Tuesday, February 28, 2012


"Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it".

Whether you first heard this quote from pastor and author Charles R. Swindoll or famous football coach Lou Holtz, its message is clear — you are measured not by what happens to you, but in how you respond to those challenges.

That quote hangs on my office door and has been a theme for our men's soccer players here at the University of Evansville.

We have a young team, with a nucleus of rising sophomores and juniors, and they have worked really hard in the early stages of this preseason training at working outside of their comfort zone and responding positively to adversity.

Whether on the field, in the classroom, or at home, it's critical to respond positively toward challenges. "Adversity reveals character" is a phrase often echoed in this column, and you can learn an awful lot when presented with challenges. There are normally multiple coachable moments that can be applied when a mistake happens.

Here are some tips to assist in how to respond positively to challenges, and in presenting these coachable moments to your own players, team and children:

Be humble: There needs to be a level of appreciation and understanding of who you are and how you fit into the whole scheme of things.

No player is so special that he can't be fouled. I'm amazed when I see players who received a call continue to complain to the ref or trash-talk an opponent. If you've received the desired call, what more do you expect? Better players than you have been fouled; it's part of the game.

No player is so special that his team can't be scored on. It will happen, and when it does, keep it in perspective that games last two halves (soccer), four quarters (high school basketball) or nine innings (baseball). Most mistakes happen while a player is dwelling on a previous mistake rather than focusing on moving forward.

"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do" — John Wooden's quote illustrates the level of resolve and focus you need in adverse situations.

There are some things that are absolutely out of an athlete's control — the weather, an official's call, a decision from a teammate or coach, a past mistake. Athletes who are mentally tough understand that all they can truly control are their own attitude and effort. Putting emphasis on working harder, staying focused on your own responsibilities and not getting distracted are what will determine the toughness of an athlete.

Strength vs. toughness: I've often subscribed to the theory that strength can be measured in the weight room, where toughness is measured by how an athlete responds to challenges.

Physical size is relative when it comes to mental toughness, and has more to do with "the size of the fight in the dog" as opposed to "the size of the dog in the fight."

How you respond to challenges will determine how tough you are, so place more value in mental toughness. When your team's best players are also your team's mentally toughest players, you are on the verge of something special.

Focus on the process: It's easy for a coach or an athlete to get distracted by the outcome on the scoreboard as opposed to focusing on the process of getting better and moving forward. True champions learn from mistakes that happen in games.

No coachable moment sinks in more than a game. No matter how successful you are as a coach or a parent, your players or children will learn more from those adverse moments than from lectures. A coach's job is to make sure players understand why mistakes happen and how to correct them.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Heaps prepares for next phase of preseason

Jay Heaps and his New England Revolution will finally get their first real preseason test on Wednesday in Tucson, Ariz., when they kick-off the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup against the defending MLS Cup Champions Los Angeles Galaxy.

Heaps is hoping for positive results from his team, the most important aspect of the preseason tournament is getting his squad ready for the start of the MLS season on March 10th.

“It’s important for us to get MLS ready,” said Heaps. “We’ve been in some identification mode, we’re still a little bit in there, but at the same time now we turn it up a notch in terms of how long guys are going to play, the intensity of the matches and the overall outcome of the matches. We want to make sure that we put our best foot forward.”

The tournament aspect of the matches doesn’t really come into play for Heaps. While winning the tournament would be a bonus, it isn’t the goal of participation.

“It’s about how we’re going go in and progress,” Heaps said. “We want to make sure we’re getting minutes to the right guys, but at the same time we’re still in identification mode, so we’re still going to be looking at some players and some formations. We’re not 100% set exactly what we want to do. We know we have an idea of what we want to do, but that can change with injuries and personnel. At this point, it’s really an important two weeks.”

The Soccer Coaching Bible by the NSCAA

This series will review and rate books that teach, describe and document the beautiful game. Look for a wide variety of books and helpful insight from players who have been there and done it on the pitch.

Looking to learn more about the great game of soccer? Want to become a better player? SoccerNationNews' new Best Ever Soccer Book Guide reviews must-have books for players and their coaches. If you want to know more about player development and coaching - from tactics to strategies - these books provide the insights and information you need. Editorial Note: Soccer books are all tested and approved by real soccer players and coaches!

The Coaching Bible - NSCAA

The Soccer Coaching Bible by the NSCAA


Better Education, Better Coaches, Better Game is the tag line for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and this comprehensive book on coaching provides great information on training youth soccer players with great stories. Written in an easy to read straight forward style, the book starts off in Chapter 1 with a story about Sharing a Love for the Game -- and tells the tale of how very diffrent coaches inspire players.

Even if you are not a coach, but an avid soccer fan or a parent, this book is worth picking uo and reading. I loved it and kept turning the pages.

Age appropriate activities to create confidence with the soccer ball, how to create a network for effective recruiting and building muscle ednurance with interval training is all included. The reader almost feels like they are a in a room surrounded by top coaches sharing their wisdom and experiences.

The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) assembled an all-star lineup of 30 coaches to tackle every important aspect to coaching the sport. On- and off-field duties are covered in detail, and the material in each chapter is rich with the voice of experience.

From Anson Dorrance's chapter on organizing and orchestrating a winning program to Lauren Gregg's chapter on creating the ideal training environment, this book provides the answers you've been looking for. Steve Sampson explains the technical and tactical nuances of controlling the ball, and Tony DiCicco encourages and informs mentoring developing players and coaches.

The book is divided into six sections, making it easy to choose what information you want:

Priorities and Principles by Cliff McCrath, Joe Bean, Layton Shoemaker, and George Perry

Program Development and Management by Anson Dorrance, Charlie Slagle, John Rennie, Mike Jacobs, and Joe Morrone

Optimal Training for Learning and Performance by Lauren Gregg, Jeff Tipping, Barry Gorman, and Ron McEachen

Technical and Tactical Insights for Competitive Success by Steve Sampson, Jim Lennox, Peter Mellor, Tony Waiters, Jay Hoffman, and Schellas Hyndman

Player and Team Development and Motivation by Al Miller, Tracey Leone, Jay Martin, Miller Bugliari, Tim Schum, Chris Petrucelli, and Colleen Hacker

Growth Opportunities in the Coaching Role by Jeff Vennell, Peter Gooding, Tony DiCicco, and Glenn Myernick

Resilient perfomance keeps Man Utd in title race

Sir Alex Ferguson hailed the resilience of his Manchester United team after admitting they had been second best to Norwich for large parts of their 2-1 victory at Carrow Road, where Ryan Giggs netted a stoppage-time winner on his 900th appearance.

After falling behind to a close-range header from Paul Scholes on seven minutes, the Canaries rallied and forced David de Gea into a string of fine saves. The United keeper was finally beaten seven minutes from time by Norwich skipper Grant Holt before Giggs struck to keep United on the tails of Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester City.

