TCU’s unlikely National Championship run serves as a model for success in the era of player empowerment

TCU’s unlikely National Championship run serves as a model for success in the era of player empowerment

TCU’s unlikely National Championship run serves as a model for success in the era of player empowerment

LOS ANGELES — Few coaches have had the kind of success in their first season with a program that Sonny Dykes did at TCU. And if the No. 3 Horned Frogs defeat No. 1 Georgia Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship, Dykes will become the fourth coach in college football history to end that first campaign with a national title. TCU’s run has been unlikely but well-documented, but the seeds for 2022’s success were sown by a coach and staff who wanted to make one thing clear from the start: This was a player-led operation.

With player empowerment being one of the biggest ongoing stories in sport, it’s fitting that the team that garners so much attention and adoration describes itself as a player-led group – and is led by a coach who supports these ongoing changes in college football.

“I’m probably in the minority when it comes to my belief that anything that’s good for players, in my opinion, is a good thing,” Dykes said at the CFP media day on Saturday. “And so NIL makes it complicated. It benefits the players. I think it’s a good thing. Transfer Portal [is] complicated, hard for the coaches. Good for gamers – maybe, assuming guys make good decisions. I am for.

“So I think that’s always been our thing, is that the game changes every day,” he continued. “And it’s my job to adapt and not just to follow, but to try to be in front of these changes and to try to use every opportunity to improve our team and our program. And, therefore, all these things that I really, really see as positives. I think it’s all about player empowerment. I’m a big believer in that.”

But Dykes didn’t convince the team with his support for NIL or the transfer portal. He and his team trained players throughout the offseason, spring training and fall camp, making it clear that if they were going to do anything special with that first season, the players should give the example.

Dykes also got the job done, such as a one-time visit to Quentin Johnston’s home shortly after taking the job simply to meet the star receiver’s family and discuss the year ahead. His message to the whole team in those first weeks and months brought a sense of calm to a group that had fractured amid the unusual 5-7 defeat that had come in the previous season.

“He just seemed at peace,” TCU cornerback Tre’vius Hodges-Tomlinson said, recalling his first impressions of Dykes. “He came in and said to us, ‘This is our team. It’s a one-player team and he’s there to make the calls. And he was able to adapt to us and build a new culture because at the beginning we were all over the place.

“We were sort of separate teams a bit divided because that comes with losing,” he continued. “So for them to come back and bring everyone together, I feel like everything was peaceful. For him to come in and say he’s there for us, that was huge.”

Dykes assembled a staff that would share that ethos – not just nice positional coaches, like cornerbacks coach Carlton Buckels, but also support staff who played a huge role in building every player’s confidence. Kaz Kazadi oversees the strength and conditioning program as assistant athletic director for human performance football, and his messages go beyond archetypal physical demands; he challenged horned frogs to consider emotional flexibility and mental health.

That focus on the emotional and mental side of the game paid off in TCU’s handful of spectacular second-half comebacks this season, sure, but senior offensive lineman Steve Avila saw a change in that group right away. in the first game of the season. Led 3-0 at the end of the first quarter in Colorado, TCU did not fall back into its old habits of panic and complaint. The team kept their cool and outscored the Buffs 38-10 the rest of the way in a 25-point victory.

“At the beginning of this year, even with the first game when things went wrong, I looked back to the year before and I saw people freaking out and doing all these different things,” Avila said. “That first game, I really didn’t see the panic on everyone’s face. We kept our heads on our shoulders. I feel like that’s what we did in the middle of the game. time. Every game we were down. Nobody panicked, nobody complained about anything.”

From its on-field versatility to its off-field approach to empowering players and establishing a cohesive unity, TCU exemplifies the top-down approach that may be required to succeed in the era. modern. It pays off with a group that never gets too high or too low, and developing healthy mental and emotional habits has fueled this incredible run. There are voices in college football who fear the shift in power dynamics between coaches and players, but Sonny Dykes and TCU have shown what a championship-level team looks like in the modern era of student empowerment. players.

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