Recipe For Success: Player Discipline

By Christopher DiMarino

I live in an area deep with sports history. There has been a lot of success here and it is home to many dedicated fans. Unfortunately I\’m not one of them. That is of course because I live right outside of Detroit. Don\’t get me wrong, I don\’t hate the Lions. In fact, teams that have had long sustained hardships are often the target of my remorse (Cleveland notwithstanding). But while I\’ve admitted to cheering for them against many a competitor, I can\’t be called a fan of them. The main reason? They don\’t have the recipe for prolonged success in the NFL.

This piece isn\’t just about the Detroit Lions, it\’s about the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Lions are a great example of why I love the Steelers. Player discipline. We\’ve all laughed at the Cincinnati Bengals and their player issues, yet what do they do differently? The answer is in their tolerance of player mishaps. I\’ll be the first to admit that not all players need to be role models, but that doesn\’t excuse them from the professional nature that comes along with being employed. In fact, their heightened wage and responsibility to fans should only enforce the importance of their ethics at work. Many teams don’t have problems because few issues come up. More importantly, certain teams like the Steelers deal with it well, while others definitely don’t.

What I\’ve found in the past few years is you have one freebee. Once a player makes a mistake, it is rash to jump to conclusions. You could get rid of them, but that could scare other players because zero tolerance policies create an image of rigidity. Many organizations go above and beyond to appear flexible and caring to their players. But, once the second or even third discretion happens, action is needed. Pittsburgh made a bold move when they sent Santonio Holmes packing just one year after being a Super Bowl hero because of his problems with the law. Some may think that keeping Ben Roethlisberger is a double standard, but he never was charged with a crime and he has taken the steps to make amends nonetheless.

Detroit is not Pittsburgh and their tough times have bred opportunities to succeed. Several bad seasons lead to multiple early draft picks which turned into many high profile players. But it\’s difficult when players, especially high round draft picks, make mistakes that deserve dismissal. Parting with them is tough because they represent considerable value to the team. However, if you fail to send a message, you encourage more issues. If you haven’t heard about the Detroit Lions issues let me recap:

–          Nick Fairley DT(2011 1.13 pick): arrested for marijuana possession, then arrested for DUI and eluding police a few months later.

–          Mikel LeShoure RB(2011 2.57 pick): fined for “using” marijuana in February, then arrested in March for eating marijuana as cops arrived.

–          Titus Young WR(2011 2.44 pick): kept out of OTAs for sucker punching a teammate (Delmas).

–          Johnny Culbreath (2011 7th round): arrested for marijuana possession.

Of course let’s not forget the dirty stomp by Ndamukong Suh against the Green Bay Packers as well. This young roster that had so much upside seems to be spiraling out of control. How do they stop this spiral? One NFL executive recommended cutting someone as an example to the others. Also, these are guys who were drafted and had red flags against them. So not every gamble pays off cleanly. That is why I believe player discipline is key. It\’s hard to believe these grown men don\’t inherently have discipline to tune their bodies to compete at such a high level. And the one constant that they\’ve had leading them to this high level is coaching.

When riots happen in jails (dated reference albeit) the warden is typically to blame. Jim Schwartz dropped a few notches in my book after the way he handled the Thanksgiving Day loss. For those who don\’t remember, he pouted after Harbaugh (I don\’t care to mention which one because I hate them equally) slapped him on the back during the coaches’ handshake. That is why I like Mike Tomlin. Sure the guy inherited a great defense and a franchise quarterback, but coaching is more of a figurehead job than many give it credit for. He has that quiet intelligence that makes you choose your words carefully and that binary thought process that leaves excuses at the door. It\’s not so hard to blame a reporter for misquoting Tomlin into apparently promoting bounties because he is driven. Tomlin has his eyes on the prize, and that is something he can share with his players. He, however, also has the integrity and ethics to approach those goals like a working man and not cut corners. That is exactly the type of behavior for his players to mirror and avoid problems with the law.