"I have to say we were lucky today, in the sense Norwich had more promise about them. I thought we were lethargic, too casual on the ball. Then when we lost the goal, we played brilliantly," Ferguson said on MUTV. "That tells you something about the temperament, they do not get nervous and started to up their game, so that augers well for us."

Ferguson added: "I think the players were probably a bit embarrassed with the chances they missed, they know they should have done better during the game, and that is irrespective of Norwich being the better team.

"They just kept crossing that ball into the box. Without Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans and (David) De Gea, we would have been down. They were brilliant the three of them.

"Norwich deserved a point today and it was a great goal they scored, but at that moment you saw us as Manchester United.

"I am sure this result will have an impact [on the season]. Everyone knows we never give in, no matter who plays us, they know they will have to play right to the death."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

3,900 Saturdays

I love this story from Mac Anderson's 'Charging the Human Battery', and it really puts into perspective how I plan to spend my Saturday.

The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday morning. Perhaps it's the quiet solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it's the unbounded joy of not having to be at work. Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning are most enjoyable.

A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the garage with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other. What began as a typical Saturday morning turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time. Let me tell you about it:

I turned the dial up into the phone portion of the band on my ham radio in order to listen to a Saturday morning swap net. Along the way, I came across an older sounding chap, with a tremendous signal and a golden voice. You know the kind; he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whomever he was talking with something about "a thousand marbles." I was intrigued and stopped to listen to what he had to say.

"Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you're busy with your job. I'm sure they pay you well but it's a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much. Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. It's too bad you missed your daughter's dance recital," he continued; "Let me tell you something that has helped me keep my own priorities." And that's when he began to explain his theory of a "thousand marbles."

"You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years.

Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3,900, which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime. Now, stick with me, Tom, I'm getting to the important part.

It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail," he went on, "and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays. I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy. So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to round up 1,000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside a large, clear plastic container right here in the shack next to my gear.

Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away. I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life.

There's nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight.

Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container. I figure that if I make it until next Saturday then I have been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time.

It was nice to meet you Tom. I hope you spend more time with your family, and I hope to meet you again here on the band. This is a 75 year old man, K9NZQ, clear and going QRT, good morning!"

You could have heard a pin drop on the band when this fellow signed off. I guess he gave us all a lot to think about. I had planned to work on the antenna that morning, and then I was going to meet up with a few hams to work on the next club newsletter.

Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss. "C'mon honey, I'm taking you and the kids to breakfast."

"What brought this on?" she asked with a smile.

"Oh, nothing special, it's just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. And hey, can we stop at a toy store while we're out? I need to buy some marbles."

This weekend is our Winter Alumni Weekend here at the University of Evansville, and it is so humbling to have former players come back to town and reflect back on how special the time in their lives were when they were playing. Most also mention how much they miss those times, and that they really appreciate the opportunities they had.

I want to challenge each of you to make the most of the opportunities you have, and to treat each moment you have with your family and friends like it's a 'cup final'.

Don't waste your Saturday, and draw as much as you can out of the time with you have, and the people that are really important to you.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lenahan continues to build family tree

I was once told that the mark of a successful coach is how many other coaches he helps develop.

A great feature at the College Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City is 'the family tree', where you can click on a colleg basketball coach's name, and it will tell you which coaches they have worked for and with during their careers - giving some true insight into which coaching families they have come from.

When you look at the stable of coaches who have worked for and with the likes of Bobby Knight in college basketball, Bill Walsh in football, and Sir Alex Ferguson in the English Premier League, it's obvious that they have the ability to develop both great players and great coaches.

In the college game here in the US, Tim Lenahan of Northwestern University has develop quite a reputation for mentoring coaches. Recently, Rich Nassif became the 13th former Lenahan assistant to move on to a head coaching position.

After nine seasons as a player and member of the coaching staff for the Northwestern men’s soccer team, Nassif was appointed the new head coach at Benedictine University. Nassif is the 13th former assistant on head coach Tim Lenahan’s staff to move on to a head coaching position and sixth during Lenahan’s tenure with the Wildcats.

"I would like to thank head coach Tim Lenahan for giving me the opportunity to represent my alma mater,” Nassif said. “I have been very fortunate to work with such a tremendous group of coaches, players, administration and support staff at Northwestern. The relationships and memories I have formed here make it difficult to leave and Northwestern will always be close to my heart. I am extremely excited for this next chapter in my career and cannot wait to start as head coach at Benedictine."

“I can’t say enough about Rich Nassif and his impact on the program at Northwestern,” Lenahan said. “He came to us as a last-minute walk-on and leaves as one of the most influential people in the history of our program. He came to us nine years ago and the fact that we have had nine-straight winning seasons and leaves with a double Big Ten Championship is no coincidence. I look forward to following his career as the head men’s soccer coach at Benedictine and look forward to seeing him back at NU as an alum and supporter of the program.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

MLS reserve league returns...barely...

Major League Soccer will again operate its Reserve League in 2012 season. The 19 clubs will be divided into three conferences and play only 10 matches per team.

The league will give clubs an opportunity to use players who aren't getting first-team minutes, trialists and notably academy players whose amateur eligibility won't be jeopardized by playing alongside older pros. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough matches in this model to really enable young players the number of matches needed to grow and develop.

Until their reserve league in Major League Soccer improves, college soccer will stay be the primary destination for young 18-22 year olds to ply their trade.

Smith - from MLS to FA Cup

Npower League One promotion hopefuls Stevenage Football Club hosted third place EPL side Tottenham Hotspur in the fifth round of the English FA Cup this past weekend in front of a capacity crowd of just over 7,000 at Broadhall Way. Stevenage was led by a familiar face to MLS fans.

Only a few weeks ago, Stevenage announced the arrival of their new manager Gary Smith, formerly of Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids, who has led an impressive opening few weeks in charge already seeing his new club to two wins and a draw in the league and now this Sunday’s impressive FA Cup draw against Tottenham.

In his post match comments to SkySports he had this to say:

"I thought today we prevented a tremendous Tottenham side from creating more than they are probably capable of," he said.

"There was just a bundle of energy about the team.

"I thought that when that intensity dropped towards the end of both halves, the players' ideas and organizational skills to keep some very talented individuals at bay were fantastic.

"I am very, very pleased for them and all of their efforts. They have come away with a result, which is great."

Smith also was quoted on his clubs official site Stevenagefc.com:

“We were all hopeful that we could project ourselves in the right fashion, not only on live TV but in front of a live audience here.

“I think the players have given a wonderful account of themselves.

“There were periods in the game where we kept possession well, created some nice half chance openings, but it wasn’t quite as clinical as we would have liked in front of goal.”

Smith already had an English background having been in the Arsenal youth academy before having his longest playing periods at Wycombe Wanderers and Aylesbury United through the early and late 1990’s.

His first managerial job came in the United States with Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids. In three seasons he led them to their only MLS Cup victory in 2010 and recorded an impressive 42% winning percentage with a record of 47 wins, 30 draws and 35 losses but was fired in November of 2011.

