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Jay Gruden and search for elusive sense of urgency

September 21, 2018

It is the Holy Grail of sports that every coach or player is searching for, and perhaps nowhere is that search greater than in the locker rooms and clubhouses of Washington sports teams.

The elusive “sense of urgency.”

This appears to be the difference between winning and losing the ability to find the sense of urgency. It is often the lost piece of the puzzle, cited by coaches and players alike when they are losing.

Find a sense of urgency, and everything else will fall into place.

It is very hard to find, though.

Jay Gruden was looking for it before the start of the season. After going 0-4 in season openers, Gruden said the search was on for a sense of urgency. “We’re 0-4 so we should do something different. We haven’t won one yet,” Gruden said in late August. “We got to have a better sense of urgency coming out of the first game.”

This had been a Redskins top priority even in team OTAs. New quarterback Alex Smith was banging the drum for urgency in May. “There has to be a sense of urgency,” he said. “When we get out there and line up and play, no one’s taking it easy on you because you’ve got some new faces. It’s just not how it works, so we’ve got to get up to speed.”

Safety D.J. Swearinger swore they had found it back during those OTAs.

“There is definitely a sense of urgency,” he said. “I can speak for the defense, there’s definitely a sense of urgency from what we did last year and where we need to go.”

Gruden and company thought they found it after Washington’s opening 24-6 win over Arizona.

But just like that, it disappeared in the home opener last Sunday, a 21-9 loss to Indianapolis.

Instead of urgency, the Redskins found its evil twin complacency.

“Last week ... for whatever reason, there was complacency in the building,” Swearinger told 106.7 The Fan.

Obviously, it’s not easy to find a sense of urgency.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez has been looking for it all season. He told reporters at the end of June that his team needed to play with “a sense of urgency.” They went 1-6 in the following seven games.

Four weeks later, outfielder Adam Eaton put out another call for urgency. “We’ve got to start having a sense of urgency and having an approach every single day,” he said.

They’ve gone 25-22 since.

Of course, you know who the Indiana Jones of the search for a sense of urgency was, right?

Barry Trotz was on a quest to find a sense of urgency for the Washington Capitals.

“I don’t think we were as urgent on the puck,” Trotz said after a 2016 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Following a March 4-2 loss at home to the Dallas Stars in 2017, Trotz again spoke of urgency. “We’ve got to get a little more urgency in our games early,” he said.

Then, suddenly, he found it, and history changed in this town with the Capitals Stanley Cup win.

“We have another level of urgency in our game,” Trotz said as his team skated through the Vegas Golden Knight to its first franchise championship.

I’m curious what happens to the sense of urgency you found after you win a championship. I would guess the coach who hit on that sense of urgency could find it again. Maybe he will in Long Island.

This sense of urgency mission is hardly new. Go back to January 1981, when a little-known offensive coordinator from San Diego was hired to be the Redskins head coach.

“I have a sense of urgency,” Gibbs told reporters. “I am ready and fired up.”

Actually, Gibbs didnt likely have a true sense of urgency until his team started 0-5 that first season and the only firing being talked about was his.

But he found it after that, and nobody could find a sense of urgency better than Gibbs, even when his team was 10-0 and about to play the Little Sisters of the Poor.

So what exactly is this sense of urgency that coaches and players are searching for? For that, let’s go to the author of the book, “A Sense of Urgency,” Harvard Business School professor John P Kotter:

“Urgency is fundamentally an attitude, a way of thinking, feeling and behaving. It’s a sense that the world out there has enormous opportunities ... it’s this gut level determination that we’ve got to deal with that, that I’ve got to do something today, each and every day, get up with this, ‘I’m going to do something that’s important.’

“It’s this determination not just to have a meeting today, but to have a meeting that accomplishes something today, to move it forward on important stuff.”

I suspect there are many other attitudes and ways of thinking, feeling and behaving within the Redskins organization that may be getting in the way of finding and keeping that always elusive “sense of urgency.”

⦁ You can hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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