Leadership is easily one of the biggest and single most important keys to success in any sport. Whether that be basketball, football, baseball or whatever, people want to be led, need to be led and respond to being led.
"It is the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him."
- Some old guy, somewhere, talking about leaders
Kansas football seems to have been missing a bit of the leadership piece in some respects since the 2007 Orange Bowl title. Aqib Talib, Anthony Collins, Brandon McAnderson, Derek Fine and others all had different styles, but they all led and provided a much needed swagger and confidence to the team. It gave players a sense of team, an identity and a greater good to work for.
Enter Todd Reesing, Darrell Stuckey and Kerry Meier. The expectation would have been that players like this and even a guy like Dezmon Briscoe might have the ability to pick up that torch and lead. Some lead by example off the field and in practice. Others lead by showing up on Saturday. Any way you slice it, people want to be led and are at their best when they have a reason to go out and do their best. Start unraveling that identity and you end up with divided camps, different viewpoints and what amounts to dissension in the ranks. We'll never know exactly, and some will deny it, but it's obvious there was plenty of that working against this team in 2009.
Now we're working under the assumption that a team that seemingly had some solid leaders and no doubt great players in 2009 greatly underachieved. Where does that leave things headed into 2010? Exit Todd Reesing a quarterback with all the confidence in the world. Exit Kerry Meier, your character/glue guy who any person worth their salt should look up to on the field. Exit Darrell Stuckey who by some account did have that vocal leadership style and exit Dezmon Briscoe who led by example on Saturdays despite some questions related to work ethic.
What we're left with is a group of players that might be missing a bit of an identity. Who's going to step up? Who wants to lead? Turner Gill brings a different style to the head coaching spot, much different then before and that has renewed a lot of the energy surrounding the player effort. That doesn't matter though if the energy isn't working in sync. Somebody(s) on this team is going to have to find a way to be the vocal leader, the example leader and the confidence leader of the group.
5-7 in 2009. Closing out the season with 7 straight losses. Doubt creeps back into your mind very quickly after a face plant like that. Who keeps that from happening? Who keeps the heads high? A brand new staff can help, but there has to be a player. Chris Harris? Brad Thorson? Jeremiah Hatch? Kale Pick? Who's got it? Who takes this team from being lost, to finding that sweet spot?
It's not easy, and it's one of the difficult answers to a more difficult question. At the moment, my gut tells me that at the end of 2010 leadership will have a lot more bearing on whether Kansas succeeds or falls further than talent, coaching or any sort of gameplan.