Smith looks to be proving that just as the MLS looks to have become a great source of player talent if you look at the success of players like Clint Dempsey of Fulham and the Everton’s Tim Howard, but also as a starting ground for managers to move to jobs in England.

Stevenage now face a return match at White Hart Lane and will once again hope for his players to take the match to Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham side just as they did at home.

Winning isn't the only thing

There are interesting situations playing out in Spain and Argentina this week that show the upside and downside of coaching.

In Spain, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has won 13 out of a possible 16 trophies since taking over four years ago, but he has yet to decide if he wants to coach the club next season.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, Boca Juniors, under coach Julio Cesar Falcioni, won the Argentine league title in December, is undefeated in the past 33 games and is one of the favorites to win the Copa Libertadores. Yet Falcioni is on the verge of being fired.

Both situations make you scratch your head. Success, it seems, doesn’t always generate happiness.

That’s especially true in Guardiola’s case. A great player for Barcelona, where he rose through the club’s youth system, and for the Spanish national team, Guardiola has always been a thinking-man’s coach. Thanks to his game plans, Barcelona, with its exceptional talent, has dominated its opponents.

Since his arrival, Barcelona has won three Spanish league titles, three Spanish Super Cups, two Champions Leagues, two Club World Cups, two European Super Cups and one Copa del Rey.

This season, Barcelona has a two-goal advantage over Bayer Leverkusen going into the March 7 second leg of the second round of the Champions League, and is in the Copa del Rey final May 25 against Athletic Bilbao.

Yet Guardiola has hesitated signing a new contract. Since his initial two-year deal, Guardiola, at his insistence, signed consecutive one-year deals the past two years, but the time frame when he signed those extensions has already passed, and that has club officials nervous.

“I would have liked to have made my decision earlier but it still isn’t clear to me,” Guardiola said. “It’s a personal question. I need to find the motivation to continue and it still isn’t clear.”

That last sentence makes you wonder. If, in his case, job satisfaction comes from acquiring talent and putting a successful game plan together, could the end result — winning — get boring?

View full sizeAlejandro Pagni/AFP/Getty ImagesBoca Juniors coach Julio Cesar Falcioni watches his team play last year.
At 41, Guardiola seems to have other challenges in mind, and as crazy as it sounds, could elect to walk away from the best team in the world.

Falcioni’s situation is different. When he was hired in December 2010, he was the fifth coach Boca Juniors had gone through in a year. He brought stability to a club and its first title since 2008.

But that wasn’t good enough. Boca, Diego Maradona’s former team, likes to think of itself as the South American Barcelona, where you can’t just win, you have to win playing attractive, offensive-minded soccer.

That’s where Falcioni has failed. Boca’s 33-game unbeaten streak has been achieved through a defensive approach, which has angered the team’s rabid fan base. It also hasn’t sat well with team captain Juan Roman Riquelme, who last week reportedly instructed players to play his way, rather than Falcioni’s, which resulted in a heated argument following a scoreless tie in a Copa Libertadores match.

“When you’re a coach, your team can play the way you want,” Falcioni reportedly said to Riquelme after the match. “But here I make the decisions.”

That would have been fine if club officials immediately backed Falcioni, but they didn’t, which has undermined the coach’s authority.

It also didn’t help this year that River Plate, Boca’s biggest rival, was relegated for the first time in its 110-year history. Winning that game has often been more important than winning the league title, and the losing team’s coach usually doesn’t last long.

This year, that’s not a card Falcioni can play.

So in Guardiola and Falcioni we have two extremely successful coaches who, for different reasons, are having difficulty enjoying the end result of their work. And if a coach can’t enjoy winning, why would anyone take the job?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ralph Perez - seen and done it all

When it comes to soccer in the United States, Ralph Perez has 'been there, done that'.

Kevin Baxter writes about the coach who has seen and done just about everything in soccer.

Choose any significant soccer event in Southern California over the last 38 years, and chances are Ralph Perez was there.

The 1984 Olympic Games? He worked as a statistician "just so I could get to the games."

The World Cup a decade later? He was a technical advisor.

Major League Soccer? He was with the league from the start and even helped coach the Galaxy to two MLS Cup wins.

He also founded programs at Cal State Los Angeles and Cal State San Bernardino, ran teams at Cal State Fullerton and Whittier College and might be the only man in history to coach teams in all three divisions of NCAA play, the MLS, the Olympics and the World Cup.

All of that won him a lifetime achievement award last month at the National Soccer Coaches Assn. of America's convention, but Perez cautions against closing the book on him just yet.

"I still don't think I'm done," he says. "I think my best soccer's ahead of me because at 60, as a coach, that's not old. I feel young."

He is showing no signs of slowing. Last fall, the University of Redlands team he now coaches went 20-3-2, giving him three 20-win seasons in six years at the school. In the spring, he is the color commentator for the Galaxy's radio broadcasts, something he has done since shortly after the arrival of David Beckham.

"I am totally living my dream in what I think is the best area to live in if you're a soccer person," Perez says.

It all started with a rejection notice.

A two-sport athlete at Oneonta State in New York, Perez came to Southern California in the early 1970s hoping to land a teaching job — which he did — and a spot with a team in the North American Soccer League — which he did not.

"I really wanted to be a professional player. But to be honest, I wasn't good enough," he says.

So he applied for a coaching position at Whittier College and was hired on the spot — for $83 a month. Given the career path the hiring established, it proved to be an incredible bargain for U.S. soccer.

The highlights came fast and furious, with Perez, Forrest Gump-style, influencing some of the seminal people and events in the sport's recent history. While coaching at Cal State L.A., he recruited Carlos Juarez and Martin Vasquez, who both became coaches in MLS and with the U.S. national program.

By 1989 he was helping coach the U.S. men to a fourth-place finish in the U-20 World Cup — the best performance ever by a U-20 team. A year later came the highlight of his coaching career: He was on the sidelines of Stadio Olimpico in Rome when the U.S., making its first World Cup appearance in four decades, lost an emotional 1-0 game to host Italy.

In MLS, he has been an assistant with the New York-New Jersey Metrostars — now the Red Bulls — where he worked under Carlos Queiroz and Carlos Alberto Parreira. The former became coach of Manchester United and Real Madrid; the latter is one of only two men to direct five different national teams in World Cup play. (Bora Milutinovic is the other, and Perez worked with him too.)

As for players, Perez coached 11 of the 12 men to have at least 100 caps with the U.S. national team.

"My children always say, 'Dad, you know everyone,'" Perez says. "I feel, really, that I've seen it all."

You can't always judge a book by it's cover

The Jeremy Lin epidemic that had started in Manhattan and has now moved across the basketball world is a tremendous story...but why?

I think the biggest reason why people are so intrigued by the Linderella story is just that -everyone loves 'Cinderella', and everyone roots for the underdog. People associate with those who are like themselves - the overachiever, but often overlooked...the prince that looks like the frog.

