Extra day off helps keep Eagles on playoff trail

January 09, 1993|By Mark Bowden | Mark Bowden,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles coach Rich Kotite has discovered a new tactic in his team's pressure-packed race down the playoff stretch:

The five-day work week.

It started this season after the long flight home Nov. 29, as the Eagles recovered from their disappointing loss to the San Francisco 49ers. When the team plane touched down at Philadelphia International after 2 a.m., the coach gave his players the rest of that day off.

Ever since, Eagles players have been given Mondays and Tuesdays off, a heretical innovation in the frenetic, workaholic '90s NFL. And ... oh yes, they haven't lost a game since.

Many of Kotite's players think there's a connection.

"Last year and this year we've been a great second-half football team, and I think pacing players at the end of the season the way Rich does has had a lot to do with it," said veteran wide receiver Roy Green.

Kotite doesn't advertise himself as an innovator. Truth is, he doesn't advertise himself much at all. There's nothing flashy about his offense, his play-calling, or even his personal style.

But ever since he took over the team in January 1991, the Eagles coach has demonstrated that he won't hesitate to do things his own way -- even when it means defying precedent and public opinion.

"I always try to feel the pulse of this team, and they lay it on the line on Sunday, and they work so hard in practice," the coach said. "Mental fatigue is as dangerous as physical fatigue from the coaching standpoint. With the extra day off, the burden is lifted a little bit, and I think they're fresher Wednesday, and they respond to the game plan and practice in a lot more positive

way.

"I find there's more excitement and anticipation when they come in after two days' rest. I wouldn't say I'd do it with every football team. I do it with this team."

The normal work week of an NFL team during the season is six long days. It starts with the game Sunday afternoon. Players report back to review game films, meet with coaches and have a light workout on Monday, and then have Tuesday off. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday are spent preparing for the next game. Each day starts early, about 8 a.m., with film sessions, meetings and supervised workouts, then walk-through drills followed by a full-fledged practice in pads. Most players stay on until mid-evening for more classroom work.

In some ways, Kotite's Mondays-off routine is more a goodwill gesture than a serious change, since most Eagles players come in to review film and do light workouts anyway. Many also come in on Tuesdays.

"But it makes a difference when you take away the structure and it's not mandatory," said Ken Rose, special-teams captain. "It makes a difference more mentally than physically. I think it's smart. Five preseason games, 16 regular-season games, a playoff game -- after a while it just starts to break people down. It's hard for most coaches to let go of the old, traditional, hard-work, 'If I don't see you bleeding you're not working hard enough' attitude. Those old methods hopefully will be gone before long."

"What Rich is doing is unusual," said kick returner Vai Sikahema. "In my experience I've never had Mondays off. It's absolutely a good thing. I mean, down the stretch, guys trying to nurse bumps and bruises ... there comes a time when it's more of a detriment to come in."

Mondays off proceeds from a broader Kotite philosophy, which is: Don't practice players to death.

"You look at the teams who have won consistently over the years, and they're the ones who have taken care of their players," said center David Alexander. "The 49ers, they don't even put pads on during the week. The Bills, they don't even put pads on in training camp. Coaches are realizing that if you play football for four or five or six months, it takes its toll on your body.

"Rich took care of us a lot during training camp. We had two-a-day practices, but we wouldn't do that more than two days in a row. Under Buddy [Ryan], we didn't have the longest camp in the world. We'd be in camp nine days before the first preseason game, but we'd be in pads for two-a-days every one of those nine days and every day after it.

"By the end of the season you're so banged up you can't lift your arm because you got injuries to your elbows and shoulders or whatever. It makes a big difference."

Rose, who works as a fitness expert in Los Angeles during the off-season, says the old practice-them-till-they-bleed school of pro coaching is giving way to more intelligent training techniques.

"Slowly but surely, all the NFL teams are finding out that lighter training camps pay off," he said. "Athletes today keep themselves in shape year-round. People today are probably 10 times healthier than they were when they adopted the old training camp methods. There is a physical part to getting ready to play, but it's not as significant as the mental preparation."

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