Phil Jackson & Ara Parseghian

I think Phil Jackson now has his priorities in order with the NY Knicks: (a) change the culture; (b) install the Triangle Offense. He had those principles in reverse order up until now. He may have thought the system he had won 11 NBA titles with — the Triangle — was going to work anywhere. Jackson doubters had said, “Hey, let him take that Triangle stuff up to Sacramento and see if it works with the Kings.” All this brings to mind several cases of culture first, all else later.

Ara Parseghian was coach at my alma mater, Northwestern University, for 8 years, 1956-63, inclusive. He took over a program at the very bottom of the Big 10, where losing was almost accepted. In the four seasons before he came to Evanston, the records were: 2-6-1; 3-6; 2-7; 0-8-1. That’s going backwards. I saw us play. We were awful. Teams just simply beat us physically and mentally. Ara understood this perfectly. He knew he had to change the culture at Northwestern before he put in any sophisticated offensive and defensive systems.

So, he had six weeks of illegal indoor practices in McGaw Hall, on the dirt. Then, the six weeks of legal practices outdoors. We had been so bad, I suspect the Big 10 closed an eye to the first six weeks. In fact, after the first ‘legal’ practice, the Chicago Tribune had this headline in the sports section: “NU holds first (?) spring practice.” Well, I saw a couple of those practices, as I had mastered the art of sneaking into buildings where I was not supposed to be. They were the most vicious football practices I have ever seen. There was contact, major contact, every day, for six weeks.

This helped Ara in two ways. One, it helped his sort out the hitters from the quitters, as some coach once said. If you could not or would not hit hard every day, you fell on the depth chart. Two, the ones that did stay the course (not unlike US Navy SEALs, I would venture to say) were hard-nosed people. What do you know? With little sophistication, we went 4-4-1 in his first year, nearly upsetting Ohio State, then closing out with three big wins. So, at Northwestern, Ara Parseghian changed the culture first and everything else later.