Jeremy Lin's story shows how the Sabermetric geeks in baseball have gotten it right - you can't just LOOK at a player as a scout to tell whether a player is, in fact, a PLAYER. Truly, you have to be able to judge and assess a player properly. Recruiting and scouting is a science, and needs to be treated like that.

Believe me - i've made my share of recruiting mistakes over the years - but it's the ones that we've watched on multiple occasions, and visited with enough to find out about the prospect's character and mental makeup, to gauge whether they are a player or not.

It's bumper-to-bumper on the Jeremy Lin Bypass these days. Every single NBA team and every single Division I college coach who gives hoops scholarships passed on SuperAsian point guard Jeremy Shu-How Lin of the New York Knicks. And now they're paying the toll.

"Don't remind me," UCLA coach Ben Howland says.

Lin had a lower interest rate than CDs. He went unoffered coming out of high school and undrafted out of Harvard. Now the kid is Lin-fuego.

Flung from the end of the bench into the Knicks' starting lineup, Lin has had at least 20 points and seven assists in five straight games, all Knicks wins. He's been a one-man typhoon into the Knicks' sagging sails. His jersey is the fastest-selling in the NBA this week. Is anybody at Disney listening?

How could so many be so blind? How could they not see a Tiffany diamond at Goodwill prices? What was he? Linvisible?

Apparently, yes.

For instance, Stanford is literally across a boulevard from Palo Alto High School, where Lin led the Vikings to a 32-1 record and the CIF state championship as a senior. Yet then-Stanford coach Trent Johnson wouldn't walk across the street to sign him.

"We knew all about him," admits Johnson, now the coach at LSU. "But nobody in the Bay Area saw then what we're seeing now. … It wasn't like there was pressure on me to recruit him. There was zero pressure. None."

Across the bay lies Cal, where Lin desperately wanted to play. But Bears coach Ben Braun was Lindifferent. He passed.

"But hey, I passed on Steve Nash, too," concedes Braun, now the coach at Rice. "We just didn't extend Jeremy a scholarship. I love the kid, but we just didn't. … I don't feel too bad. At least I'm not the only one."

Jesse Evans does feel bad. He did the Jeremy Jilt when he was the coach at the University of San Francisco. Two years later, he was fired.

"Maybe I could've kept my job if I had Jeremy," laughs Evans, who's now a scout. "I thought he was a very good player; we just didn't quite pull the trigger. Wish we had."

Doesn't anybody go to Pearl Vision Center anymore?

Players this good don't just become. They are.

Linsanity began at Harvard, where he energized a Crimson program that is now nationally ranked. That's like a mule qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. Doesn't anybody remember Lin lighting UConn's Kemba Walker up for 30 points and nine rebounds on the road? Hello?

"It's the Asian thing," says former NBA player Rex Walters, who's Japanese-American and wound up with Evans' job at USF. "People who don't think stereotypes exist are crazy. If he's white, he's either a good shooter or heady. If he's Asian, he's good at math. We're not taking him."

The other trouble is the way Lin plays. Like James Joyce, you don't get him in one read.

"He's one of those kids who makes the right play time after time after time," Walters says. "But it takes time to see that. It takes patience to see that. That's not how recruiting works. If the [recruiting] services don't have him in the top 100, the majors won't recruit him."

Jeremy Lin's quiet consistency has always been there. But now the whole country sees it. But what happened in the NBA? Why did nobody take him in a draft from which 23 of the 60 players are now flushed out? Why was he cut by Golden State and Houston this season? Why did he languish with four NBA Development League teams?

They were clueless then and clueless now.

"We should have kept [Lin]," tweeted Rockets GM Daryl Morey this week. "Did not know he was this good. Anyone who says they knew misleading U."

This weekend, Knicks UberFan Spike Lee texted new Warriors coach Mark Jackson his thanks for cutting Lin. But it wasn't Jackson's fault. It was Warriors GM Larry Riley's, who was trying to free up cap space in a failed run at Clippers dunker DeAndre Jordan.

Riley admitted to The New York Times "I have egg on my face."

We could start a Denny's.

Then again, the Knicks had this Nash play-alike under their feet and used him to warm seat cushions. Mike D'Antoni left him on the bench for 13 of his first 22 games this season. Shouldn't somebody be telling D'Antoni what time practice is?

Of course, nobody at the Knicks seemed to recognize genius when he or she saw it. Earlier this season, Lin tweeted, "Everytime I try to get into Madison Square Garden, the security guards ask me if I'm a trainer LOL."

There's more joy in this kid's story than a box of puppies. Millionaire execs being wrong. Harvard -- a place that has produced more presidents (8) than NBA players (4) -- being right. Asian stereotypes going bust. As the father of an Asian-American daughter, I love it.

But the best part is that Lin is a hoop hopes machine now. He gives every kid at the end of every high school bench, every college scrub who never gets a minute, every 13th man in the NBA … faith. Faith that someday, if he can finally get his chance, he can Shu them How.

Fortune lies in front of Lin like a golden highway now. And it should. He paved it. Congrats to him. Without his will and effort, the poor kid probably would be stuck running Goldman Sachs by now.

Let Jeremy Lin be a lesson to you - whether it be the ugly guy who asks the cute girl out on a date, or the aspiring basketball player looking for a college scholarship - you can't always judge a book by it's cover...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lessons learned from LIN-SANITY

Jeremy Lin of the New York Knickerbockers has 'LINSANITY' sweeping the New York Metropolitan area, as well as the basketball world.

His rise to fame has caught everyone off guard, and has all of the makings of basketball's version of 'the Natural' - a Disney movie in the making...

Eric Jackson of Forbes magazine writes of lessons that can be learned by how Lin has made his mercurial rise, and about how he conducts himself as the consummate professional.

1. Believe in yourself when no one else does. Lin’s only the 4th graduate from Harvard to make it to the NBA. He’s also one of only a handful of Asian-Americans to make it. He was sent by the Knicks to play for their D-League team 3 weeks ago in Erie, PA. He’d already been cut by two other NBA teams before joining the Knicks this year. You’ve got to believe in yourself, even when no one else does.

2. Seize the opportunity when it comes up. Lin got to start for the Knicks because they had to start him. They had too many injuries. Baron Davis was gone. The other point guards were out. Carmelo Anthony was injured. Amare Stoudemire had to leave the team because of a family death. Lin could have squandered the opportunity and we would have never have noticed. But he made the most of it. You never know when opportunities are going to arise in life. Often, they’re when you least expect them. Make the most of them. Don’t fritter them away.

3. Your family will always be there for you, so be there for them. It wasn’t until a few days ago that Lin got his contract guaranteed by the Knicks for the rest of the season. Before that, he could have been cut at any time. He had to sleep on his brother’s couch on the Lower East Side to get by. His family always believed in him and picked him up when he could have gotten down on himself. That made him continue to believe. If you want your family to believe in you like that, you’ve got to be there for them too when they need it.

