equates to about five years of work in the professional business world. I know it took me that long doing daily sportscasts before I felt like I could compete at the highest level. In TV you go through the 1) “terrified” phase (Yikes! I’m on TV!). Then 2) “creating an on-air persona you think is appealing. It’s usually followed by 3) acting like yourself (a lot of TV people get stuck there) and finally getting to 4) actually being yourself. (which is also terrifying since you know you’re really exposing who you are every time you’re in front of the camera.)

Ten-thousand hours is a good number to use in the professional sports world as well. With the current twelve-month schedule for players in the NFL, they reach that threshold somewhere in their fourth or fifth year. That’s where having a young team sometimes hurts. Their effort is great, but they don’t have the depth of experience that leads to “mastery.” The Jaguars have fewer than a dozen players with four or more years in the league, and only eight or nine of those get significant playing time.

“You need that unconscious confidence,” former Jaguar and thirteen-year NFL veteran Kyle Brady said this week. “It’s a process, it takes time.”

Brady was a first-round pick of the Jets and his first two years with the franchise was so disjointed he didn’t have a position coach. He split time between the offensive line and the receivers.

“(Bill) Parcells changed the whole situation,” he explained of the Hall of Fame coach coming to the Jets in Brady’s third year. “He righted the ship. He liked tight ends. Mark Bavaro came in to coach me and put my mind at ease. I was pressing, griding my teeth in the huddle, they taught me professionalism. They encouraged me. They said ‘you have everything you need. Just work at it.’”

Brady was one of the first NFL players to work on getting better in a dedicated “away” setting during the offseason. Now it’s commonplace for players to travel to Arizona or Pensacola to work at a sports performance center. Brady says working on the nuance of his position lead to a mantra of what he calls “being committed to ongoing skill mastery.”

“You never come off the field thinking you had a perfect day or a perfect practice,” Brady explained. “You don’t get to the pros unless you have some skill mastery in college. But in the pros, you have a lot of polishing to do. To be committed to the mastery, that’s being a professional.”

Former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts had to earn his way into the league in order to have a ten-year career. Marts signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane and carved out a starting spot through hustle and consistency.

“When they cut a guy in camp at your position you’re close to, you realize there wasn’t that much difference between you and him,” he explained. “You start working on self-mastery. You want to be better. You realize ‘I can be the guy to make the team better.’ You get more film time, more practice time. Because you’re the guy they keep, you’re privileged to be there. So, you need to make the team better. You have to be present. You have to concentrate on getting better.”

Basketball Hall of Famer Pat Riley has won at every stop in his career as a player, coach and executive. He agrees with Marts in his book “The Winner Within,” saying “Mastery demands and intense awareness of the present moment.” He adds, “Mastery is built on excellence, the gradual result of always wanted to do better.”

Following that line, Marts caught the eye of the late, legendary line coach Howard Mudd who told him he wasn’t Derrick Thomas, but he could be effective. Marty Shottenheimer was the Chiefs head coach and told Marts if he kept the effort up, they’d put him in the right position and work on his technique. From a free-agent, Marts became a starter in year four and for the rest of his career. He credits working on that “mastery” as the tipping point.

“(Defensive Back) Albert Lewis was cussing me out for not covering the flat in one game and told (Defensive Coordinator) Bill Cowher to get me out of there,” Marts recalled. “I had been working hard on covering the flat but just couldn’t get it. But I worked and worked on it and in one game I got out there and Jeff Hostetler just threw the ball right to me! After the interception, Albert was the first to tackle me out of bounds and yelled, ‘That’s what I’m talking about!”

Marts noted that working on that “mastery” and consistency kept him in the league.

“I had to learn where my faults were. Of course, a coach tells you that every Monday watching film, so it wasn’t hard,” he said with a laugh. “But I think four to five years into the league, you start to search out those vets after games who have been around for a while to tell them ‘Keep working, keep getting better. You’re doing it.”

Two things Hall of Fame Coach Vince Lombardi said apply to what consistent, winning teams have. “Winning is not a sometime thing, it is an all the time thing, he said. You don’t do things right once in a while . . . you do them right all the time

He also talked about seeking perfection, knowing it was “not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

That takes some time to realize in the professional sports world. Athletic talent alone isn’t going to allow you to win at the highest level

“Obviously you need the talent to be able to go out there on the field and to be able to do it and then to prove that you can do it day in and day out,” Marrone said this week. “I think the players that are able to do that and show that consistency, they’re the ones that get the second contracts, play for a long period of time and play at a level where you can win.”

