Diner morning news: No magic wand for Fewell

QUOTE: “To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward.” -- Margaret Fairless Barber, “The Roadmender”

Perry Fewell is walking into a difficult situation. Difficult in the sense that all the Herb Brooks “Miracle on Ice” speeches will not get the Buffalo Bills to play harder or with more passion and drive. They have always played hard, have always played with passion and have always had the drive. Unfortunately, they don’t have the talent to win on a consistent basis. That drive and passion were the reasons they were able to beat the Panthers in Carolina a few weeks back, gaining 167 yards and converting only three third downs. Buffalo is not a team that needs to focus; it’s a team that needs to add more talent.

This morning, Fewell will walk into the meeting room for the first time as a head coach and must demonstrate to the players that he is a head coach, not someone who was promoted to keep the status quo. He has a long friendship with former coach Dick Jauron, so he has to be sensitive to that relationship. But he has to be his own man. He cannot take “The Sopranos” Uncle Junior approach and have his henchman start showing his power with no regard to the old rules or traditions, but he does have to show there’s a new sheriff in town. At the same time, he has to be careful how he invokes his new power. As Uncle Junior once told his No. 1 man, Mikey Palmice, “We are not filming a western here. Calm down.” Calm but stern is the best approach.

So what can Fewell do? The first thing he has to do is understand there’s no magic wand he can wave over the team, but he must show the players his vast knowledge of the game. He has to win their confidence with his intelligence about their opponents and give them a blueprint for winning in the league. He must show the players that he can set up a game plan that gives them the best chance to win their next game. He has to show them that he has a formula for success for today and tomorrow. For example, the Bills are playing the Jags this weekend. Fewell will win this team over if he’s able to show them what it will take to win the game, in detailed fashion. How they have to practice to win the game, and how he will coach the game. All he can control right now is his ability to set up a practice plan that works in concert with the game plan and provides the best chance for the Bills to win. All his energy and focus should be on that area of the game.

In November, most teams practice in similar fashion — but not all teams. Some change their routines to match the game plan, which is the best way to capture the attention of the players. This week, the Bills have to emphasize stopping the run game of Maurice Jones-Drew, but they also have to handle wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker. So they need to practice in a manner that will highlight those two areas. Fewell must take those two players out of the game and synchronize his pass rush to push the Jags’ line back and contain David Garrard in the pocket. His practice plan must be in concert with the game plan, and this week, he might need to give the team more work in the team run period. He must give extra reps to his red-zone defense, making sure he can keep the game close and not lose the confidence of the players early. Often, when a team makes a change in coaches, it will play hard until the first bad thing happens in the game. Then the players will just stop playing. Fewell must make sure this doesn’t happen.

Fewell, who had been the Bills’ defensive coordinator, would be best served to go to the offensive staff with a mandate about how he will approach the game. He’s limited in terms of offensive talent, but knowing the Jags are not a good pass rush team, Fewell must find ways to strike down the field. He has to be willing to be a tad unconventional in his pass protection approach by moving the pocket and allowing the offense to throw the ball effectively. He has to be demanding of the offensive coaches and let them know he’s involved in the game plan and what he areas he wants them to focus on. Letting them just do their jobs without his advice or counsel is not what a good head coach does, so he must start acting like a head coach today.

He must connect with the offensive players, not in a jive B.S. manner, but in a hard, intellectual way, making sure they know he knows all about them. He should have his administrative assistant give him some specific background on the offensive players, knowing what high school they attended and even what the school’s mascot is. This will allow him to walk around during the stretching period and have instant knowledge of the players and make them think, “This guy is well prepared.” Players respect preparation, they respect knowledge, and those are the two most important areas for him to demonstrate to the players as he takes over the head coaching duties.

It’s a big job, but it’s a job he needs to accept and embrace. He must act like a head coach and not like the team leader for the coaching staff. He has to set a tempo — his tempo -- and work on what he can control, which is his intellectual power of the game. Good luck, Perry.

Random thoughts…

How long do you think the meeting between Browns owner Randy Lerner and Mike Holmgren lasted when he told Holmgren he wants to keep Eric “The Secret” Mangini as his coach? Lerner has to keep endorsing Mangini publicly, but if he does the same thing privately, he’ll have a hard time finding a football man.

If Chris McAlister is healthy and still can run -- two very big ifs -- he can help the Saints. They’re in trouble after losing both starting corners for an extended period, and this move might seem a little dangerous, but it’s their only chance.

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