Have you ever tried to motivate a football player?
It's strange what works – and what doesn't. North Carolina football coach Butch Davis got on this subject Tuesday in his speech to 600 people at the Charlotte Touchdown Club gathering at the uptown Westin.
Davis was once the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator. He kept trying to get players motivated for practice, and he found something that moved the needle.
It was a $5 bill.
Davis and the other assistants would count all week in practice every play a defensive player made that led to a fumble or interception. On Friday afternoons, over a team lunch of Domino's Pizza, Davis would break out a stack of Abraham Lincolns and give one out for every turnover-causing play.
“I'd get to Charles Haley,” Davis said, “and say ‘OK, here's your $35 for the week.' And I'd get back these profanity-laced comments, because he thought he had more coming. Here's a guy who makes $2million a year, and he's arguing over five dollars!”
Davis waited for the laughter to subside, then brought home the real punch line.
“Actually,” the former Miami Hurricanes coach joked, “we got that concept from Florida and Florida State.”
You would think salaries would be enough in the NFL – and the fear of losing their jobs would keep the players playing at their absolute highest level in the pros. You would be wrong. You would think scholarships would be enough in college. You would be wrong. You would think a letter jacket would be enough in high school. Well, you might be right.
Smart coaches know they need to do a little bit more. At N.C. State, Tom O'Brien does something cool. The Wolfpack coaching staff picks the two best scout-team players of the week. Then those two guys get to lead the team out of the tunnel for home games, carrying the U.S. and the North Carolina state flags.
The Carolina Panthers give a highly coveted, “big hit” award every week after a win. Safety Chris Harris has won it more often than anyone else this season. It is represented by a simple black Everlast boxing glove that hangs in the player's locker.
Sometimes, motivational tactics go astray. Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill had his players gather before a game against Texas in 1992 and gave them a real “treat” – they got to see a bull get castrated. The incident caused a national furor (although Mississippi State did beat Texas).
Former Panthers defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had one backfire, too. In 2003, as a rookie head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, he told his team it must “keep chopping wood.”
To let players visualize his point, Del Rio had a wooden stump and an ax delivered to the locker room.
On a slow day, punter Chris Hanson picked up the axe to take a swing. He missed the stump, slammed the axe into his foot and injured himself so badly he missed most of the season.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; firstname.lastname@example.org.