“Some guys come in the league and think they’re going to dominate. They usually get cut down quick,” Brady added. “My fourth year I played with more confidence. I could see it on film, and other players can see it as well. They know, “this guy is coming into his own.”

Marts agreed that it’s the other players that first notice your “mastery.”

“I felt like I was working hard, getting better, but then the offensive linemen on my own team started to notice,” he said. “Irv Eaton yelled at the coaches saying he wanted me off scout team, ‘Because he’s killing us over here.’”

“It comes from the ongoing commitment to skill mastery,” Brady concluded “Things you used to have to think about your first or second year start to come naturally.”

Tony Trabert

Tony Trabert – 70 Years Later…

As sports fans we’re all getting used to the different time lines that are happening in 2020. The NBA, NHL, college and pro football have all had jumbled schedules. In golf they played the U.S. Open in September and the Masters is in November.

In tennis they cancelled Wimbledon but the French Open will conclude today, five months after it’s normal spot on the sports calendar.

I called my friend Tony Trabert to talk about what was going on at Roland Garros in Paris this week and he casually mentioned, “I won that seventy years ago.”

Whoa. “Seventy years ago,” I said to myself. “That’s a big number.”

Trabert turned 90 in August and his Hall of Fame career has been well documented: Instrumental in America’s Davis Cup success and eventually the Davis Cup Captain, Trabert won ten Grand Slam titles, back-to-back French Championships and three of the four Majors in 1955. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But an offer and a little help from a fellow Cincinnatian in 1950 really got things started.

Already an accomplished junior player, Trabert won the Ohio state high school singles championships three straight years, He was at the University of Cincinnati when his idol, Bill Talbert called to offer him a chance to play as his doubles partner in Europe that spring and summer.

“Talbert had taken me under his wing when I was twelve,” Trabert recalled. “He saw me swinging at volleys and came out on the court to help.”

Trabert asked both the president of the University of Cincinnati and his parents about going. The school President said, “You’ll learn more in three months there than you would in three months going over books at school.”

Talbert told the national tennis governing body, then the United State Lawn Tennis Association, he was taking the fledgling star, Trabert, to Europe as his doubles partner and asked for some financial assistance.

“They said no,” Trabert recalled with a laugh. “They didn’t think I was going to be any good.”

Talbert was determined. As one of the top players in the world, he had never played in Europe and told Tony he’d figure it out. So Trabert, Talbert and his wife Nancy traveled through Europe in the spring and summer of 1950 playing in all of the big tournaments as doubles partners.

And winning everything.

They flew to Nice and played at Monte Carlo, winning in five sets in the final.

“We played Jaroslav Drobny, a lefthander from Czechoslovakia, and his partner in the final,” Trabert remembered in vivid detail.” He’d kick his serve to my forehand, and I’d never seen that before. I finally figured that out and we won in the fifth set.”

They played in Monte Carlo and won in April. They went on the road and won in Nice, in Rome at the Italian Championships,(where Talbert lost to Drobny in the singles finals) the Paris City Championships, the French, and at Queens Club in London on grass.

The only tournament they didn’t play as doubles partners was at Wimbledon.

Talbert felt that he owed it to his regular doubles partner, Gardnar Mulloy, to play at Wimbledon. Talbert had won the U.S. Championships (now the US Open) with Mulloy four times before 1950. At Wimbledon that year, Talbert and Mulloy lost in the third round. Meanwhile, Trabert and his partner, Budge Patty, the eventual singles champion, made it to the semifinals losing to the eventual champions.

After Wimbledon, they came back to the States and Trabert returned to the University of Cincinnati.

“That was a big jump start,” Trabert said. “By far the most important thing, tennis wise, to happen to me. I saw more silverware in front of me at dinner one night in Europe than we had in our whole house. I learned so much, and not just about tennis. Writing thank you notes, how to dress, all of that.”

“Each tournament gave you something for your travel and per diem,” he added. “When I finally made a little money I told Bill I wanted to repay him. He said just do something nice for another tennis player. Which was typical of Talbert.

Back to the University of Cincinnati in the fall of 1950, Trabert won the NCAA singles championship in ‘51 and played guard on the Bearcat basketball team that played in the NIT at Madison Square Garden that year. The NIT was much bigger than the NCAA’s at the time.

Trabert also beat Talbert for the first time in singles in ‘51 at the Cincinnati International Championships, now known as the Cincinnati Masters.

“I had played him four or five times before that,” Trabert said. “He was better than I was, he was ten years older than me. But he was my idol and it was hard for me to want to beat him. I have a picture of us shaking hands after the first time I beat him and he has the most beautiful smile on his face.”