4. Find the system that works for your style. Lin isn’t Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. He’s not a pure scorer. He’s a passer and distributor – who can also score very well. It didn’t work for him in Golden State or Houston – where he was before landing at the Knicks. But Mike D’Antoni’s system at the Knicks has been perfect for him to show off his strengths. You’ve got to do your best to understand what your strengths are and then ensure that you’re in a system (a job or organization or industry) that is a good fit for those strengths. Otherwise, people overlook the talents you bring to the table.

5. Don’t overlook talent that might exist around you today on your team. You probably manage people at your own company today. Are you sure you don’t have a Jeremy Lin living among you now? How do you know that “Mike” couldn’t do amazing things if you gave him a new project to run with? How do you know “Sarah” isn’t the right person to take the open job in London that you’ve been talking over with your colleagues? We put people around us in boxes. He’s from Harvard. He’s Asian-American. Not sure he can play. How many assumptions have you made about talent around you? Don’t be like the General Managers in Golden State and Houston, and let talent slip through your fingers. With all their money, scouts, and testing, they didn’t have a clue what they had in their hands. Do you know what your people (or even yourself) is really capable of? Take off the blinders of assumptions you wear when you look at the world.

6. People will love you for being an original, not trying to be someone else. You’ve got to be you. You can’t be some 2nd rate copy of Michael Jordan. There will never be another Michael Jordan. Just be Jeremy Lin — yourself. Whatever that is. That doesn’t mean you don’t work hard — it just means you find what you’re good at and do it. Fans will love you for being you, just like they love Jeremy Lin. Judy Garland said it best:

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."

7. Stay humble. If you one day are lucky enough to have newspapers want to put you on the cover in order to sell more, don’t let it get to your head. It’s been remarkable watching how humble Lin remains through all this media frenzy. It makes his teammates and fans love him that much more.

8. When you make others around you look good, they will love you forever. I didn’t know how good Tyson Chandler was, until I saw him playing with Jeremy Lin. Lin has set Chandler up many times over the last week for easy dunks because he drew the defense and then passed the ball. That’s partly why the Knicks are playing so well. They are all working harder to share the ball with others. And it’s beautiful to watch. And when the media swarms Lin, he tells them how good his teammates are. Do the same with your peers and reports.

9. Never forget about the importance of luck or fate in life. Some people believe in God, some in destiny, some in luck. Whatever you believe in, be grateful for it.

10. Work your butt off. Lin couldn’t have seized his opportunity if he hadn’t worked like crazy for years perfecting his skills. There are no short cuts to hard work. Success is a by product of that. If you’ve got a Tiger Mom who’s always pushed you to work hard, great. If not, let your conscience be your own Tiger Mom! Get up early, stay up late. Nobody gave Lin any free passes. Why should you get any? You can only control what you control and that means you’ve got to work harder than anyone else you know.

I hope the Lin-sanity continues. And I hope we all can apply these lessons to our own work and family life.

There’s a great line from a New York Times article on Lin and his faith which is worth it for all of us to remember (from Romans 5:3-5):

“suffering produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us."


One of my favorite videos and books is 212° The Extra Degree, by Sam Parker and Mac Anderson.

212 degrees is the extra degree of effort that often separates the good from the great. 212° The Extra Degree captures a simple, yet powerful concept. At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. It's that extra degree that can power a locomotive…or take your life results far beyond your expectations. By taking ownership of this fundamental principle, focusing on a clearly-defined goal, maintaining an unstoppable attitude, committing to take action, and persevering, you'll see life-altering, positive results. The message of 212° The Extra Degree is clear: It's your life: You are responsible for your results. It's time to turn up the heat!

That extra effort can be illustrated in sports, and is easy to see in baseball. The difference between being an average hitter to a good hitter, and a good hitter to a Hall of Famer, can come down to finding that extra degree.

The Major League Baseball regular season runs through April, May, June, July, August, and September- about 25 weeks. If an everyday player has about 500 at bats per year, and had 125 hits, he would be a .250 hitter. If that same player was able to manage 150 hits throughout the season, he would be a .300 hitter - a difference of 25 hits, the equivalent of 1 per week.

Think about it- with players playing 6 or 7 games per week, getting an average of 3+ at bats per game (minus walks), we are talking about approximately 20-25 at bats per week. One hit per week difference.

If you were to take this to the next level...lets say a .350 hitter, someone who would be considered the best of the best, you are only talking about 2 more hits per week when comparing a .350 hitter vs a .250 hitter.

Finding that extra degree - be it an extra 1-2 hits a week for a major league baseball player, or the extra effort in training from a collegiate soccer player - can be the difference between being average, good or great.

Arsenal & AC Milan look to recapture past European glory

The Arsenal and AC Milan teams that will take the field today will be much different ones than the versions that matched up in an epic UEFA Champions League battle in 2008.

Both clubs are in a state of flux - only one player from Arsenal's starting XI in that 2008 match-up, Bacary Sagna, will be in Arsene Wenger's lineup this time.

Milan are going through their own period of change and, like Arsenal, it has not always been to the liking of their crowd. A perception has grown that they have sacrificed some of the old panache to play in a more functional manner — epitomised, perhaps, by the presence of the Dutch enforcer Mark van Bommel in midfield.

The contrast of the two teams can be identified by their high expectations based on their proud past success - Arsenal is looking to develop that edge or grit that marked their teams that were led by Patrick Vieira, Tony Adams, and Emmanuel Pettit. Dennis Bergkamp believes the current Arsenal team are too predictable and need to develop "more of a winning mentality than a passing mentality".

AC Milan are going through a period where they are trying to find their identity, and resembles a more workmanlike team than the more creative and attacking-oriented teams of their past UEFA Champions League successes. This team plays with more perspiration, less inspiration.

Or as Milan coach, Massimiliano Allegri put it: "You can't always dine on lobster and caviar. Every now and again you have to be satisfied with a ham sandwich."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Canadian soccer icon teaches life lessons through his own experiences

Paul James had done as much as a player or coach can do in Canadian soccer - hall of fame player; World Cup veteran; Former NCAA, university, club and Canadian under-20 coach; TV and newspaper analyst.

James’s soccer pedigree is long and distinguished, but away from the pitch, James lived a secret hell.

For more than a decade, the intense, meticulous coach was a crack cocaine addict who lived in fear that his secret might leak out. The 48-year-old James, after three trips to rehab, lifts the veil on his addiction in a self-published e-book called Cracked Open.

Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press reports on the rise, fall and rebirth of an outstanding coach, and an even better person.

“In spite of losing so much — including my soccer employment, my financial security, and, many times over, my dignity — I appreciate that I should take comfort from the fact in 2012, I am indeed fortunate to be alive,” writes James.

James showed The Canadian Press excerpts from the book, which is slated for release Monday. It is a white-knuckle journey through addiction that also holds a mirror up to Canadian soccer.

Canadian soccer officials, coaches and players will read the book with interest and — in some cases — foreboding. Many of today’s Canadian stars passed through James’ youth team and some did not behave well.

James hopes his harrowing past might help shed light on addiction — and ultimately help others see warning signs and seek/provide help.

