April 05, 2017
By Chris Stanley
Culture is a word thrown around a lot in the world of sports, normally as some intangible factor that contributes to the success of a team or organization.
Normally I have a distastefor talking sports heads throwing around intangible attributes to players or teams. You’ll hear phrases like “those boys grind” or “he gives 110 percent” as ways to describe why a team or player has success. It’s lazy analysis in my book. It’s not as if there are 50 other teams in the country who “grind” or “give 110 percent.”
All of those platitudes don’t mean a hill of beans to me when it comes to analyzing success in sports. However culture is something I think is real – not some useless adjective that gets tossed around by Joe Sportstalker on 101.5 Cliche Sports Talk Show.
Culture is evident in a number of organizations throughout professional sports. The New England Patriots come to mind as an immediate example of an organization whose culture directly contributes to their success on the field.
Apologies ahead to any Falcons fans reading this still traumatized by the events of Super Bowl 51 – and as a Houston Texans fan I personally can’t stand the Patriots – but that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate how their organizational structure rolls into Super Bowl championships.
It all starts with the owner Robert Kraft. If you want to win in any line of sport, it starts from the top down. Kraft is hands off, doesn’t meddle in the team’s daily business and merely serves as a cash cow and hiring specialist to help keep the team afloat.
Over the years Kraft has hired the right people in key positions to contribute to the team’s success. The most obvious of the bunch being head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick not only serves as the team’s head coach but as the team’s general manager as well – giving him an unusual amount of power in one franchise.
Over the years who hear about the “Patriot Way” coming out of the New England locker room. As former Patriot Kevin Faulk puts it in the Player’s Tribune:
“The Patriot Way ain’t about nothing but winning, man. That’s it. See, Coach Belichick is the kind of guy who doesn’t care what you do on your own time. He wants you to know football and he wants you to come to work every day and do your job to the best of your ability. Anything else, he doesn’t really care.”
Come in, do your job correctly and leave knowing you did everything possible to make the team better. It seems simple, but since the year 2000 no other team in professional football has had more success on the field than New England. From Kraft, to Belichick and down to Tom Brady – everyone buys into the Patriot Way.
Whether it’s the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, the St. Louis Cardinals in MLB or the Alabama Crimson Tide in college football – organizational stability, structure and a distinct cultural theme are all key components to a winning franchise.
Where is all of this going exactly? Well last season Georgia Southern’s football program appeared to get away from the “GATA” culture established by Erk Russell in the 80s. It was more than apparent on the field and even led to rumors of Tyson Summers’ firing near the end of the year.
However when I went out to spring practice for the first time on March 9, there was an obvious change in intensity and tone at practice. New offensive coordinator Bryan Cook was bouncing around and firing around orders during scrimmages – which seemingly was rubbing off on the players as they followed suit.
When I went and talked to Summers’ after practice, he preached the “GATA” attitude and that he wanted all of his assistants to bring a GATA attitude with them to every meeting and practice session.
“If you walk though are building we want you to feel the energy,” Summers said. “That’s the route we want to take and if we focus on the details and the fundamentals then it’ll bear the fruit we want.”
Summers credited not only Cook but new strength and conditioning Coach Dwayne Chandler as two integral components in helping turn attitudes around from 2016 going into 2017. Summers even admitted that he needed to make some personal changes in order to get things back on track.
“One of the places where I probably didn’t do a very good job was trying to do everything,” Summers said. “From a staff perspective I’m letting everyone run their phase, whether that’s the director of the football operations or the position coaches.”
A hands-off approach, hiring the right assistants and establishing a cultural identity are three clear things Summers has done this offseason to try and turn the culture around at Georgia Southern for the better. If anything it shows Summers has grown as a coach and has at least proven he can learn on the job.
Culture is something that doesn’t just rise out of nowhere. It takes years of implementation and players as well as coaches buying into the philosophies for a specific culture to take hold in a team, but it appears Georgia Southern is at least laying the groundwork for something successful.
So if there are any Southern fans out there who are still sour on Summers, take some solace in the fact that the 37-year-old, second-year head coach is making an active effort to turn things around in 2017. Because it’s clear he knows without culture, he won’t have success.
At the very least, it looks like “GATA” is trying to make a comeback in Statesboro.