Drafted by the Navy in 1951 during the Korean War, Trabert reported to Bainbridge, Maryland for boot camp that fall.

“They joked I’d be playing tennis with Admirals soon. I got orders to Norfolk next and found myself hanging off the deck of the aircraft carrier Coral Sea, chipping paint off the sides of the ship.”

Looking around for something different as a Seaman Apprentice, Trabert was offered a job as a quartermaster aboard the ship.

“I figured anything was better than what I was doing,” he explained. “I was on the bridge a lot as the ‘Captains Talker’ on air defense.” He was on the carrier for sixteen months, including a six month cruise in the Mediterranean.

The Coral Sea was deployed to “the Med” in the spring of ’52 so there was a chance Trabert could get some leave and possibly play at the French and Wimbledon once again.

“I got liberty and went to play in the French championships. I won a couple of matches but lost to Felicisimo Ampon from the Philippines in the fourth round. He got everything back.”

Another trip to play at Wimbledon the next month on liberty seemed to be in the plans but it wasn’t to be.

“The Navy department sent a message to the captain that it was OK for me to go play at Wimbledon but the captain turned me down,” he explained. “I was on the bridge and the captain said, ‘I guess you’re mad at me.’ He had already made Admiral. ‘I said, ‘No sir,’. Who was I as just a Seaman to be mad at an Admiral? ‘Nothing to do with you,’ he told me. ‘I just wanted to let them know who was in charge of this ship.’”

The next year Trabert was out of the Navy and playing at Wimbledon. The Admiral contacted him to see if he could get him tickets to the tournament.

“I wish I could but I didn’t have any juice. I couldn’t help him.”

Trabert played singles in three of the four Grand Slam tournaments that year, only missing the Australian Championships. During his stint in the Navy he missed nine of the twelve major tournaments he was eligible for, but finished 1953 with a victory at the US Championships (now the US Open) at Forest Hills. In the next two years he won four of the eight majors, was a semi-finalist in two and a quarterfinalist in another.

His 1955 season is considered one of the best ever in tennis history. After a famous, tight ,Davis Cup victory over the Australians in December of 1954, Trabert stayed to play in the Australian Open three weeks later. A loss to eventual champion Ken Rosewall in the semi-finals was one of the few losses he’d have that year.

“We went to Australia to get acclimated in November,” he recalled. “It was fifty hours of flying to get there. Five, ten hour legs. We stopped off in Hawaii for six hours or so to get gas. Vic (Seixas) and I went and played in an exhibition at the Royal Hawaiian hotel, in Honolulu, jumped in the ocean and got back on the plane.”

Trabert went on to win Wimbledon, the French and the US Championships in ’55 among his eighteen tournament victories.

He helped Rene Lacoste develop what became the ‘T2000’ racket and promote the now famous Lacoste “alligator” logo shirts. In Paris for three years to develop professional tennis in Europe, Asia and Africa, Trabert signed Rod Laver to his first professional contract in 1963. He served as president of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and had more than a three decades long career as a television commentator for CBS here in the US and Channel 9 in Australia.

While equipment has changed the game in the last seventy years, Trabert says the top players of any era could compete against each other. The difference is the depth of the draw.

“Now guys have to be ready to play in the first round,” he said. “When I was playing if you didn’t go to sleep it was hard to lose before the quarterfinals. Now you have to be ready on the first Monday. Players are taller and bigger, better servers. Players come from all over these days. It’s about as international a sport as you can get. It’s great for the game.”

Trevor Lawrence

It’s the Quarterback

There’s always been a discussion about the most important position in sports. It usually comes down to the pitcher in baseball and the quarterback in football. If baseball was only played every four days, pitcher would be the runaway winner in that discussion. A pitcher can control a baseball game from the mound nearly singlehandedly. Individually, it’s the most dominant position in sports.

But from a team standpoint, they’re playing baseball every day. A pitcher can’t throw every day. With football games that count being played once a week, the quarterback is the most important player on the field for both teams.

History bears that out in both professional and college football.

Twenty-one of the last twenty-five Super Bowls have been won by teams with a quarterback who’s either in the Hall of Fame or appears headed there.

Just a quick look back at the College Football Playoff and the National Championship in recent years turns up names like Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagoviaola, Jalen Hurts, and Deshaun Watson.

How do you win a football game? Have a quarterback.

