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The Law of Threes


Years ago, when teaching western doctors about the principles of Oriental medicine, I taught my students about the three energies. There is Yang - the power of activity; hot and vital, sometimes called the energy of the heavens. There is Yin - passivity; cold and hard, the energy of the earth, and there is the interaction between yin and yang that creates the phenomena of our world. They call that energy 'The 10,000 Things'. Still later, I found that there are also names for similar phenomena in Sanskrit. Rajas is the vibration of action, similar to Yang. Tamas is the vibration of inaction, similar to Yin and Sattwa is the vibration in which those two come into balance (The 10,000 Things). A western discussion of the same basic principles from a philosophy standpoint was expressed by Hegel as thesis, synthesis and antithesis.

What on earth does that have to do with football? Lots.

I would also find a similar principle in business theory called the 'Law of Threes'. It said that on any given team or in any given organization there would be three kinds of players/participants:

Group 1 - The first are the ones who will do anything that is asked, willing to help the program. They buy into the system, work hard to manifest success in it and are positive and vocal within the organization. Theirs is the energy of Yang, Rajas, activity and power.

Group 2 - The second group are the undecided players, the players who are not completely sure what to do. They can be influenced, molded by the other groups (Sattwa, the 10,000 things). This is a natural state for groups of people - they are looking to be led, consciously or subconsciously. If the effects of Group 1 are strong enough, this group is a benefit for the organization.

Group 3 - The third are the malcontents (Tamas, Inactivity, Yin). These are the players who manifest negativity. They want to buck the system, run to complaints and will, intentionally or subconsciously, try to influence those in Group 2 and to counteract those in Group 1. They usually act through foot-dragging and holding back, although some of the worst are vocal (the Me First syndrome). They will, whether directly or indirectly, create opposition to the system they are in and they can reduce the enthusiasm in Group 1 if not dealt with appropriately. They are a cancer on the spirit of your team.

If you are a leader, you are already (or should be) acting with the best qualities of those in Group 1. You have to model the best behavior, expect the best behavior from others and make the outcomes of inappropriate behavior clear. As a leader, you are working with the players in Group 1 to benefit the organization and the system and you must be stimulating those in Group 2 towards right action. You do this directly, by talking to them and motivating them and indirectly, by modeling appropriate behaviors and techniques. The greater the number of players in Group 1 the better. It's also fair to say that the stronger the spirit of the players in Group 1, the more influence they can wield over those in Group 2. And, you have to deal with those in Group 3. It's your job to motivate them as well, to offer them an alternative to their behavior and an outcome if it persists.

But there is a danger, here. There is often a tendency to try to win over the players in Group 3 by trying to make them happy. What we've found, over time, is that all this does is move the players from Group 2 into Group 3 since the Group 2 people see the Group 3 players getting positive attention. This weakens the effect of your Group 1 players. This can also cause you to start to lose the players in Group 1. It takes valuable time away from the things that matter and weighs on the time and spirit of all concerned by demanding more energy be spent on players who don't want to be better and on things that really don't matter. And that's a trap.

Enter Josh McDaniels.

McDaniels may be young, but he clearly understands the essence of how to build a team as a business organization. The very first thing that he did was to remove some players who just couldn't play or who weren't good values to the team on a contractual basis. These situations would have been a drain on resources. McDaniels - and I'd add GM Brian Xanders here, whose role is constantly underestimated or ignored - understood the trap in that.

The second thing the Xanders/McDaniels team did was to bring in the best veteran leaders they could find. If Brian Dawkins and Andra Davis don't fit that mold, I think that it's fair to say that no one does. They are outright Group 1 individuals; born leaders, even though they could not be more different from each other. From all accounts, Andra Davis is a quiet, humble man of great personal inner strength and dignity. From his first interactions in the clubhouse, he began to mentor Wes Woodyard and others by modeling appropriate effort, hard work and action and by explaining techniques and insights into the linebacking position. Dawkins, on the other hand, is a fiery and outspoken leader who will demand the best from all in the organization, and he demands nothing of anyone that he doesn't require of himself. There is nothing more beneficial than having players of that kind in Group 1. Denver has lacked that ever since Al Wilson went down. It was time to get it back. You also have a player like Kyle Orton who has a history of being the first to arrive and last to leave, and whose teammates like, look to and respect him and who models his own brand of Group 1 behavior.

Let's consider more players:

Group 1 - The Broncos have a solid list. It is headed it up with new leaders Brian Dawkins, Kyle Orton and Andra Davis, covering both offense and defense. You have the hard-working Chris Simms, who has handled his situation with more than grace - he has done so with enthusiasm. Add Andre' Goodman, Champ Bailey, Eddie Royal and Daniel Graham.

You also have Group 1's in waiting like Peyton Hillis, Spencer Larsen, Wesley Woodyard, David Bruton and Knowshon Moreno. I'd add DJ Williams, although he has been tested to his limits by the last management and he nearly faltered last year. He's buying into the picture completely this year, though, and has been vocal about that in interviews.  Ron Fields modeled Group 1 behavior when he posted a blurb praising Josh McDaniels' leadership on his own website. I'm sure that there are more, but I cannot know who without being in the locker room. Spencer Larsen tried to provide Group 1 behavior last year, and it's a note about the state of that team that the group refused to accept that from 'a rookie'.

