"Tom Cable a Zen Master? Richard, you have lost your mind." This is what you're saying, right? Come on--give it a try. I mean what says Zen Mastery more than settling coaching disputes by breaking faces or at least one domestic dispute with a slap?
Wait, you may have a point here. Tom Cable may not be a Zen Master, but his new approaches to coaching are reminiscent of one Zen Master, Phil Jackson. Now I know you can see those similarities. One is nine feet tall and 200 lbs. and the other is five feet tall and 650 lbs. One wears suits, sits stoically on the sidelines, preaches poise, has never lost a game on his way to 105 championships and like(s) or (d) to smoke weed and ingest hallucinogens. The other wears hipster black buttoned shirts, jumps and yells on the sidelines, preaches playing with reckless abandon, has never even sniffed the playoffs while being 87 games under .500 and probably prefers a cool beer over a waltz with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
Okay, so the similarities may not be readily apparent, but they are there. Hear me out. Cable really seems to be finding his niche as a coach now that he has stepped back a bit. Last Season, as things started to spiral down, Cable began to take on more and more. He took over play calling duties, essentially became the O-line coach and QB babysitter. This actually limited his effectiveness. One who tries to do everything actually does nothing (the aforementioned duo aren't the only Zen Masters here).
This is where Cable has begun to blossom. Growing comfortable with delegating and being surrounded by quality assistants, Cable has been free to become the overseer of the team. This is what head coaching is about, big picture items. Cable now can be free to have his finger on the pulse of the team, get the focus where it needs to be, make sure all the pieces fit and ensure that the players are playing for each other.
It is in these areas where Cable really seems to be finding himself as a coach and an area that Phil Jackson may be unequaled. This is not the basis of my comparison though-there are plenty of great coaches that do or have done these same things. It is in the ways that Cable is going about this, that the similarities become apparent.
In a recent media session, Langston Walker asked if their was anything unusual about Tom Cable. Walker:
Coach Cable is a big movie guy and we're constantly watching movie clips sort of spliced into our game film going into games. We've watched Patton, Braveheart, Goodfellas.
Phil Jackson has been doing this since he was still dressing like a hippie and coaching the CBA. In fact, Phil even used to splice the movies into the game film himself. The kind of thing he had time for, because he had assistants taking care of game planning and other things.
Movies aren't the only way Jackson gets his team's head in the right place. He often uses simple quotes or sayings. He'll just put them on a board and leave them there for his players to see. Well, according to Walker, Cable like this approach as well. Walker:
He's big into that and that's his way of motivating us. He's got great speeches and he'll come in and put some statistic up or a phrase up and just end it. And you sort of carry that with you all day. I think this team is starting to reflect coach Cable.
Coach Cable does some things that really make you think without having to say a damn thing. Some of the things he puts up in the locker room. He doesn't acknowledge it or say anything about it., but they show us when's the last time we had success this team.
To really reach players, you have to know them. This is another area in which Jackson has excelled. He tries to figure out what makes them tick, in order to find the best way to get them to adhere to a team principle. He will give players books to read, talk to them individually, ask his psychologists for the best ways to reach them and have team meditations. The Raiders may not be meditating together, but they Cable has spoke of them coming together as a team since training camp. Cable realized he would have to get to know them to facilitate this tramsformation. Cable:
It was part of that communication I spoke of, listening to them. We all had dinner together in camp. At one point in time during camp, I had dinner together with every player on this team, so I got a little more insight into them other than just on the practice field. I think you learn more about each other and what we're all about. One of the questions was, What's your favorite movie and why? So you learn things about people when you ask questions. The videos kind of come from that and they're just a thought for the week and that's how we take it.
There is one other connection between the two that is coming to light. Take this one or leave it, but I am starting to see it. That is the use of the media to get into players heads. Jackson uses the media to try and get into any and everyone's head, the opposition, the refs, the league, his owner, his players. You can never take anything he says in public at face value. He almost always has some deeper meaning behind his quotes. I think Tom Cable, is starting to tap into this skill.
I am going to give two examples that require you to jump on my conspiracy train. The first, I had actually touched upon in my mid-season awards, but it is still worth revisiting.
