Improved team chemistry could be key to successful season for Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, West Virginia – What was once called “team chemistry” is now known as “team culture” and whether then or now, it remains the one of the most underrated and misunderstood aspects of team sports.
When my friends text me asking about the latest recruit they heard about on the internet, they ask me how tall and strong he is, how fast he runs, and how many offers he has.
They never ask if he is a good teammate or not.
Is he selfish?
Does he agree to be coached?
Can he handle constructive criticism?
Does he have consideration for others?
Is he ready to work hard?
Changing rooms today are much, much bigger than they once were, of course, but no matter how big the changing rooms are, they’ll never be big enough to filter all the dirty air that’s flowing through. of a team full of complainers and second-guessers.
When I was in school, the most prized possession for anyone associated with Don Nehlen’s football teams were those drab gray t-shirts with the word “TEAM” written in blue across the front. It meant something to wear it because Nehlen made sure that owning one meant being part of something much bigger than yourself.
That’s what Nehlen brought here for the first time from Michigan – a positive, upbeat attitude that always filtered through from the top down.
The best West Virginia football team these eyes had ever seen — Nehlen’s undefeated team in 1988 — was incredibly talented and deep. And oh what chemistry there was!
Jim Carlen’s team in 1969 that won 10 games and beat South Carolina in the Peach Bowl was before my time, but I know there was great chemistry because to this day those guys find all the possible reasons to come together for a reunion. The brotherhood and camaraderie they share is evident to all.
The same can be said for Bobby Bowden’s Peach Bowl team in 1975, which was not as talented as his 1974 team which only won four games and nearly got fired.
Some of Rich Rodriguez’s top West Virginia teams also had great chemistry. Can a team with bad chemistry bounce back from the upset Pitt to do what they did to Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl?
Of course not.
I bring this up because we have heard over and over again from everyone associated with Neal Brownon the positive atmosphere and the environment at the Puskar Center in Milan this spring.
It started with Brown’s first post-workout comments on March 22 and continued days later when the defensive coordinator Jordan Lesly took his turn on the stage.
“They’re a fun group to coach, they really are,” Lesley said, adding that the first two days of practice were some of the most fun he’s had coaching in West Virginia in because of guys’ eagerness and willingness to learn and grow.
It’s like a team full of volunteers – not hostages – to use an expression from Mike Tomlin.
Senior Offensive Guard James Gmiter admits it is arguably the closest team he has been to since joining four years ago.
“I came here in 2018 and we really didn’t do a lot of team activities,” he recalled. “We had things like watching the Super Bowl together, but since Coach Brown came in, he kind of brought that family aspect to the team.
“The guys who left didn’t really buy into it until the end, and now we have a dressing room full of guys who are 100 per cent with it,” Gmiter added.
Why is the team chemistry so much better now than it was last year, or in 2020, or 2019 or before?
“I don’t know”, running backs coach Chad Scott mentioned. “That’s a great question. Maybe it’s maturity. Some of the guys who have been around for a while have seen where the negativity and the complaining has gotten us, which is nowhere.
“They saw it when it didn’t give us the results we wanted, and now we have our best players who are highly respected beyond the football pitch in the way they work, how they behave and at how consistent they are day to day,” he continued. “When these guys do it on the pitch and their game backs it up, then the younger guys want to do it too.”
Safety coach Dontae Wright believes that chemistry is the most important aspect of team sports. Good chemistry doesn’t always guarantee success, but it’s usually a pretty good indicator.
“That locker room and the chemistry you have in that locker room…if it’s good, you have a chance of being special. If it’s average or mediocre, you have a chance of doing nothing at all,” a- he admitted.
Wright tells his guys all the time that playing on good football teams is a win-win situation for everyone.
“It’s not about you or an individual. It’s about a team and mutual buy-in, because when the team wins, everyone wins,” he explained. “If you want to go to the league, well, it’s easier to get into the league with a team with 10 wins. It’s really difficult to get into the league with a team with five wins.
“Can you still do it? Sure, but people (from the NFL) come more often,” Wright continued. “There are more eyes on you when your team is really good. If you succeed at us, we all have a chance. If you succeed at you, good luck to you.”
At Wright’s point, the Cincinnati Bearcats won 13 games last season, made the college football playoffs and had a school-record nine players drafted, including five picked in the first three rounds. Over the past two seasons, UC has lost just two games and had 13 players selected by NFL teams.
Good players? Absolutely.
A good team culture? I am a voluntary bettor.
“That’s what excites me the most, and I hope you can hear it in my voice; these guys are growing together,” Wright said. “They hang out outside the locker room together. Have we been hanging out outside the locker room in the last two years? Yeah, but it wasn’t in a group of 30 or 40 of them. It was a five or six- person clicks, and when you get clicks you get a split Am I saying we’re gonna have a special season I can’t say that but I can say the locker room is growing to a point where we’re going to give ourselves a chance.”
“We’re always together. We have such great chemistry, from defensive back to running back…it’s just a different chemistry,” he said. “You don’t want to let this guy down. You want to do everything you can to make it easy for him and win games.”
Gmiter admits it can be exhausting listening to a room full of lawyers and plaintiffs in the locker room all the time.
“I think a lot of those guys are gone now,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t think we have any, so everyone loves being with each other. All that negativity is gone, and there’s no worry about a culture issue or anything. is.”
As for some of the outside noise, which gamers and their families frequently read about on social media, Gmiter said that’s a whole different matter.
“You always have to remember what people say about you and keep your receipts; it’s something we talk about all the time,” he concluded.