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Cardinals Need a New Psychology (Getting Minds and Words Right)

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals-Kyler Murray Press Conference Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals have begun to take big steps in their attempt to recapture the NFC West.

This year the Cardinals have added new, exciting, attack-style coaches and schemes.

There will be more to say about this in upcoming threads, but let me give you one concept to chew on. As we all know the Rams are sitting very comfortably on the NFC West throne these days---not too long ago, they were where the Cardinals are now. They made significant coaching, schematic and personnel changes---and now they are thriving.

Guess what beat them in the Super Bowl? Even though the Patriots had never practiced running an all-out spread offense, they drew one up in the dirt during the 2nd half of a tight, low-scoring game and pulled rabbits and the game out of the hat. The Rams defense did not have an answer for it. Thus, for the Cardinals to be switching to a high volume attack-style spread offense in 2019, could immediately be a stategic game changer.

This year, more than even before, the Cardinals have specifically catered their personnel additions to the new offensive and defensive schemes.

Again---this is a significant move in the right direction.

The Cardinals are using analytics more to their advantage than in the past.

But---and here comes the caveat---if the Cardinals don’t purge themselves from the ills of the past---if they don’t make a new commitment to getting their minds and their words right---like Sisyphus, at best, they will only push the boulder a little way up the hill before it rolls back down again.

New psychology:

* Stop enabling and coddling the star players. Sometimes it feels like the front office is more star-struck than even the fans. It feels like the Cardinals’ front office has an inferiority complex---as if they feel so lucky to have a few star players that they readily enable, idolize and coddle them.

* The gushing that occurs when they add new star-quality players actually puts those players at a disadvantage because it creates a pedestal-effect for the players and it creates lofty and unrealistic expectations. For a young college player to come into the league and have the team that drafted him compare him already to a Hall of Famer is like going on a first date and being so uncontrollably smitten that you tell the girl right there she is your all-time dream girl. When you put people on pedestals, you do them an incredible disservice because they no longer can see you eye to eye, it’s a lonely isolation and there is no way to go, but down.

* To the contrary, Bill Parcells used to say about his star-quality draft picks, “well he hasn’t done anything yet” and after one good game, “let’s not punch his ticket to Canton just yet.” Big difference. The key is seeing eye to eye with star-quality players, treating them just like all of the rest and not overwhelming them with lofty expectations.

* One of the great Parcells’ quotes: “potential means you haven’t done anything yet.”

* In today’s NFL, you have to educate your young players the way the Patriots do. If Patrick Peterson was on the Patriots they would tell him if you ever start crowing about being the best DB in the league again---we’ll run you out of here. There are great reasons why Patriots’ players do not (a) sing their own praises; (b) ever discuss where they think they rank among the league’s best players today or the history of the NFL; (c) ever discuss personal goals; and (d) ever ever ever mention the words “Super Bowl,” until they have qualified for it.

* Whenever Bill Belichick is asked to comment on how great Tom Brady was in a game, Belichick talks about how great the entire offense was---he doesn’t single Brady out. When Tom Brady or Gronk orJulian Edelman are asked about how great they were in the game, they defer the attention and praise to their teammates.

* You would never hear David Johnson telling the New England media that his goal is to rush and receive for over 1,000 yards each. The Patriots wouldn’t allow this---and Johnson would have known this well before a microphone was ever put to his lips. Plus, the Patriots don’t believe in giving the vast majority of the snaps to one running back. They prefer a stable of backs, each one given a different role and each one kept fresh enough to maximize their strengths.

Sure, so many of you are sick and tired of reading comparisons about the Patriots. But, how many teams in professional sports have fostered the kind of year-in-and-year-out teamwork and self-discipline? They know and understand that talk is cheap and that it often gets the players and the team in trouble.

For those of you who still believe that having Belichick and Brady has given the Patriots an easy ticket to AFC Championships and Super Bowls---you may be underestimating how incredibly difficult it is to get 53 men and 14 coaches all on the same page and all of them adhering steadfastly to the same self and team disciplines.

The Miami Dolphins for years had a HOF head coach and HOF franchise QB in Don Shula and Dan Marino---and together they never won a ring.

You want to galvanize a team? It takes a culture and an organizational commitment to a common psychology, where each man has a humble responsibility to honor the sanctity of diligent, disciplined preparation and teamwork.

You don’t ever talk about that psychology to the media---but you work that mindset and build on it every day in practice and in the games. At the end of the tunnel, this is the discipline that builds mental-toughness.

When players like N’Keal Harry become Patriots they already have an expectation of how they are going to fit in to their standards. The team is way bigger than the individuals.

The problem in Arizona is that by giving the special treatment to star players, over the years, the players have been ruling the roost, not the other way around. This is why the Cardinals have a reputation for having a country club atmosphere which is especially attractive to players toward the end of their careers who want to take it a little easier.

You also know that the players are ruling the roost when they show up to play hard one game---and then the next week look like they could care less.

Is it just pure coincidence that the best regular season the Cardinals have ever had was the season where their every daily move was captured by video cameras?

Look at what happened just a year after the video cameras were gone.

However, the Cardinals are now in a position to move the arrow forward with Kliff Kingsbury as head coach/offensive mastermind and Kyler Murray as QB1. What Kingsbury and Murray have in common is an excitement for the style of offense they are running and the humble understanding of the hard work and dedication it will take to build the team into a winner.

As previously mentioned, it will take a humble, diligent commitment from 53 players and 14 coaches to build a new culture that fosters a common psychology. Thus, the biggest challenge for Kliff Kingsbury as a new head coach in his first year as an NFL head coach is to set the work-ethic and relationship examples himself and to hold the players to the highest standards of preparation, accountability and decorum.

Will Kingsbury be able to stand up the resistance he will inevitably receive from some of the veterans? I believe that he will. I believe that he knows he has to. He will be himself, because he is smart enough to know that he has to be himself to be perceived as genuine. But, I believe he will hold his players to same high standards that he applies to himself. He also can reap the benefits of working with as good as role model as the Cardinals have ever had in Larry Fitzgerald. I believe that in terms of humbleness, work ethic and dedication, Kliff Kingsbury and Larry Fitzgerald have a lot in common. This may be the head coaching match that Fitz has had in Arizona.

Why more players on the Cardinals don’t train and comport themselves the in the professional way that Larry does is mind-boggling. But, unfortunately for the Cardinals and Larry, all too often he has been surrounded by players who choose to cut corners and by a front office that at times enables some players to get away with it.

For the team’s sake, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim need to help and support Kingsbury in every possible manner---they cannot and should not condone double standards for star players or players who want to run their mouths in selfish or immature ways. Too bad if some star players find themselves suddenly being held to higher standards of decorum, because this is exactly what the team needs in order to shed the ills of the past. If it means shipping players out of town, then so be it.

As for Kyler Murray, it has been a very positive sign already that he isn’t taking anything for granted, that he wants to earn his stripes and to thereby warrant the type of respect that comes through hard work and teamwork.

You can tell that, like Kingsbury, Kyler is the son of a coach. He understands the patience and hard work that goes into weaving the fabric of a resilient, detail-oriented, tough-minded football team.

Look at the way Kyler downplayed his first practice to the media. He kept repeating while chuckling that hey man it’s just the first day, this is nothing really to talk about or to get too excited about. Kliff Kingsbury spoke the same way. Both were very understated in their remarks.

Now---that is a first day psychology to get excited about.