Bleach: Losing seasons benefit UW, GB

first_img“You play to win the game! Hello? You play to win the game!”— New York Jets ex-head coach Herm EdwardsThose six words have done more for Edwards career than winning ever actually did (coaching record of 56-77). With those six words, Herm has been immortalized in Coors Light lore and signed on as an ESPN analyst to be to the NFL what Lou Holtz and Steve Phillips are to college football and MLB, respectively.While it would be easy to continue for 600 more words mocking the twice-failed head coach, there is a larger point to be made.As fans sat and laughed at the embattled Edwards on Oct. 30, 2002, and columnists wrote up their “top 10 rants of all time” column, football coaches across the country — and I mean from pro ball to Pop Warner — nodded their heads solemnly. Herm was right, they barked, you play to win the game!The message may as well be branded on every player. There are no moral victories in football, only real ones. If a “W” doesn’t go on the left hand column, the week was a failure. The quarterback threw three interceptions? Doesn’t matter if you get out with a win (this is known as the Rex Grossman defense).It is this “winning” attitude that makes what I am about to write sacrilegious to the highest degree. The Amish will read this column on the Internet before a football coach admits I am right.Despite that, here it goes…Last year, with the Green Bay Packers finishing 6-10 and the Wisconsin Badgers finishing 7-6, losing that unacceptable amount of games was ultimately good for both programs.Football coaches wait! Please don’t tear up The Badger Herald, click onto the Daily Cardinal’s website — you can do that, however, if you want a laugh — or order me to do up-downs for insubordination. Give me one chance to explain the reasoning behind my sins.Let’s start with the Packers. Green Bay lost 10 games in 2008 after dropping merely three just one year before. Although there were plenty of excuses for the fall from grace — Brett Favre drama, some injuries, a new quarterback and Brett Favre drama — the end result was a cleaning of house. General manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy fired defensive coordinator Bob Sanders along with a handful of assistant coaches, replacing him with 3-4 genius Dom Capers. The early results have been nothing short of fantastic. After excelling all summer in training camp, the new 3-4 defense tore apart the Bears Sunday night using mostly the same personnel available last season. The same players that were 20th in total defense.With the defense looking primed for a huge improvement, I ask you, would the Packers have converted to the 3-4 if they finished with a 10-6 record or even at 9-7? Or would they still be playing the same middling defense that blew numerous fourth quarter leads, if they had won just a few more games?Still not convinced? (Cue Billy Mays voice from the grave) Wait, there’s more!Perhaps the biggest improvement from last year comes from the Packers most important player, Aaron Rodgers. Despite putting up Pro Bowl caliber numbers (4,038 yards, 63.6 completion percentage and 28 touchdowns to 13 interceptions) Rodgers was widely criticized for failing to step up in the clutch. So what did the franchise QB do? He worked his ass off during the off-season to become more durable, better conditioned and focused on ways he could improve with the two-minute drill. The result of course, was a season-opening game-winning drive against Green Bay’s biggest rival. The best part of Rodgers working so hard, though, is the precocious talent had little to improve upon as it was. For your weird stat of the week, the Packers became the first team to lose at least 10 games but finish the season with a +39 point differential. Basically, they were the best bad team in history. Would Rodgers have worked so hard to improve off a good year if the Packers won a few more games? The cynic in me remains skeptical.Now for the Badgers. While it’s true no wholesale changes were made on defense and the scheme remains basically the same as last year, UW benefited from its worst season in Bret Bielema’s tenure by improving… Bret Bielema. With six losses to dwell on for roughly nine months, Bielema tweaked his program in small ways that hopefully will pay off big time.For his first change Bielema emphasized something that should have already been a staple of his reign: going to class. Multiple players admitted their attendance had been way down, but now with Bielema on their cases, physical fitness punishments are handed down for skipping class. Again, though these standards should have already been in place, they put in a system of accountability, something Badger players sorely lacked last year.For his next trick, Bielema and strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert re-emphasized the offseason workout program to prevent any fourth quarter breakdowns. Bielema even respects Herbert enough that he let the conditioning coach give a speech during half time of the Fresno State game. The new level of conditioning appears to be more than coach speak as well, with UW winning both of its games in the final minutes.Finally though, Bielema let his newfound humbleness and wisdom guide him in selecting a quarterback. Throughout fall camp, Bielema mandated fifth-year Dustin Sherer must play better than the other three candidates and must show off the experience a senior in his position has gained. The move has worked well so far, with Scott Tolzien providing above average quarterback play. Would Bielema have been so bold to name Tolzien as his starter if the Badgers won just one more game in 2008? Probably not. So instead of starting the year with yet another one-and-done starter, the Badgers will get at least two years from football’s most important position. Basically, losing last year has hopefully led to stability for at least these next two years.Despite Herm Edwards’ proclamations, losing can help a team in the right circumstances. It can provide the wakeup call a team needs or point to glaring weakness that must be fixed.But for the love of Vince Lombardi, just don’t lose two years in a row.Michael is a junior majoring in journalism. Are you a football coach who hates this column? Do you want to send a snarky e-mail? He can be reached at [email protected]last_img

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