The night before training camp, a report by Andy Slater, a Florida sport radio talk show host, surfaced that he had inside information that Mike Mitchell was going to be cut. The next day, it seemed to be coming a reality. There was one cut still to be made and popular consensus was it was going to be Mitchell and that the coaches wanted Mitchell cut, because it would be addition by subtraction. These rumors gained momentum when Stevie Brown talked to the press as if he had made the team. Eventually, Brown was cut and Mitchell was retained. Slater then reported that Al Davis put his foot down and would not let them cut Mitchell.
Here is what I think happened. The Coaches didn't have Mitchell's full attention, but not to the extent that he was the cancer that he was made out to be. When asked if had noticed or knew of any problems between Mitchell and the coaches, Raiders reporter, Jerry McDonald had this to say:
He's a little high strung and high maintenance. He's usually of a mind, when playing defense, to be overly aggressive and overpursue while looking for the big play and the big hit. But he practices every day and has some real qualities as a physical safety.
This does not paint the picture of a player who would be addition by subtraction, but maybe of someone the coaches wanted to motivate to play the right way. The organization saw an opportunity to reach him and motivate him by purposefully leaking this information that he was about to be cut and then played it out to the last minute. I am sure they had a conversation with him at this time and reiterated their expectations and he likely paid a little more attention.
The coaches never intended on cutting him--they just wanted to get more out of him. Look at his role to start the season. He was ahead of Brown on the depth chart, as well as Hiram Eugene. If the coaches wanted him cut, wouldn't they have buried him on the depth chart? And if Al Davis was going to go as far as demand he stay on the team, would he have said, "You don't have to start him, but you can't bury him. Make him second string."
Onto the next situation: The rumors that Al Davis demands Jason Campbell start. Again, we have another reporter, Steve Corkran, with "inside information." Information that is supported by the fact that Tom Cable had been adamant that Bruce Gradkowski was still the starter, then after the OT win against the Chiefs and just before Gradkowski was going to be ready to play, he backtracked and named Campbell the starter.
Here is what I think really happened. Tom Cable has had a hard time getting Campbell to, as he likes to say, cut it loose. Campbell hesitates, checksdown, plays too safe and was too awkward in the offense for Cable's liking. This is what got him benched in the first place. Due to injury, Campbell had led the Raiders to a come from behind victory against the Chargers. Afterwards, Campbell had this to say, about his success:
Just play my game and not try to play someone else's game and do what someone else wants you to do. Just play your game and have fun.
It seems innocent enough, except for the "play someone else's game" part. The coaches had been vocal about Campbell needing to be more aggressive and here is Campbell essentially saying, "I need to do things my way." A quote like that is going to frustrate the coaches. Consequently Gradkowski remained the starter.
Then Gradkowski gets hurt and Campbell is playing again. The coaches continue to try and get him to play the way they want him to play. Campbell is still reluctant and playing inside his old habits. First, with disastrous results in the 49ers game. Then the Raiders start winning.
The coaches are still trying to shape Campbell. They are still trying to get him to buy completely into their system and their philosophy. After each win, Cable lets Campbell know he needs to keep buying into it by proclaiming, without hesitation, that Gradkowski is the starter. Then Gradkowski is ready to come back and Campbell is on the wings of a three game winning streak and he is starting to play more in the vain of the coaches vision.
They want to make sure this style of play continues. So, they "leak" the info that Campbell is starting, because Al Davis made the call and he made it because of Campbell's deep throws. Campbell knows the coaches had benched him before and they probably weren't that far from doing it again. This also helps alleviate any sentiment that Cable to quickly changed his tune while possibly alienating Gradkowski.
Now, Al Davis very well may have said he'd like Campbell to start, but I don't think Tom Cable was ever intending to pull a QB on a three game winning streak. He just wanted to make sure that Campbell got the message that he needed to continue to "Cut it Loose." This was done to help break and mold Campbell.
Do people really think Al said, "Start Campbell or your fired?" What was Davis going to do, fire his head coach in the middle of a three game winning streak? A coach that had Davis's team in its best position in eight years? A coach whose players seemed to have rallied around him? That wasn't going to happen. Tom Cable has earned a little leeway. He benched Campbell in the first place and then again after the Chargers' victory. Al Davis probably wanted Campbell to be the starter then, too. Besides, the notion that Cable is just going to be a yes man hasn't made sense from the second he broke Randy Hanson's, aka Al's snitch, face. Cable showed then that this was going to be his team and he'd worry about consequences later. Now he's showing he is a face breaking Zen Master.