I’m always intrigued when sports teams make deals for physically gifted players that leave something to be desired in the “four pillars” department. Since Steve Spagnuolo’s first day on the job in St. Louis, the four pillars have been a catchphrase used by Rams fans. The four are easy: faith, character, team first, and core values.
Those are easy to identify. To win, a player has to have faith in the program and has to be willing to abide by the plan. He must have character, show mental and physical toughness despite any adversity. He must put the team first. And he must have simple, core values that he lives by on and off the field.
Marty Schottenheimer’s time with the Chiefs unraveled when he neglected character and values at the end of his career in Kansas City. He brought in selfish receivers Derrick Alexander and Andre Rison, disruptive (in the locker room) defensive linemen Leslie O’Neal and Chester McGlockton, convicted running back Bam Morris and moody linebacker Wayne Simmons. All of those players were physically gifted, but also had tremendous drawbacks as people. Several were known as clubhouse cancers, and proved themselves during that fateful 1998 season in K.C. They had gone 13-3 the year before, but had been disappointed in the post-season again , losing in the first round to Denver.
Schottenheimer became desperate, and brought in that group of malcontents. The Chiefs’ decade of excellence carried them to a 4-1 start, but once the effects of those players set in, the team nosedived to a 7-9 finish that ultimately cost Schottenheimer his job.
That history is notable now because it seems that Bill Belichick is getting desperate in New England. Since losing Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants, the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game. Six seasons have passed since the last time New England won a Super Bowl, and only five players from that team remain. Of course, the key remaining player is quarterback Tom Brady.
Belichick went out and traded for defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth from Washington and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco from Cincinnati on Thursday. Those are two players that haven’t exactly provided the definition of four pillars lately. Haynesworth quit in Washington, deciding he didn’t want to play in a 3-4 defense and dogging his way through a miserable 2010 season. Even though the Redskins paid him $41 million, he didn’t see fit to try and earn it. Even worse, when Haynesworth played in a 4-3 for Washington in 2009, he wasn’t happy with that, either.
Ochocinco is all about Chad. His last name used to be Johnson. Since changing his name to Ochocinco before the 2008 season, he has averaged about 50 yards receiving per game, and a half dozen touchdowns per season. Before that, he had averaged 1,339 yards and eight touchdowns in the previous six seasons. Now at 33, Ochocinco has had three straight subpar seasons.
When a player that’s 30-plus years old, as both Haynesworth and Ochocinco are, has back-to-back or more poor seasons, it’s hard to rebound and rediscover previous excellence. But a desperate coach that thinks he’s just a couple of gifted players away can think he’s the one to counter father time and get those guys going.
In addition to struggling personally in their last several years, Haynesworth and Ochocinco have been anchors for their franchises. Their clubs have both disappointed in the won-loss column. Haynesworth essentially led to the firing of Jim Zorn in Washington and collided dramatically with Mike Shanahan last year. When asked about the prospect of Belichick taking on Ochocinco in March, during the Senior Bowl, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said,”Belichick’s smarter than that.” That’s a strong statement about a player who’s still your property, as Ochocinco was at that point.
Spagnuolo has been smart to stand by his principles in regards to his four pillars philosophy. Desperation to win the big one and deviating from that spurred Schottenheimer’s exit in Kansas City.
We’ll see how it works for Belichick, but history isn’t on his side.