- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

When he was quarterback of the Redskins earlier this season, Jeff George said leadership was "overrated." Before long, George was Washington's former quarterback.
There were other reasons for letting go of George, of course, but the statement spoke volumes about his attitude and helped explain his failed career. Leadership can rarely be taught and there are no practice drills designed to instill it. Every good team has it and most bad teams wish they did.
"If you don't have somebody leading the way, I don't know how you find your way," Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said.
"I definitely don't think it's overrated," said Tony Banks, who replaced George as the starting quarterback and helped guide the Redskins to five straight wins and six in seven games after the team dropped its first five. "This team is a perfect example. When we were 0-5, if we didn't have leaders, we'd still be struggling. But the guys who have experience and the guys that call themselves leaders made sure the young guys stayed into it."
But isn't that what coaches are supposed to do?
"Leadership from players is probably more efficient than even leadership from coaches," Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "As coaches, we're always trying to find different ways to say the same things. But what happens is the players the guy who lines up beside you in the trenches, who sweats with you and bleeds with you, who gets hit in the mouth with you [are the leaders]. The coach can't be that."
Veterans like Banks, Darrell Green, Marco Coleman, Jon Jansen, Bruce Smith and Dave Szott helped pick the Redskins up. So did Arrington, a second-year man who has emerged as the Redskins best player and a fiery, emotional leader.
"If I'm sitting here and telling you that you need to do something, I should be doing that, too, and doing it to the best of my ability," Arrington said. "You lead by example."
It is curious then that perhaps the greatest example-setter in any sport seems to be having difficulty getting others to follow his lead.
When Michael Jordan decided to come out of retirement at the age of 38 and play for the Wizards, it was a given that his physical talents had diminished. Nothing we have seen has dispelled that. But age and experience should only enhance leadership capabilities. Jordan, during his years with the Chicago Bulls, already was considered the ultimate leader. By all appearances, however, his teammates have not always gotten the message.
Although the Wizards have won two straight, with a chance to make it three tonight against the terrible Memphis Grizzlies, the early part of the season has been marked by sloppy, unintelligent and even listless play. It's not like that all the time, but it happens with surprising frequency given the presence of Jordan and first-year coach Doug Collins, whose Chicago and Detroit teams always played hard and played smart.
Apparent discontent with Jordan's methods surfaced last week when ESPN.com reported on "growing locker room tensions between the team's younger players and Jordan." According to a "league source," the story continued, "there has been low-level grumbling from players over Jordan's public remarks and private criticism.
"Is he our coach or is he our teammate?," an unnamed player was quoted as saying. "He's got to decide. Right now, the guys are confused. If he's our teammate, then at times he crosses the line. If he's our coach, he needs to let Doug know."
Before the story broke and before the Wizards left last week for their four-game trip to Texas and Memphis, Collins was asked about Jordan's leadership.
"Exerting it and following it are two different things," he said. "You can lead, but then you have to have people willing to follow. I think the frustrating thing that Michael felt is that maybe some of the things he was trying to do or say was falling on deaf ears.
"I think you have to say, 'I want to be part of something that's trying to be good,' and you have to give up a little of your individualism. And say, 'Maybe I can come up with a loose ball, or set that screen or double the post and rotate out and help somebody.' Those are all the things that go with following leadership."
Collins was asked if the "awe factor" players being intimidated by Jordan's presence was getting in the way.
"I think you could say that down in [training camp], but after a month together, playing eight exhibition games, that would be an easy excuse," he said. "Michael has never put so much pressure on these guys that they felt they were under the gun. He only spoke out twice all season long, after the Atlanta game (at halftime, which the Wizards came back to win) and after the Cleveland game (after which Jordan said, "We stink."). I think he's been rather quiet, myself.
"But he's a guy that, when you're around Michael Jordan, you know you're around greatness. And you can do one of two things. You can say, 'Michael, I'll do whatever I can. What do you want me to do?' Or you can stay on the fringes a little bit. I want guys to be aggressive."
Citing other great players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas, Collins said, "I do believe [leadership] traits can be learned, but one thing you can't worry about is being liked. There's a difference between popularity and respect. Sometimes leaders aren't always popular, but they're respected. … Sometimes you have to tell guys things they don't want to hear."
Collins added, "Michael has always been a guy that, in practice, you have to earn his trust. Not in games, but in practice. So he knows every single day who he can count on. You have to play, you have to compete. Michael wants guys who compete hard, who play hard, who knows what we're doing, who gives us a chance to win. I don't think Michael would ask anybody to do something they couldn't do."
Veteran guard Hubert Davis dispelled the notion that the club rejects or resents Jordan's leadership.
"We're a young group," he said. "Regardless of the type of leader, it takes time to learn. … I think we have been [receptive]. I think people are looking at our record and thinking, 'Hey, they're not getting any better, they're not learning,' and I can see where they would think that. But it's a long season."
When he was a young player with the feisty, rough-and-tumble New York Knicks, Davis said he had no trouble following the examples set by the likes of Patrick Ewing, Derek Harper, Doc Rivers and John Starks.
"They would not only talk about how you needed to prepare and get ready for games, they'd be the first ones at the gym and the last to leave. The reason I'm here today is seeing those players work hard. I had those guys to look up to."
Having players to look up to apparently was one reason for the Redskins turnaround.
"This is a team," Arrington said. "We have really become a team. And within a team, leadership comes from everywhere, really. I mean, there's followers, but you couldn't possibly pinpoint one place leadership is coming from. People lead in so many different ways, and in so many different areas. It's a crucial part of every team. We've got guys in here that are picking one another up."
Arrington, whose father, Michael, lost his right foot and part of his left leg in Vietnam, likened the structure of a team to a military chain of command.
"If you're a general, you can't personally account for everybody," he said. "The message of leadership is being circulated through a body of people. How many soldiers does the president talk to? Everybody should have some leadership qualities in them, even if they're following."
Guard Ben Coleman said Arrington, despite his youth, has become a leader "because of his love of the game, his enthusiasm, the way he gets people riled up."
Said Arrington, "Energy rubs off."
As he becomes more established and secure in his role, Banks said he is growing more comfortable with his own leadership abilities.
"When I first got here, trying to huddle up guys and get them to practice at my tempo was a little more difficult than it is now," he said. "Where it starts for me is in practice. I haven't always been a great practice player, but over the last couple of years I started realizing how important practice was. If you get guys practicing at the tempo you expect in the game, you're gonna have success."
Coleman said the leadership within the Redskins results from having experienced players who, unlike most of the Wizards, have accomplished some things.
"You have a lot of guys who have played a lot of years and they've been down, 0-2, 0-3," he said. "We understand there's a certain way to get out of this hole. It's not gonna happen overnight, we've got to continue to work. Throughout the streak, we had guys grab a rookie, grab a young guy and say, 'Come on, let's watch some film.'"
Coleman, a nine-year veteran who played for Arizona, Jacksonville and San Diego prior to joining the Redskins as a free agent in June, said he played with leaders who were loud, like offensive tackle Tony Boselli, and more subdued, like quarterback Mark Brunell. Both styles are effective, but what sticks in Coleman's mind was the time his Jaguars were trailing late in a game at Chicago. Brunell huddled the team and simply said, "You know what guys? We haven't played well. Let's just go down and get a touchdown and get the hell out of here." And then, Coleman recalled, "It was Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell, tight end, touchdown and we win the ballgame.
"You've got to have players who can take advantage of their experience," Coleman said. "The ability of a leader to set the tone is very important. But you've got to be careful. Sometimes you can try to lead, and you're not a leader."

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