Okay, so maybe this year’s College Football National Championship game wasn’t one for the ages. It certainly wasn’t if you felt no particular rooting interest for either the University of Georgia or Texas Christian University (TCU). And it certainly wouldn’t have kept you watching if you favor closely fought competitions, which Georgia’s 65-7 masterclass was never close to providing.
Many of those who anticipated this matchup hoped it would continue the underdog story of TCU, who rose from relative obscurity to defeat mighty Michigan and earn a historic chance to put the university on the big-time college sports map. When Georgia slammed the book shut on that particular story, many people lost interest in the game. That’s too bad because some of the best teaching occurred after their televisions were turned off.
That’s when Georgia really got into its groove and seemed, at many times, to be playing a different game than TCU, such was the Bulldogs’ near perfection of execution run after run, pass after pass, block after block and tackle after tackle.
This was a performance of players who were both playing within themselves and for each other. This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s actually a sign of optimal teamwork, which takes place when an individual is so focused on performing his or her role to the utmost that he makes himself and every teammate more effective. It’s that simple, and it’s that difficult. But when you see it, there’s no mistaking that what you’re seeing is something close to perfect teamwork.
So, how do you prepare your team to operate at this level?
After the game—and long after so many television had gone dark—Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart provided an answer. When asked why this team was able to win back-to-back national championships for the first time in two decades, he replied, “A will to work. They didn’t listen to what everybody said about them. That chip on the shoulder was just big enough to give an edge to our team. Because every time we got down, we came back fighting.”
No one would doubt that hard work is important, but did Georgia really feel disrespected all year in the media and popular opinion? Hard to believe for a team that was ranked first most of the year. And while the story of Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett’s walk-on status and rise to glory will be told for years to come, this year he was a defending national champion. Surely, the chip on his shoulder weighed less upon him than last year?
At any rate, give Coach Smart a silver star for manufacturing an us-against-the-world mindset in a team that didn’t lose a game and the world thought to be the frontrunner all season long!
This brings us to our second observation from Smart who, when asked what it was about this team that enabled them to do what no Georgia team had done before, said, “As long as you don’t have entitlement in your program, you got a shot. And right now, we don’t have entitlement. We’ve got a lot of humble guys.”
Coaches aren’t usually known to be voluble when a network mic is stuck in their face, so the word “entitlement” sticks out just a bit more than it might if someone else had said it. You can be sure Smart wasn’t feeling too comfortable or entitled with Georgia’s 42-41 win over Ohio State the previous week. That semi-final victory required a heroic 18-point fourth quarter, come-from-behind effort for Georgia to earn this birth in the national championship.
“If we want any chance of winning the National Championship, we’ve got to play a lot better football than we played tonight, but we’ve got to keep our resilience,” Smart said following the Ohio State game.
After beating TCU, the coach was asked, inevitably, to reflect on his thoughts for the coming year, a question that offers 99 wrong answers and one right answer. Kirby chose the right one.
“The biggest challenge is the same as in the world we live in today, the society we live in—entitlement, the minute you think you’re entitled to winning games and you don’t have to work hard. The uphill battle is for the guys who think that you just inherit success.”
And with those words for the few who stayed up to listen, Smart was already laying down the ground rules for next year’s team of Bulldogs: work hard, believe in yourself and kick entitlement to the curb.
And you can be sure those future Bulldogs stayed up for the lesson.