Many see the coach as an image of the overall team. Tomlin is a young, intense guy so it only adds to the Pittsburgh tough defensive mentality (a la Bill Cowher). A historically incorrect portrayal was when the Giants media was calling for Tom Coughlin\’s head. Coach/player relations are always a hotbed issue. The key to learn from this is that you don\’t have to be a player\’s best friend, but you do have to earn their respect. Did you respect your parents when they disciplined you? While at the time it might not have seemed like it, I bet you do now. That is what mentality coaches must have. The more the players are focused on the game and disciplined, the better they will perform and the less chances they will end up in trouble with the law.

  • Daveb1952

    IMO, there are enough problems in the world. Adding more to your universe is shortsighted at best, often counterproductive, and may derail your opperation at worst.

    In fairness, the Steelers are not batting 1.000 on this issue, but they’re pretty dang close relatively speaking.

  • Poalo4343

    See the NFL arrests database.

    Detroit has 12 arrests for 10 players and Pittsburgh 17 arrests for 13 players. Pitts burgh recruits its share of problem players contrary to public perception and excellent PR — not to mention ignorance of the facts.

  • Wdmason

    I have to agree. The Steelers are not batting 1,000 on this issue. While it was a bold move to dump Santonio Holmes, there are some players that need to kept at all costs.

    Case in point, refer back to another Holmes by the name of Ernie. I seem to remember him involved in a shooting spree in Texas. Shooting at cars from a turnpike overpass? We needed Ernie to win the Super Bowl and guess what? The Steelers found a way to keep him on the field.

    I posted this on the Tribune Forum a while back but it was moderated out and never made print.

    Double standard? No I dont think so. I think action on the field speaks louder than off the field discretions. I think Santonios problems were on-the-field as well…

  • Wdmason

    These posts would be deleted from the Tribune blogs.

  • Wdmason

    Actually they would never make print.

  • While you are right that Pittsburgh does a better job of PR on this, but if we are sticking to the facts relevant to this article, Pittsburgh has one arrest since 2009, while Detroit has 5 in 2012 alone, which makes the article very timely.

  • Bigcountry58

    The difference is Ernie had much deeper psychological issues, he wasn’t just being stupid. Could you imagine what he would have done if he would have been released? Atleast he was just shooting at helicopters.

  • You are right about the on the field vs off the field, but Ernie was also in a different time, and mentally ill. Tone is just a screw up that can’t keep himself clean.

  • Poalo4343

    Holmes was arrested on the Ohio/PA Turnpike trying to shoot at a passing motorist. He was diagnosed with acute paranoid psychosis. He was institutionalized. The Chief visited him every week until he was allowed back into society with medicine to suppress his mental problem.

  • One thing that bothers me about Tomlin is that while he has maintained the off the field discipline we’ve come to expect from the Steelers, I think that on the field, player discipline is a lot more lax than it was under Cowher. I think that is one reason the players seem to be getting more after the whistle and personal foul flags (the new rules being the other).

  • Wdmason

    I could be wrong but as far as I remember the incident occured during the playoffs. Im not sure how much treatment he had as I recall he never missed a game.

    Yes it was a different time in a different era and no way Ernie would be playing today a few weeks after a shooting spree.. But the Super Bowl was the prize and we couldnt allow a little mental problem to get in the way.

    I was actually impressed by the way it was handled. I wanted to win at all costs. As long as they checked his locker before games and made sure he took his meds…

  • Jprankster2005

    I like Tomlin but when he was first hired, I hoped that he did a poor job, Because I thought Cowher just needed a couple years off and they would want him back because Tomlin did a bad job……..But Tomlin actually has done a real good job, But I would pick Cowher all they way, if I had to pick……Just glad we have great coaches…….. 3 coaches in the matter of what 40 some years…… Isn’t no other franchise that can say that or even come close to that…..