Questions that arose after reading Malcolm Gladwell's last article

Posted 8 years ago by Adam Gautsch

First, go and read the New Yorker article, How David Beats Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. It's worth the read, promise.

Then, help me with these questions.

  1. Why did Rick Rick Pitino fail in the NBA?
    1. His players did not buy into his system. They were too concerned about looks (Why George Washington went to traditional warfare) to play the press.
    2. He didn't fully implement his system in the pros. (I don't like this answer. I think he tried hard to do the press)
    3. Maximum effort and traditional strategy beats maximum effort with untraditional strategies and sub-par players.
  2. Following the '1.3' thought process further, if Goliath is willing to work just as hard as David, how can David win?

The answer to this seems to be untraditional strategy might give him a chance but untraditional strategy alone is not a sure winner.


Nobrainer ~ 8 years ago

I think you're on the right track. But related to basketball, skill is another big factor.

Essentially the press or in football, the old no-huddle, both do the same thing: they make the other team react without giving them the benefit of thought. Unless they're sufficiently trained and/or able to react correctly, they're going to perform badly.

There's a story I heard once about a war game the US played as it was preparing to fight Saddam. A marine General was playing the role of Saddam and he chose a quick offensive strategy (blitzkrieg is perhaps a good description). He knew that the US command and control structure was so slow to act that he could make 2nd and 3rd attacks while the US would still be trying to respond to the 1st. He won that wargame.

And as this relates to Clemson basketball, I think this helps explain the typical season under Purnell; with the press the Tigers can easily beat the scrub teams, and they can manage to catch a lot of ACC opponents off-guard. But toward the end of the year, the opponents are better in skill and more used to the press so it has less of an effect.

As this relates to Clemson football, I think it highlights the idiocy of the old "hurry up and wait" no huddle approach. It completely destroys the reason for using a no-huddle to begin with. Ultimately Tommy Bowden tried to out-traditional everybody else, and that's a game that's hard to win. This is why I'm not real high on Dabo. Sure he may work out, and it's even probable that the effort from the team will improve, but unless the skill and effort are much higher (side note: I speculate that Spence's problem was spending too much time on quantity of plays and not enough on quality of execution of the ones that he was actually going to use), then it seems like Dabo, steeped in old Alabama tradition, is just going to try to out-traditional everybody. Good luck with that.

One more side note: It would be great if you guys had a comments feed.

Evan Tishuk ~ 8 years ago

I think it goes back to the old fox and the hedgehog. In this context, the hedgehog will be the traditional system(s) that are tried and tested and work when the right players are doing what they're trained to do. It's not always flashy or nifty -- it's simple and effective.

The fox on the other hand must be smart vigilant and crafty to exploit opponents' weaknesses and diminish his own. That means finding hidden value in players/coaches, and tweaking the system to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses. This often results in short-lived Cinderella stories, quirky gimmicks, total failure, and sometimes a whole new system.

Jim Grobe is a good example of a fox. Joe Paterno is a good example of a hedgehog.

I think Dabo is probably correct in saying that Clemson has the machinery to compete at a high level. His argument is that the machinery just needs a tune-up (better coaching) and some high-octane fuel (more toughness). I think he's gambling on the assumption that the tougher team usually wins. And that he can make Clemson tougher than everyone else. Not being a coach, I have no idea if this will prove fruitful. But it's a better direction than not changing course at all.

I'm most curious to see if the new offensive coordinator can fold some innovation into the offense. And I'd like to see some more well-calculated risks on both sides of the ball -- like effing going for it on 4th and 5.

Adam Gautsch ~ 8 years ago

Nobrainer, you're right. Being a Clemson basketball fan makes the whole article a little tough to handle as well. Clemson fans see the press fall flat when we start playing more talented teams and there are certain teams that simply match well against the press and destroy it.

In more general terms, if everyone played an unconventional style such as the full court press all the time then it would be the conventional style and Gladwell would be writing articles about how brilliant the mid-90's New York Knicks and their slow down offense is.

So, it seems to me that the more important factor for sports team or an Army is to have the flexibility and skill to play multiple styles. If you become an expert in only one style you are vulnerable to those who match up to that style or even to those times when the refs call the game tight.

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