“For me, drug addiction has proven to be a cruel disease with no simple remedy — not a moral failing or a weakness of mind, but a unique, personal, and devastating experience,” he writes.

His double life will come as a shock to many (I have known James for more than a decade, having covered him as a coach and worked with him both as an editor and fellow TV analyst, and never suspected).

“Everybody has said that to me. Anyone that I’ve opened up (to) has been stunned and shocked,” he said in an interview. “It’s not a badge of honour to wear but what it is, it’s to alert people and society in general that you never know what’s going on behind closed doors.”

James has given a lot to the game, and his hopes in writing this book is to share his story with young players and coaches to learn from the mistakes that he had made. Cracked Open is available through www.pauljamescrackedopen.ca

Monday, February 13, 2012

Contrasting leadership styles lead finalists in African Cup of Nations

Leading up to Sunday's African Cup of Nations final between Zambia and the Ivory Coast, Gerald Imray wrote of the contrasting styles of coaches Fracois Zahoui (Ivory Coast) and Herve Renard (Zambia).

Francois Zahoui at one point doubted if he was good enough to be coach of the star-studded Ivory Coast team.

The reserved Zahoui prefers to watch his team with arms crossed near the dugout, showing little emotion.

His opponent in Sunday's African Cup of Nations final, Zambia tactician Herve Renard, is accused of being bigheaded and his flamboyant and frenzied touchline antics have been a feature of the Zambians' unexpected run to the final.

The differing coaching styles in many ways reflect the contrasts of the teams.

The businesslike Zahoui is in charge of a clinical Ivorian outfit which has won all five of its games without conceding a goal, while Renard and Zambia have used emotion and spontaneity to get to the African Cup decider.

One of the styles will prevail on Sunday as Zahoui, in his favored dark suit and tie, goes up against Renard in his jeans and his lucky white shirt — which he's worn for every one of Zambia's games so far at the tournament.

A former Ivory Coast international, Zahoui had no high-level coaching experience before taking charge of Ivory Coast's big-name players in 2010 but was perhaps always destined for a chance at the top job as a respected player.

He has underlined the need for his talented players to also work hard and pull together and brought some humility to a group which was perhaps guilty of overconfidence in previous Cup of Nations failures.

"It's true that I have a team that is very talented and were stars already," Zahoui said. "They've worked with a lot of famous coaches already. I always wondered if I would be up to par in this job and I know that some people doubted my capacity to take over.

"I have a very good relationship with the players ... I try to put the emphasis on the team."

Any doubts have been convincingly dispelled after Zahoui led the Ivorians to a perfect six wins from six in qualifying and five straight victories at the Cup of Nations.

Renard, meanwhile, faces the biggest match of his career after spending his early days as a struggling coach by running a business clearing out garbage bins from apartment blocks in his native France.

While Zahoui's influence has ensured his team of top stars keeps its feet on the ground, Renard has made his humble Zambian players believe they can reach great heights. His story, from cleaning out bins to Africa's biggest game, has proved that.

"I used to get up at 3 a.m. for five days a week. Putting out the bins was part of the deal," Renard said. "I will remember those times before the game against Ivory Coast."

Gym rats will be leaders who make teams better/MIKE JACOBS COLUMN

From the Evansville Courier Press, February 12, 2012

Growing up in the New York area in the 1970s and '80s, I was raised on the legends of "gym rats" like Chris Mullin.

Mullin eventually finished his professional career in Indianapolis with the Pacers, but long before he was a complementary shooter for Reggie Miller he was a self-made superstar at Xaverian High School and, eventually, St. John's University.

Mullin played when on-the-court intangibles were still valued more than windmill dunks. He wasn't the most gifted athlete, but he had three special qualities that coaches dream of: he could shoot better than anybody on the floor; he could see the game a second before everybody else; and he was the hardest working gym rat you could find.

A gym rat is someone who is always in the gym working on his game. The gym can be a basketball court, the weight room or a soccer field. They always have a ball with them, and are always trying to turn weaknesses into strengths.

Mullin had the keys to both his high school and grammar school gyms, so no excuse that he couldn't work on his game every day. One story is that he went to his high school gym one evening to shoot around and the weather got so bad that he had to spend the whole night.

I always tell players that aspire to move onto a higher standard of play, that what separates players are less often their physical abilities but more often their work ethic, commitment and drive. While sitting around with some friends the other day, we talked about what would have to happen to develop that gym rat mentality.

Here are some recommendations in finding your inner gym rat:

Training versus practice: I was told once that 'practice' is what you do with your team and training is what you do on your own. All gym rats understand and appreciate the fact that they will make strides as players not just at practice with their teammates and coaches, but training on their own.

Some players are happy enough with only expending energy when they are asked to do so by their coach. When your player understands that he or she can grow even more by working outside of practice, they are developing a gym rat mentality.

Soccer Homework: The best coaches can get their players to buy into putting in time away from practice. Sending players home with homework in the same fashion as a teacher reinforcing their student's skills with repetitive exercises can help your players grow rapidly.

Evansville Soccer Club coaches Steve McCullough and Robert Bennett have a 'juggling cup' for their 9 and 10-year-old players. After having players juggle at the end of practice each week, the winner earns a "juggling cup' to take home for a week. Knowing that they will be evaluated weekly in front of their peers, as well as the thrill of winning the cup, encourages the players to train on their own.

Celebrate the gym rat: Players always associate with those that are held in high regard. Make sure that your players have good examples of those who over-achieve because of work ethic and desire.

Coaches and teachers should not only praise those who achieve the highest grades or score the most goals, but also those who improve by putting in the extra time. In most cases, the captain is the player that works hard at the process of getting better, and those qualities become infectious.

I grew up watching players like Mullin achieve success with his skills being his commitment and work ethic more so than being able to jump high or run fast, and it made me believe in the idea of trying to out-work, out-will, and out-want my opposition by minimizing my weaknesses and turning them into strengths.

On a recent recruiting trip, a youth coach said of a player — "He's not really skilled, but he works really hard." I replied that "working hard is the most important skill to have."

When your best players are also gym rats, that's when you know they are truly special.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bird feels that Bryant is ideal teammate

When it comes down to comparing the great players in the NBA today, Kobe Bryant is someone that i've always kept as the gold standard because of his ability to compete, desire to win, and proven track record.

Boston Celtics great Larry Bird saw the Los Angeles Lakers as the enemy during his playing days, but sees Bryant as the one current player he'd like on his side if he were playing today.

Bill Simmons talks to Celtics legend and current Pacers GM Larry Bird about the NBA then and now.

Appearing on "The B.S. Report" with Grantland.com's Bill Simmons, Bird said that LeBron James is one of the greatest players and we should all sit back and enjoy what he can do on the basketball court. He even calls him the best player in the league, but he's not the player he would go into battle with.

If he could choose any current player that he'd like to play a season with, who would it be, Bird was asked.

