Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Vrabel still has leadership skills

By Stephen Brown

June 26, 2010

Can leadership be taught?

Sure, like any skill, it can be trained, but the better question is can it be learned? That’s the tricky part, because Chiefs head coach Todd Haley has to wait and see. Being the example isn’t for the faint of heart, and when leaders are called only a few get going.

The first fundamental is team. Even though the Kansas City Chiefs aren’t scheduled to practice again until training camp, team building is something Haley continues to preach. Playing as a unit is vital, but there’s a difference between getting the job done and excellence.

Doing your job wins division titles, but excellence wins championships. The Chiefs aren’t looking for ordinary, and fans want more, but if they’re going to rise above it they need leaders.

Vince Lombardi said having the capacity to lead is not enough, but the leader must be willing to use it. Haley sees potential, but he can’t say for sure. Taking hold of commitment will be up to the players.

We all dream about being the hero until we understand what being the hero means.

Character develops over time, but the pieces remain the same. Things like intellect, insight, character, and vision are the ingredients of leadership. I believe linebacker Mike Vrabel is that type of player for the Chiefs.

In a room full of youth, Vrabel is performing this role. There are others like Ron Edwards, but Vrabel is the one most mentioned by his teammates.

I’ll be honest – last season I wasn’t sold on Vrabel. I wasn’t sure about the move – his age, attitude and how he might feel about Kansas City. I was on the fence. I knew what sort of player he was with the New England Patriots, but I wasn’t sure how he felt about a team that was rebuilding. I didn’t see the value like Scott Pioli.

If I had spent eight solid seasons with the Patriots and won three Super Bowls, how eager would I be to move, especially if it was to a team that hadn’t won a playoff game in 15 years? Knowing me, I’d be pouting the whole way.

But with OTA’s and mini-camp, I saw a different side to Vrabel, a part that taught me something. I think fans need to understand the importance of having Vrabel.

Initially the two players the media focused most on in OTA’s were Brian Waters and Vrabel. It was a big shock after several OTA’s that the two were still there, but by time mini-camp was finished, it was apparent Vrabel was into what the Chiefs are doing.

I witnessed an older player who genuinely cared about the younger players succeeding and wanted them to learn how to win. Vrabel may not be on a team as victorious as the Patriots, but he’s around a general manager and coaches who know what it takes. Vrabel is turning 35 in August, so he may not see the full fruits of his labor, but I can tell he’s intent on leaving something positive behind.

Hardly the player I thought struggled with moving to Kansas City. Instead Vrabel is someone younger players are ready to follow. John F. Kennedy once said leadership isn’t salesmanship. Vrabel isn’t a poster child for Pioli or Haley – he’s too smart for that – but he honestly sees what the Chiefs are doing.

I know not every fan is sure about Vrabel and some might choose to give someone younger a chance, but it’s hard to replace the experience of playing for Romeo Crennel.

We learned with Herman Edwards that a team full of youngsters is just a group of inexperienced players. There has to be ones in charge, players like Vrabel who can lead so others can follow. Not trying to leave anyone out, but this goes for Waters and Thomas Jones, too. There’s just a handful on this roster who fit the category.

I want team, and the Chiefs need to be a team, but it’s not much good if you’ve lost the players to drive it. There’s only so much the coaches can do until the leader takes over. That’s been the missing link, but a gap the Chiefs know needs filled.

The Patriots and other successful team didn’t win multiple rings because they didn’t invest in leadership. There’s a reason the Chiefs picked so many team captains in the draft – they’re stocking up on potential leaders. Having an old dog like Vrabel will help nurture that future and help grow players like Eric Berry.

With OTA’s and mini-camp, I never got a chance to speak with Vrabel, but I heard plenty about him from the other players. Vrabel has meant a lot to them personally. In a way I did meet Vrabel, but not the guy I had pictured and one I’m glad the Chiefs have.

Hold on, stay patient, because July 30 is just around the corner.

Good day, Chief fans!

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