Jonathan Gannon’s opening speech on this week’s edition of Cardinals “Flight Plan” has drawn sharp criticism and ridicule from a host of NFL fans on social media.
Here is the link:
My first reaction, before I even viewed the episode, was that JG is going to face heavy scrutiny this season, particularly from NFL fans and pundits like Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, for the surreptitious way in which he and new Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort broke NFL rules regarding the rules for interviewing head coaching candidates —- in this case —- the rules applying to coaches on conference champion teams who are supposed to be thoroughly engaged in preparing their teams for the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals have become the most relentlessly scrutinized team in the NFL for the way the Kyler Murray drama played out last year—- for all of the subsequent firings and medical leaves —- for the owner’s use of burner phones during Steve Keim’s suspension —- for the organizational failures manifested in the NFLPA report —-for the how the Isaiah Simmons situation played out —- for cutting the veteran QB who took the vast majority of the 1st team reps this off-season and started the first two pre-season games a mere two weeks before the first game —- for spending a 2024 5th round draft pick on a career backup QB who in 6 years has started two NFL games when they could have signed him for a tad more than $2M in free agency anyway —- for the owner and new GM hiring the youngest coaching staff in the history of the NFL —- etc.
The point is this —- anyone associated with the Arizona Cardinals right now, including us fans—- are a national object of ridicule and scorn.
Why do outside fans and pundits seemingly care so much about the Cardinals these days?
The last things the vast majority of NFL fans want to see is the Cardinals picking at #1 in the 2024 NFL Draft with the chance to select QB Caleb Williams of USC.
In JG’s own words, “don’t get that twisted.”
Now —- about JG’s opening speech to the team.
He began the meeting by asking, “what time is it?”
Good move? Bad move?
Good move —- JG has been holding every player on the team accountable for being on time, which he will refer to once again later in his speech.
His next move was to ask for a show of hands as to which players drove their cars or took the bus to the facility.
Good move? Bad Move?
It was a potentially good move that turned out to look silly.
What was the point?
If the point has been to explain how privileged the players are to be being paid handsomely for playing the game they love, then the car and bus metaphors would have been effective.
There also could have been a Pat Tillman inspiration here —- because part of Pat’s profound legacy with the Cardinals was that he used to ride his bicycle to the team facility —- and that reference to Patt Tillma could have neatly dovetailed with the enlightening segment regarding Cardinals’ special teams’ coordinator’s (Jeff Rodgers’s) long bicycle rides each morning to the facility.
JG: “We’re here for a reason —- don’t get that twisted —- we are here to win games.”
Good move. Good tone setter.
Then comes JG’s question of “is there a fire in your gut?”
Good move? Bad move?
Another potentially good move, that went bad because, not only did the question come off as trite, but he asked the question in such an emotionless, passive tone that the import of the question was lost.
JG’s caveat was, “if there isn’t that fire in your gut, then you had better light the fire pretty fast.”
The problem is —- as all coaches and players know —- if the fire in your gut is something you have to turn on, then you’re already cooked.
Budda Baker is sitting right there —- has there even been a question about the fire in his gut?
One of the wisest teaching strategies is to teach to the cream of the crop in the room with the hope and belief that if you do, the less engaged students will be inspired to “join the crowd.”
“So, everyone’s on time, everyone’s got fire in their gut.”
The tone in which JG made this assumption after asking the questions was lame. It sounded whiny and completely anti-climactic.
But, here comes the best move of the speech:
“How you go about your day is going to be critical for our success as a team. On a daily basis, to become the best player that you can be so we can be the best team that we want to be.”
This was said with perfect articulation and with emphatic inflection.
“Winning behavior is winning behavior.”
Sounds like a Yogi Berra-ism.
“Don’t show up late, because I’m fining you. because you are not putting yourself behind the team, you are putting yourself in front of the team if you do that and it’s bullsh^^. Because your buddies are counting on you. You understand? Jeff’s (Rodgers) is counting on you. Nick’s (Rallis) counting on you. I’m counting on you. Hump (DJ) is counting on you —- to do the right f’n thing —- so do the right f’n thing.”
Sounds like the exact same speech that JJ Watt gave the team on the practice field before the Broncos’ game in Week 14 (captured by HBO’s Hard Knox In-Season) following a week in which both Kyler Murray and Hollywood Brown were late to meetings.
Good for JG to keep resounding the importance of players being on time and ultimately for being accountable for “how they go about their days.”
“Or we’re going to get waxed. Understand?”
“Truthfully, if you said, ‘hey JG’ what do you want your team to look like?’ I want them to be killers. Truthfully, silent killers. Killers. Okay? So be who you are. Just understand, I’m looking for fu—ing killers.”
When JG was introduced as the Cardinals’ new head coach, he iterated how he wants his players to be “vi-o-lent.”
This type of rhetoric is excessive, and, tainted by a regrettably misguided choice of words.
Football is a game.
It is not war.
Yes, football is one of the ultimate contact sports.
But, in an age where our city streets are being ravaged by violent flash mobs, where our schools, malls and churches are being terrorized and besieged by mass murderers, where too many homes are being destroyed by insidious acts of domestic violence —- while there is the scourge of devastating carnage going on every minute in Ukraine —-
To urge NFL players to be “violent fu—ing killers” is egregious —- because it is obtusely insensitive.
Sure, we all understand how amped up football coaches and players get and how it takes a certain level of adrenaline and urgency to play the game at a high level of intensity.
But, there is also a vital importance for coaches and players to be role models, particularly for today’s youths, many of whom need proper guidance and a functional sense of decorum.
This Flight Plan video on YouTube is being viewed by a plethora of young fans.
Put it this way —- there is a reason why the NFL has banned the “cut-throat” swipe celebration.
For the same reason, coaches should not be invoking words like “violence” and “killers.”
If JG were simply to swap “aggressive” for the word “violent” and “ballers” for the word “killers”, his message for his players would be more appropriate and even more effective.
In one of the later segments filmed in JG’s office, he alluded to being educated in the Jesuit tradition where “service to others” is the raison d’etre.
The best of what I have seen from JG thus far is his passion for teaching and the energy and stentorian voice he brings to helping his players grow and develop —- both within the pro football profession and as men. That’s where his background in Jesuit education appears to be most working profoundly.
The point is —- the proof of how well JG and his young staff will fare —- given this extraordinarily challenging opportunity to try to make the woeful Arizona Cardinals relevant and worthy of respect—- will be in how well and effectively JG and his young staff can teach and develop the players.
Therefore, JG should take his own advice that he gave the players—- “So be who you are.”
Keep bringing the energy, the love of the game and the passion for teaching —- and let the ensuing actions speak for themselves.