On Leadership

What is leadership, and how does it work for a football team? A flurry of articles over at the Journal Sentinel yesterday and today got me thinking . . .
Too many seniors may actually be a bad thing.

Writers, coaches, players, and fans often talk about the number of returning seniors and how that translates to leadership. It translates to experience, certainly, but I'm less sure on the leadership side of things. There's a difference between depth and leadership.

I think too many seniors actually limits their leadership potential. Instead of having a handful of guys that everyone else looks to, you get a big group of guys who are all buddies who are distinct from the rest of the team. Instead of having that one guy that everyone looks to, the younger guys are probably turned away from the group of senior guys that all huddle together.

I don't mean to say this is an intentional thing, but I suspect it happens. Think about the Badger teams over the last few years. In 2006 we had a great season with few seniors on either side of the ball. But you can bet on offense there was no question who was in charge: Joe Thomas and John Stocco. And on Defense? Mark Zalewski and Joe Stellmacher. They were in charge. No question. And that's what you need from leaders: leadership.

Last season, who was in charge? It wasn't the quarterbacks. PJ Hill, Travis Beckum, Kemp, Urbik, Vanden Huevel, Pressley, Rentmeester?
And on defense? Casillas, Levy, Chapman, Shaughnessy, Newkirk, Langford?

These guys probably had good chemistry between them, but not as much with the other classes. And as the switch in leadership from '07 to '08 shows (Casillas to Levy, for instance), there probably (a) wasn't good leadership amongst them (was Casillas going to lead Levy when we really needed that extra effort late in the 4th, or the other way around?), and likely they hung out in groups where the younger guys were discouraged (not actively, but implicitly) from approaching them.

I can imagine the three offensive lineman all hanging out (heck, UW even gave us a video of them chatting with Bielema). Did Moffitt or Oglesby feel like they could just stroll up and look for guidance? Did they know who was really in charge? Likewise with the defensive line: did Schofield, Nzegwu, or Mains feel like one of the crew or know where to turn to find the boss? In the linebacking corps, it was more of the same.

Sometimes I wonder if the departure of all those seniors (as at the end of 2005) actually helps with the new team because it provides opportunity for real leadership and breaks down likely cliques of guys who have played together since they came in and who look at the younger guys as being part of a different clique.

Someone asked me the other day if I'm a 1/2 full or 1/2 empy kind of a guy: I said 3/4 full. Maybe I'm just clutching at straws looking for reasons to elevate my expectations for what could be a rough year. Or maybe I'm on to something.

Look for guys like Garrett Graham, Gabe Carimi, O'Brien Schofield, and Jaevery McFadden to really take the reigns. They will lead, others will follow. Teams need leaders, not cliques.

I think we'll see true leaders this season (though I won't go so far as to suggest they will be as good at leading as that 2006 group). I won't be at all surprised to see this group acting more like a team than last year's.