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Last year I had the pleasure of reading the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. In it he outlines (surprise, surprise) the five things that cause a team to struggle. Sure, Lencioni's audience is composed of business people and their ilk, but the principles he puts forward ring true for any team. Based on what Mike Nolan is doing with the 49ers, you would think this book was his manual for success.
The basic premise of the book is that the foundation of any team must be trust otherwise you unleash a litany of problems that ultimately bring down your team. Without trust people don't speak up and there is artificial harmony. A lack of commitment ensues as people recede into their own shells, and eventually one ends up with people who are more concerned with their own performance than the team's performance.
For an NFL case study in how exactly this applies to football, all you need to do is follow Hurricane Owens (second only to Hurricane Salary Cap in destructive force) to see exactly how a lack of trust, even among talented teams, leads to the breakdown of a team.
From the beginning of his tenure in San Francisco, Mike Nolan has sounded like a broken record. After the come-from-the-lead loss to Dallas, Nolan said, "The things I will say (to the team) tomorrow will be things as far as trust...The ones that trust and who I believe are champions will remain here."
At least we know Nolan means what he says. Well, at least Jaime Winborn knows.
But, when talking about football, what the heck is trust? Do you trust that your teammate won't put chili powder in your jock? Not quite.
Trust, to Nolan, is "When you call a play, a player can do what he is supposed to do in that play or he can think that he knows better and does what he wants to do. One decision is called trust, and one is called distrust."
That is his stump speech. He's been saying the same thing since training camp. Trust your teammates, and we will succeed. Win as a team, or fail as an individual. Either we hold each other accountable, or we let each other exist in a state of dysfunction. To Nolan, one method is success while the other is failure.
It's obvious Nolan has a plan for the rebuilding of the franchise, and his players are buying into it. "You really see how everyone fits in together," said linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, "If a guy messes up, you have a different sense of peer pressure. And then when the coaches aren't there, it goes to a whole new level and gives us ownership of the team, which I think is essential. We are policing ourselves, which is a cool concept."
Sure, go ahead, call me a Nolan Kool-Aid Drinker. Tell me I've bought into the excuses for another two-win season. Hell, I'll even agree that another coach could have come to
San Francisco and won more games at this point with all other things remaining the same.
Nolan, though, is doing more than just coaching for this season. He is providing a solid foundation for this team and creating a standard for the San Francisco 49ers - something that the organization has not had since Steve Young retired. Trust, and team play, will be the hallmark of the team for years to come.
I remember when the motto fans saw everywhere was, "Winning with Class." In the near future John York may have to change that motto to, "Winning with Trust."