Behind the Scenes: The Secret Ingredient

seeing into the invisible - Daniel Kelly

The key to building championship teams

Chemistry. It’s the most underrated, but the most important ingredient in the championship recipe.

Every team and every system is a reflection of its leader.  At the core, systems are philosophies and philosophies are formed out of the leader's personal beliefs and convictions. Every decision flows from there.

The clock will soon strike midnight on the free agency feeding frenzy as one team tries to cover up their drafting inadequacies and yet another team desperately tries to sign that proverbial missing piece of the puzzle. However, without understanding chemistry, it's a lot like playing Yahtzee with ingredients and hoping you'll end up with a gourmet meal. Every team heads into free agency with their checkbook, but only the successful teams head into the kitchen with understanding.

Chemistry. It's the most underrated, but the most important ingredient in the championship recipe.

Sitting here at my computer trying to guess who the Redskins will sign is a lot like trying to pick the winning lottery numbers ahead of time. We're all only six numbers away and in theory it sounds like the easiest thing in the world to do, but most of us know better. It especially looks easy after the drawing. In fact, it looks like a no-brainer. It's only six numbers, why couldn't I've put that together before the drawing? The answer, there's usually more variables involved than the numerical value of the jackpot. The same thing holds true in free agency.

For anyone to accurately predict what Dan Synder, Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden will do with absolute accuracy, they'd have to either be extremely lucky or they'd have to understand these three men as well as they understand themselves. That's because whoever they sign; these acquisitions will be a direct reflection of themselves. It's scientific. These three men will be compelled to sign the players who have the same intangibles and characteristics that they have. That's all they can see, so that's all they'll sign. The names on the back of the jersey's are secondary.

I have had conversations with my scouting mentor, Lionel Vital, along these lines over the years. One day, the topic of "the right way," of building a team came up. Our conversation helped me to see the key to building a champion wasn't about doing it, "the right way," but rather it was about being true to yourself. You don't have to do another five-finger discount of the latest fad or of the most worn out system in the league in order to win; you just simply have to be true to yourself and the vision you've been given. This is your best and really only chance of succeeding in the NFL or for that matter, in life itself. A person either supports someone else's dreams or they pursue the ones they've been given.

Much of the genius of Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick is capsulized in the paragraph above. All three clearly have done things differently and all three have shown they've had what it takes to be true to themselves and the vision they've been given. The result has been a lot of Super Bowl rings and their disciples are spread out all over the league. This all sounds so simple, this being true to yourself stuff. In fact, it sounds as simple as looking at and then picking the winning lottery numbers the day after the drawing. However, in reality, it's much harder than that for most of the population. A lot of people can't take scissors to the sleeves of their sweatshirt and then wear it on national television, but that's why Belichick is mentioned in the same breath as Lombardi. That's also why Belichick will one day join Walsh and Parcells in the Hall of Fame while most who have roamed the sidelines won't make the trip.

This is all starting to sound really philosophical, but that’s because it’s all really philosophical. It’s all a reflection of beliefs. So the real question becomes what do Dan Snyder, Bruce Allen and Jay Gruden really believe? That's the bottom line. If all three of them are on the same page and if they are all true to that, whatever the answer, they sky is the limit.

Once upon a time at Redskins Park there were three men who did just that, Jack Kent Cooke, Bobby Beathard and Joe Gibbs. Affectionately, they were the greatest three-headed monster to ever live. Mr. Cooke wrote the checks, Bobby found ‘em and Joe coached ‘em. All three were tremendous men of vision, but the most underrated of the three was Bobby Beathard. In my opinion, Beathard was the greatest general manager to ever mill through the hallways of an NFL front office. He was always himself, a fun loving surfer who loved what he did and it showed. He could always see things in others that nobody else could, which is how he put together the most dominant teams in the history of the Washington Redskins with mostly low round draft picks and a hodgepodge of free agents. The formula resulted in chemistry that was off the charts, which is the very thing that drew me to the Redskins like a magnet to a refrigerator when I was eight years old watching my first football game in Minnesota.