"Well, probably Kobe, because of the fact that ... well, of course he wouldn't have been shooting as much as he does now ... but his desire to win, his dedication, to always get better, uh, and he's just, he's just tough," Bird said. "He's just a tough cat.

"But, if you want to have fun, like I did with Bill Walton, play with LeBron. It would have probably been more fun to play with LeBron, but if you want to win and win and win, it's Kobe. Not that LeBron's not a winner, just that [Kobe's] mindset is to go into every practice, every game, to get better."

Bryant has won five championships with the Lakers, one short of the legend he's most often compared to, Michael Jordan. James joined the Miami Heat last season and fell short in the NBA Finals, leaving him searching for his first title.

Harry Keough (1927-2012)

Ridge Mahoney of Soccer America writes of the legacy of US soccer pioneer Harry Keough, who passed away yesterday.

The first time I talked with Harry Keough about the 1950 World Cup defeat of England, three and a half decades had passed, yet the details still swirled in his mind. Sights and sounds and smells of the stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil; the numbing boredom of a long boat trip from New York to Brazil that took the team to the competition; the joking rivalry between the St. Louis and East Coast players; and, of that game itself, a humble pride in accomplishing what he'd believed as a player and preached as a coach: "You always have to believe you have a chance to win, because you do."

I had called Harry in advance of a USA-England friendly to be played June 16, 1985, at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the fourth meeting between the countries since the 1-0 defeat inflicted by a Joe Gaetjens goal, some robust defending, and a goal-line clearance. After continuing his playing career with semi-pro teams into the late 1950s, he’d coached 15 seasons and won five NCAA Division I titles at St. Louis University before leaving the college game in 1982.

In three post-World Cup meetings England had thumped the USA 6-3, 8-1, and 10-0. “None of those scores would have surprised anybody when we played them,” laughed Keough when reminded of the results posted in 1953, 1959, and 1964, the first of which he’d played in. “I hope we can do better this time.”

The USA couldn’t: England romped, 5-0, in a match remembered mostly for Gary Lineker, who would become his country’s all-time leading scorer with 48, netting twice. The state of the game in the U.S. was grim; 17 days earlier, on May 31, I had watched the USA lose a World Cup qualifier to Costa Rica, 1-0, to fall out of contention for the 1986 tournament and extend a run of exclusion that dated back to the days of Keough and Gaetjens and Walter Bahr and Frank Borghi, men who had stunned the world while their own nation failed to take note.

Months before had come confirmation the NASL had folded. Instead, the Major Indoor Soccer League, a mutation of crashing bodies and wild scoring, was nearing the peak of its popularity. It seemed sadly fitting to talk with Harry and Bahr and Borghi of an amazing triumph that their head coach, Scotsman Bill Jeffrey, proclaimed would rocket the sport to prominence in the United States but instead nudged only a tiny ripple that quickly dissipated.

It would be corny, and false, to say talking with Harry had renewed my faith in the game as dark clouds descended. But Harry’s spirit, forged by decades playing and coaching and working and raising three children, captivated and inspired you. In our occasional meetings and conversations over the years – at U.S. Soccer events, the NSCAA Convention, at the Soccer Hall of Fame – he always had a good story or a treasured memory or absurd anecdote to share.

The Brazilian soccer federation brought Keough and Bahr and former England international Wilf Mannion back to Belo Horizonte in 1987 to commemorate the match, but it took a little bit longer for the USA itself to catch up.

When World Cup qualification was attained, for the 1990 tournament, Keough and his former teammates bounced back into the spotlight. They basked in the glow during the lead-up to World Cup USA 1994, of course, and once again in 1996 upon release of a book, “The Game of Their Lives,” that detailed their exploits in Brazil. A film version, released in 2005, thrust them into yet another very public forum. He got the celebrity treatment again in 2010, when a USA-England World Cup match brought the game back again 60 years later.

Yet Keough loved to remind interviewers he had to take time off from his mail route to play for the USA, and got back on the job the same day he returned to St. Louis from Brazil. One of the players, Ben McLaughlin, couldn’t get time off to play in the World Cup. One was a meat packer, another drove a hearse. They came back not to acclaim and riches, but to their families and responsibilities.

More than anything, they knew that one game didn’t define them as players, nor as men. He much rather talk about his kids, one of which, Ty, played pro soccer and for the USA. Harry always spoke of his teammates, and had to be prodded to mention anything of himself, though Bahr insisted just about any time a dribbler or cross came into Keough’s vicinity, Harry would win the battle.

Early Tuesday morning Harry lost the battle that eventually claims all of us. We’ll all press on, as Harry would insist.

Harry was a true American soccer legend, and was someone who I was able to meet through his work as a member of the 'red aprons' - the icons who built the foundation of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA). He will surely be missed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bradley serves as model of strength during tragedy in Egypt

Bob Bradley has always been a tremendous example for his players and leader as a soccer coach. Now, in the wake of a terrible tragedy, he is asked to do the same for a nation.

Bradley insisted Monday that he is “totally committed” to coaching Egypt’s national soccer team despite the turmoil in the country following the riot at a game last week that left more than 70 dead.

The soccer federation president who hired Bradley last year resigned last weekend along with his board after they had already been dismissed by the prime minister in the aftermath of Wednesday’s rampage.

But Bradley, the former U.S. national team coach, is sure that he will lead Egypt into African Cup of Nations qualifying.

“I’m totally committed,” Bradley told broadcaster Al-Jazeera according to an e-mailed transcript. “When a tragedy like this occurs it’s important that people can come together and can be strong and in my role as coach of the national team I want to do whatever I can in my responsibilities to help with this process.”

The deadliest soccer stadium disaster since 1996 unfolded in the Mediterranean city of Port Said following Al-Masry’s league match against Cairo-based Al-Ahly, with fans crushed to death while others were fatally stabbed or suffocated in a stampede.

Giants provide reference point for success

The New York Giants' Super Bowl victory can serve as a tremendous reference point for what a team has to be focused on to win a championship.

The Bleacher Report created a list of what teams (and specifically, the New York Knicks) can learn from the New York Giants:

* Defense wins Championships - Contrary to what everyone expected, Super Bowl XLVI was a low-scoring game.

All of the so-called expert analyses predicted anywhere between a 25- to 35-point shootout, but in the end, the Giants were able to come away with a win by only scoring two touchdowns.

How did they manage to do that?

One word: defense.

On the Patriots' first drive, pressure from DE Justin Tuck forced an errant Tom Brady throw which was ruled as intentional grounding from inside of the end zone, thus ruled a safety.

Later in the game, faced with one-on-one coverage out on an island, matched up with injured Pro Bowl TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Chase Blackburn came away with a game-changing interception that stole any momentum the Patriots had left.

Those two turnovers, plus holding the usually stagnant New England rushing attack to only 83 yards, is merely a testament to how pivotal stingy defense is to success.

* When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going - It wasn't too long ago that the Giants were in a similar, if not worse predicament than the Knicks are right now.

At 7-7, facing relentless win-or-go-home situations, the Giants never faltered.

