In the NFL, consistency is the key to putting together a winning product. In general, the players are comparable in size, speed and skill, and the margin for error is razor thin no matter what jersey you wear.
Because of that, the smallest details are what take a team from 6-10 to 10-6. Good news for the Broncos, head coach Vic Fangio is all about the little things.
Yesterday, we heard yet another example of Fangio’s “Death by inches” approach courtesy of a Zach Bye conversation with undrafted rookie cornerback Alijah Holder. Apparently, the long-followed tradition of rookie haircuts has ended under the new coach’s watch.
It falls directly in line with Fangio’s no-nonsense approach and it doesn’t surprise me one bit. But the big question is: How will the players respond?
A rookie coaching staff – along with a young, unfamiliar roster – makes that a difficult question to answer.
If I were one of those young players, I wouldn’t be a huge fan, especially considering it’s something as silly as getting a bad haircut. Having been in multiple locker room settings, there’s just something about the little pranks that brings out a special level of team bonding.
I’ve seen it in baseball, where the rookies get stuck wearing stupid costumes and goofy backpacks on road trips. Head into an NBA locker room and you’ll find similar stories. The same goes for hockey and even elsewhere in the NFL.
The older guys do their time and pass along the tradition while the young players respect it. You serve your time, become “one of the guys” and do the same thing to next year’s class of newcomers.
Now, let me add a very important disclaimer: I understand the dangers of hazing, and bullying is never okay. With that said, I think it’s pretty clear that’s not what this is. The haircuts are a very tame, completely temporary way of conforming to team standards and providing a cheap laugh.
Or, I should say, they were a way to do that.
While I don’t necessarily agree with the decision (that I’m assuming came directly from Fangio) to get rid of the tradition, I understand the reasoning behind it. Small as it may be, it’s a potential distraction – the perfect example of an inch that Fangio is trying to get his guys to take back. I applaud the head coach for his consistency and think that in the long run it will work out in his favor. I just wonder how well it will go over in the short term.
I’ve been at the practices throughout training camp and I’ve seen how the players are responding to the coaching staff. They’ll stand up at the podium and praise Fangio’s methods, but I’m not so sure they’re completely bought in yet.
I’ve watched multiple guys take drills at half speed, wave off coaches’ suggestions and give less than satisfactory effort in general. A few of the guys have openly talked about the lack of music at practice, and not in a good way.
Clearly, there are still some growing pains in getting used to Fangio’s old-school approach. I’m not in full panic mode yet, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
Is the end of the rookie haircut tradition a big deal? Probably not. Is it important to watch how the players respond to each and every “inch?” Definitely. Their response, more than anything else, will determine their fate come January 2020.