While it may look like rocket science when studying what Beathard accomplished, I believe it was extremely simple. Bobby Beathard was true to himself and he was true to his vision. He didn't try to manufacture players and he didn't guess either. He simply opened his eyes, trusted what he was being shown and he went with it. He pursued those who most resonated with himself and he usually easily got them because nobody else could see what he was seeing. It was so natural. Beathard demonstrated he understood chemistry by being himself and everything else flowed from there. Those Redskins teams were electric and their unity is legendary to this day. It was like a family back then, that's how my Grandma used to describe them, God rest her soul. She loved the Redskins.

That was then and this is now. In order to duplicate what the Redskins used to be, Cooke, Beathard and Gibbs would either after to be cloned or they'd have to find three people with the exact same DNA. Notice, I didn't say their level of success couldn't be duplicated, I said that those old Redskins teams couldn't be duplicated again without them.

The Redskins must let go of the past in order to win more championships and the person who taught me that was none other than Joe Gibbs himself. In 1998, when I was trying to break into the NFL as a scout I wrote to Coach Gibbs asking for his help. By this time Gibbs was doing his NASCAR thing and he wasn’t with the Redskins any longer. I still reached out to Coach Gibbs and asked for his help and in his response this is what he said to me, "Dear Daniel, This is response to your letter asking me to help you break into the NFL as a scout. Daniel, given that I am no longer with the Redskins organization, I have not had the opportunity to maintain contact with the new regime. There are new coaches, scouts and it is essentially a new organization. I am sorry that I cannot be of more assistance, but I know that through goals, dreams and commitments all things are possible. Best wishes in your pursuits." It took me a long time to understand the significance of what he wrote to me. They were still the Redskins, but there was more to this than the logo on their helmets.

This new regime of Snyder, Allen and Gruden must find their own identity and it's as easy as being themselves. Identity is something this team has been without for many moons, which has played out on the scoreboard as instability and inconsistency. The way they will find their own identity is by being themselves and going with the vision they've been given. Regardless of their titles or position, if they are not true to themselves and their vision they will never be able to acquire the players who fit who they are and if they can't find the players who fit who they are, it will sound like the Redskins marching band playing four different songs at the same time on game day. Furthermore, if they are not true to themselves and their vision, they will not be able to communicate with the needed conviction that creates buy-in and without buy-in, this is a slam dunk to become another unhappy ending and the world will continue to spin.

There is hope. There's still time and operators are standing by. It's not a matter of "Who do I make the check payable to" and it's not a matter of signing the players with the best statistics either. It's as simple as leadership in Washington being true to themselves and the vision they've been given. If they can do this, they will win and win big, I personally guarantee it. If they don’t, I personally guarantee they will fail and we will be back to the drawing board next off-season or the one after. Like Shakespeare, we want to learn from the past. Many different teams have won with different leaders, different systems, different coaches and different players. There are 32 teams and everyone in the league works hard so there has to be more to it. Anyone can pick players, but very few can successfully figure out this recipe. Adding a single player can either add or subtract to the chemistry just like adding an ingredient while cooking. Using salt instead of sugar while cooking sure makes the desert taste different.

Throwing millions at this will only buy time. It will never buy a championship. It will only pacify and ultimately lead to another black Monday. That’s because football is a team sport and without the unity that forms out of chemistry, good luck. The greatest thing this Redskins regime can do is sign the players that most deeply resonate with them when they watch the film.

Daniel spent four years working in pro scouting with the New York Jets and he's the author of the book, "Whatever it Takes," the true story of a fan making it into the NFL. Go to WWW.WHATEVERITTAKESBOOK.COM to see and hear more of his amazing story of growing up as a die-hard Redskins fan who got hired out of nowhere to work on one of the best staffs in NFL History.

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