Group 2 - My own belief is that the list is much longer than I can place here. I haven't seen enough of many of the players to place them here with certainty, but Alphonso Smith, Robert Ayers, The Entire Offensive Line (who wouldn't say anything on pain of violating the Code of Linemen), Brandon Stokley, Jabar Gaffney and a host of others seem to fit into Group 2 at the very least. Tom Brandstater. Lee Robinson. Elvis Dumervil. Jarvis Moss, who has lived with disease, pain, injury and being a round peg in a square hole and being chastised for it. Kenny Peterson. Marcus Thomas. There are certainly many more. In all, my impression is that the Broncos are laced with such players, both Group 2's and those who aspire to Group 1 behavior. That says a great deal about what McDaniels has done and has brought into the team's realm of being. Other than the rumors started by those like Jamie Dukes, all I hear are good things. That's not unheard of, but it places a huge weight on what is best for and about the team.

Group 2 people can become drawn to either Group 1 or Group 3, depending on which exerts the greatest influence. In Yin/Yang theory, one always predominates, but which one changes constantly. The principle appears the same.

Group 3 - Brandon Marshall. But I believe that this is about to change.

My assessment is that, despite his clumsiness in his personal life, Brandon Marshall wants to be in Group 2. Because of a lack of inner direction, he vacillates between Group 2 and Group 3 and currently is something of a malcontent. Like most people, though, he wants a reason to commit to a cause or a course of action.  Here, we have a chance for him to relearn the ways of winning, to ascertain why others have achieved a more enjoyable existence, to renew a commitment to achievement and to embrace the future; rejecting the past and the things that, ultimately, didn't win and didn't work. Marshall often doesn't follow through well, but he does want to. Due to his contract requirements and the power of the Group 1's in the locker room, It will probably be enough - at least for a while. What he has been told and shown by the team is that he has to accept that which is true and abide by it. From a leadership viewpoint, it's important to set high standards and refuse to deviate from them.

The Past:
This breakdown explains a great deal about the passing of the Jay Cutler situation and about Marshall's situation right now. Jay Cutler is a player who has all of the physical tools. Despite his sometimes-childish behavior in the offseason, he is usually a good and respected leader on the field. I'm not close enough to the situation to talk about him emotionally. I can say with certainty that he made multiple statements that were not true and that his feelings seemed easily hurt. He and Head Coach McDaniels are a bad fit and that's not going to change.

Jay Cutler fit into Group 3 in one key way: He made demands that were unreasonable. He insisted on having a say in choosing coaches, something which is not, under any circumstances, his role on the team. He needed to be told that he was not just wanted but needed, even that he was irreplaceable. From a leadership viewpoint, you have to accept that if anyone had faltered and told him those things, it would not have been true.

It's not his place to demand that, because in professional football, it isn't and shouldn't be true. I understand the perspective of those who say that you should give in and tell him those lies just to keep his services - he's very talented and I hated losing him. I also understand the perspective of those, including McDaniels and Bowlen, that chose to usher him onward. As a business model, telling those lies is one of the worst things that you can possibly do, because those in Groups 1 and 2 will see you telling those lies and they will notice. It will affect how they see the organization and you never want that to happen. He was traded and the team received good value in return. That's all you can ask out of that situation. In life, you cannot usually change how another person views the world. That is their own choice.

The Present: What is most important to the organization is the leadership of those at the top (Xanders/McDaniels, Mike Nolan and Mike McCoy) and the number of players who are vocally in Group 1. Those Group 1 players have to be strong enough to cancel out the Group 3 people and to actively draw those in Group 2. In the Broncos' case, they have to offset the issue with Brandon Marshall.

The fact is that Brandon, although a very good player, is one of those whose potential remains unlimited and untapped. Part of that is because he doesn't fully see the value in being in Group 1, or even Group 2. At heart, I wonder if he ever has, even as he tried to manifest those qualities. At least Cutler did, at one point, and does in Chicago (currently). But Brandon never was a Group 1 guy and that has led to a loss of potential, lack of development and sometimes poor professionalism. I only wish good things for Brandon Marshall. But, in this sense, he really is in a class all by himself. I don't know of any other Group 3 on the team. If one exists, he won't be with us for long.

The Future: From a team-building standpoint, look carefully at our draft choices for a moment. Nearly every one was a team captain, someone whose teammates looked up to him. Such people develop into Group 1's, if they aren't there already. At the worst, they are Group 2's who still lean to the positive. They are the folks who will change your fortunes and win you games. Look at the enthusiasm that Ron Fields posts on his website, that DJ Williams has when
talking about the new scheme, that Wesley Woodyard has in just sharing a locker room with Davis. That, along with scheme, coaching  and talent, are what you need to win. Many games each year are decided by whichever team just plain wants it more. Upsets happen every week because of that.

Michael Lombardi made a point, referring to the Arizona Cardinals in his
July 8 article. He said,

"Don’t be afraid to make unpopular choices. Status quo only promotes the same, and the whole theme of the offseason is to move forward."

He's right. Coach McDaniels and GM Xanders made some unpopular decisions in the offseason and they didn't let it affect their emotional balance or their approach to the game. McDaniels especially is a solid leader in that he is leading by example, demanding quality performances from his player, his coaches and himself. He has brought in two groups - free agents and draft picks - who are current or potential Group 1 players and has removed the biggest obstacle to having an enthusiastic and committed locker room. That's good business and it's good football. He's committed to removing Tamas (inaction and foot-dragging) and promoting right action (Rajas and appropriate Sattwa). That's how you build for the future and how you give yourself the best chance to win from Day 1.