Sunday, October 28, 2007

Organization Wins Championships

Former Chicago Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause once famously said "Organizations win championships." That was interpreted as Krause trumpeting his own value while taking a shot at Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the other players on the team. Obviously, the players are the ones who directly win or lose championships but what Krause was trying to say, in his uniquely hamhanded manner, is that it takes a committed effort from everyone in an organization--from the owner on down to the last player on the bench--in order to attain ultimate success. Another way to put this is to simply say, "Organization wins championships."

Championship teams are highly organized and focused. Everything they do has a purpose. They not only translate that purpose from practice to the arena but they are able to execute with purpose in the most highly pressurized situations; they are oblivious to any form of adversity. The NBA's San Antonio Spurs and the NFL's New England Patriots are quintessential examples of this kind of purpose in action over a sustained period of time. Jim Tressel's Ohio State Buckeyes embody these traits as well.

The top ranked Buckeyes improved to 9-0 with a 37-17 win in Happy Valley over the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Buckeyes have now won 19 straight Big Ten games, tying the conference record set by Michigan from 1990-92; Ohio State's last conference loss was a 17-10 decision at Penn State on October 8, 2005. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Buckeyes but it could instead turn out to be one of the beat seasons in school history. Yes, some difficult games remain on the schedule--including the always tough annual showdown with Michigan--but Ohio State is looking stronger and stronger as the season goes on, displaying a level of consistency that the other top teams have not been able to match on a week to week basis.

This is Tressel's seventh season at Ohio State and it is really remarkable how completely he has transformed the program. John Cooper, his predecessor, posted a 111-43-4 record in 13 seasons but only four of his teams finished a season ranked in the top ten. Ohio State never won an outright Big Ten title during his tenure (they tied for the conference championship three times). Cooper went just 4-7 in bowl games and he was an abysmal 2-10-1 versus Michigan. Even more galling than the sheer number of defeats versus the dreaded "school up north" was the fact that the Buckeyes clearly had the better team on paper on several occasions, particularly in 1993, 1995 and 1996. Many of Cooper's Buckeyes went on to play in the NFL, so recruiting was not Cooper's problem (one would have to be an idiot to not be able to recruit for Ohio State considering the school's tradition and ample resources). No, Cooper's problem was that his teams were not as organized or disciplined as other top teams. They beat a lot of teams just based on sheer talent but how many times did Cooper's teams ever beat anyone who was even remotely close to the Buckeyes in talent? Cooper was college football's Bob Huggins.

Tressel inherited an 8-4 team from Cooper and coached the Buckeyes to a 7-5 mark in 2001. The next year, Ohio State went 14-0 and won the school's first national championship since 1968. Over the next four seasons, Ohio State won two more Big Ten titles and finished in the top four three times (including a BCS Championship Game loss last year). Including this year's 9-0 start, Tressel is 71-14 at Ohio State; add in his record at Youngstown State--including five Division 1-AA national titles--and Tressel's career mark is 206-71-2. Tressel has coached some talented Buckeye teams but it could be argued that none of them has been as star studded as some of Cooper's squads in the 1990s. The difference is that Tressel's teams are more organized and disciplined than Cooper's were.

This has been a wild college football season and there probably will be a few more twists, turns and upsets before it is over. I don't know who is going to win the national championship--but I would not bet against Ohio State as long as Tressel is on the sidelines.

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