Part of the discussion about championship quarterbacks always includes Trent Dilfer and the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl title in 2000. Dilfer is cited as the only non-elite quarterback, a game manager, who wears a Super Bowl ring. But that’s it. A list of one. You could throw Brad Johnson in there, but in the last twenty-five years, it’s elite quarterbacks who have gotten their team to the title.

To win at football, the quarterback is the lynchpin, often the difference between victory and defeat. That’s why you can’t pass on acquiring that “franchise” quarterback if you’re trying to build a winner at any level.

I asked Sam Huff once about the difference between the Giants and the Colts in their two NFL championship games in ’58 and ’59.

“They had (Johnny) Unitas and we didn’t. End of story,” he deadpanned.

It didn’t sit well with Brett Favre when the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in the first round. But it kept Green Bay competitive as Favre’s Hall of Fame career waned. Rodgers wasn’t happy this year when the Packers took Jordan Love in the first round, but Green Bay is already looking to the future.

When that quarterback is there, you can’t pass him up.

The Jaguars opponent this week, Cincinnati, is a good example of making that move. The Bengals had Andy Dalton as their starter for nine years but quickly moved onto Burrow when they had the chance.

But it’s never a lock drafting a quarterback and the Bengals are also a good example of that. They took Akili Smith with the third pick in the 1999 draft and he only played 22 games for Cincinnati. Famously, the Chargers took Ryan Leaf with the second overall pick in 1998, now commonly thought of as the biggest bust of a first round pick ever.

As the game has evolved, the quarterback position has become more important.

There have been twenty-six drafts since the Jaguars started in 1995. In those twenty-six drafts, seventeen quarterbacks were the overall first pick. In the twenty-five years before that, eight quarterbacks were the first pick. And in the twenty-five years before that just six: Terry Baker, Randy Duncan, King Hill, George Shaw, Bobby Garrett and Bill Wade. While Hill and Shaw had extended careers, none of those players are in the Hall of Fame.

Hindsight might be 20-20, but at this point it’s hard not to notice that nine teams passed on Patrick Mahomes and eleven passed on Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft, including the Jaguars. Despite their interest in Watson, the Jaguars thought they were just one piece away. They stayed with Blake Bortles and took Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick in that draft. It paid off with a trip to the AFC Championship game that year, but then it fell apart quickly.

When Florida, Florida State, Miami and Georgia were regular contenders for the National Championship, quarterbacks were the key.

Steve Spurrier was a quarterback, Bobby Bowden was a quarterback. Both knew the importance of that position from a performance and leadership perspective. Both collected quarterbacks on their roster regardless of who was already there.

“Who’s the quarterback,” was a daily story for the Gators under Spurrier. Steve wasn’t shy recruiting quarterbacks, changing them or rotating guys between snaps. He took Danny Wuerffel out of the Georgia game in ’93 in favor of Terry Dean. Dean, Eric Kresser, Doug Johnson, Noah Brindise, Jesse Palmer and Rex Grossman all made news as quarterbacks under Spurrier. Getting Chris Leak out of North Carolina changed the entire recruiting dynamic at Florida and led them to two National Championships. Tim Tebow won the Heisman wearing the Orange and Blue. Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel, Will Grier and Cam Newton were on the Gators’ roster before a career in the NFL.

Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston all won the Heisman Trophy at FSU. Casey Weldon, Peter Tom Willis, Danny Kanell and Christian Ponder all kept the Seminoles competitive. E.J. Manuel was a first round pick out of Tallahassee.

It’s an eye opener to see Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde on the same Miami roster in 1982. Mark Richt was also a quarterback on that team, The Hurricanes continued their success with Ken Dorsey, Heisman winner Gino Toretta and Steve Walsh.

At Georgia in the last thirty years Eric Zeier, Quincy Carter, D.J. Shockley, Matt Stafford, Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm all brought success to the Bulldogs.

When did those programs begin to falter? When the quarterback came into question. This might be a weird year in college football but it’s still the quarterback who will make the difference.

Kyle Trask presents as many questions as answers for the Gators. Georgia’s uncertainty at quarterback has called their whole season into question. James Blackman has never been able to establish himself in Tallahassee. Miami’s search for a quarterback at “Quarterback U” has landed on D’Eriq King to lead them out of the college football wilderness.

This year’s contenders for the National Championship revolve around quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence leads Clemson as the overwhelming favorite to win the title. Alabama’s hopes are pinned on Bolles graduate Mack Jones. Justin Fields makes Ohio State dangerous once they start playing later this month. And even Texas is back in the picture because of Sam Ehlinger.

So learn the lesson. No matter who you have, if the quarterback is there, take him.