With their backs against the wall, the G-Men shined even brighter, notching convincing wins over their hometown rival New York Jets and their division rival Dallas Cowboys to earn a Wild Card playoff spot.

They then continued to defy the odds against the Atlanta Falcons, the red-hot Green Bay Packers and the stingy defense of the San Francisco 49ers, all leading up to their Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.

Even in the NFC Championship game, the 49ers hit Manning an appalling 18 times.

But did the future Hall of Fame QB give up?

No, Manning hung in there, sat in the pocket like a grown man and delivered accurate strikes to get his team to the Super Bowl.

* The Best Player on the Team Must Step Up and Fill His Role - Before the season began, Eli Manning's confidence was tested when he was asked whether he believed he was among the elite QBs in the NFL—i.e., Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and his oh-so heralded older brother, Peyton Manning.

While his pitch and tone lacked confidence, his answer was a resounding "yes," and he's proven to be everything and more than the critics believed he wasn't.

* Consistency Is Key - This isn't something for the entire team to learn, but for the superstars to learn from the superstar.

Eli Manning, since the Giants' win-or-go-home victory over the Dallas Cowboys, has been nothing short of phenomenal.

In his last five games, since it's mattered most, Manning has only thrown one interception—a barely visible blemish compared to his 11 touchdown passes and 1,565 passing yards.

Commitment to defense and hard work are staples for Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau has transitioned from being an outstanding assistant coach in the NBA to the 2010-11 NBA Coach of the Year as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls.

Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun Times writes of what makes Thibodeau such a special coach.

‘‘Before we made the decision to hire him, we did an incredible amount of background work on all the candidates,’’ says Bulls general manager Gar Forman, who with executive vice president for basketball operations John Paxson signed Thibodeau as the 18th head coach in franchise history on June 23, 2010. ‘‘We talked to coaches, players, everyone. It was evident Tom was really a fit for us and the philosophy of the organization.’’

And what’s that philosophy? Defense, seriousness, teamwork, hard work and, as Forman says, ‘‘attention to detail.’’

From chairman Jerry Reinsdorf on down, the Bulls have this notion that defense wins championships.

The Bulls won six NBA titles with Michael Jordan on the floor. You think his offense had something to do with it?

Then again, if you saw Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper and/or Dennis Rodman, arms splayed, twitching with glee, waiting for you to cross the halfcourt line with the ball, the defensive part does come to mind.

And defense is Thibodeau’s calling card. That’s what he specialized in as an assistant for coach Doc Rivers when the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship in 2008. And that’s what the Bulls want him to specialize in now. He does that and more.

Without sugar-coating any of this, let’s just state for the record that Thibodeau — the man with no known hobbies, pets, addictions, interests, disorders or distractions of any kind — is succeeding far beyond our wildest dreams.

After meeting with him during the Celtics’ playoff run in 2010, Forman and Paxson were amazed the then-52-year-old lifer was available. And to think he never had been an NBA head coach.

Indeed, that was why the public was underwhelmed by the hire. After all, how well did the Vinny Del Negro first-time-as-head-coach thing go?

But Thibodeau seemingly has put the cork in the Phil Jackson Era bottle, tightly and with emphasis, enabling the Bulls to see a new future at last.

For years, there was chaos in the vacuum left by Phil and his six trophies. From 1998 until Thibodeau, the Bulls had this conga line of head coaches and interim head coaches: Tim Floyd, Bill Berry, Bill Cartwright, Pete Myers, Scott Skiles, Myers again, Jim Boylan and Del Negro.

Not one of them had a winning record. Del Negro, in fact, comes out as the star of the lame bunch at an even 82-82.

Maybe it was luck giving the Bulls the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft — and, thus, Derrick Rose — that deserves all the credit. But the Bulls never should be an average or worse team.

And here they are with a 21-6 record, with Thibodeau making do with a patched-up lineup seemingly every night.

Why, with Rip Hamilton and Luol Deng alternately down with injuries, virtual statue Kyle Korver has been forced into playing lots of minutes, which means he has had to do much more than fire up three-pointers. Which he has done.

‘‘I think he’s really improved defensively over the course of two seasons’’ is how Thibs, grim-faced as ever, doles out the slightest praise for Korver.

Thibodeau isn’t a sweetheart. But Forman says: ‘‘He does a terrific job of communicating. He gives great attention to details, he has a plan and he holds the players accountable. I think all of the guys like him. But, more important, they respect him.’’

They do. And it’s because Thibodeau wants what they want: to win.

Which is another reason the Bulls should be cautious before they go out and try to snag a big superstar, such as, say, talk-radio favorite Dwight Howard.

‘‘To play for Tom, it takes a certain type of player,’’ Forman says. ‘‘A player who is serious about the game, a professional, a guy with a great work ethic.’’

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jeter proves to be worthy role model for Eli

Eli Manning's star has never shined brighter as he leads his New York Giants into their 2nd Super Bowl in the past 4 years.

As accomplished and appreciated as Manning is now, he was not always held in that regard. Playing professional sports in the largest fishbowl of a media market like New York is not easy, as there are very high expectations to manage and distractions to avoid.

Manning has several role models that he can use as reference points in his career - both his father (Archie) and brother (Peyton) have had stellar NFL careers themselves - but when it came to holding himself up to a specific standard, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was was used.

"Derek's a guy, from the time I first came here, that I definitely have paid a lot of attention to," Manning said last week after a Giants practice. "He's a great player, but he's also a guy who really shows you what you have to do to succeed in a place like New York. The way he's handled himself on the field, off the field. The way he's dealt with all of the attention without letting it affect the way he does his job. He's done that better than anybody."

As Manning prepares to play the New England Patriots on Sunday in his second Super Bowl, he's the focus of much attention and hype. There is an urge to rate him, to compare him, to discuss his place in the pantheon of quarterbacks -- both current and all time. He is compared to his brother, the great Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. He is compared to Tom Brady, the three-time Super Bowl winner he's trying to beat in the big game for the second time in five years. But the best comparison for Manning may actually be a guy who plays a different sport in the same town.

Jeter has succeeded as a New York superstar without once saying anything to get himself in trouble or embarrass his organization. He is a quiet leader whose entire team respects and follows him without question. At a young age, he established himself as the kind of player who excels in clutch situations, and the way he does that is by remaining exactly the same regardless of the intensity of the situation. By refusing to let the game become too big or too important at times when it feels that way to many other players, he effectively raises his game at the critical moment. All of these same things can be said about Eli Manning, and it's no accident.

"Playing in this market, you learn quickly that you've got to be immune to the distractions," Manning said. "And watching Derek and seeing how he's kept his private life private and managed to keep the focus on the field and on the job he has to do, that's a big help for someone like me. That's what you've got to do, and he's the ultimate example."

The examples set by both Manning and Jeter are tremendous models to follow - not only for athletes who are playing in the magnified setting of New York, but for any athlete that hold professionalism, commitment and focus in high regard.