When you get comfortable, that's when you make mistakes. You find that sleepy place where you're not ready to move, you're not as hungry to achieve, and then you've forgotten what it was that brought you to where you are. Every now and then, you've got to change the way you do things to get the best out of the people you are trying to lead-even yourself. People get into a comfort zone where things are repetitive and dull, and you find that nobody is getting any better because everything has become rote, by memorization. It's like a food line worker in a canning factory. Every day he's there punching cans, punching cans. That's all he does every day. He never becomes better at anything else because he's doing the same job over and over. Mentally, he'll never get any better.
That's why I'll mix up practice sometimes. Maybe it's 5 below zero and everybody automatically starts walking over to the indoor practice field because that's what we usually do when it's that cold. So they'll head to the field without even checking to see if that's the plan. That's when I'll yell out, 'Okay, boys, outside,' and we go out to practice in that bitter cold. It gets their attention quickly, I'll tell you that. It makes them think, and it keeps them sharp. Creating inconvenience shakes things up-physically and mentally.
It also prepares my guys to perform in any kind of situation. This was never more true than when we were getting ready to play a game in New York just 12 days after the terrorist attacks. Now, I'm not saying we had gone through anything like that in advance, so that we were prepared. Not in the least. In fact, we had attempted to practice the day after the attacks, but I could see that our players and our staff were really hurting. We had people who live down the street from us who hadn't come home yet. It was a really tough deal for all of us, and football was the farthest thing from our minds. So I called off practice. But here we were 12 days later and still hurting, but the game was right in front of us and we were going to have to go and play even though nobody's heart was really in it.
I talked to my guys about what it was going to be like out there. I told them it was not an ideal environment or atmosphere in which to play a football game, but we all have to do hard things in life. I used the New York rescue workers, who were still sifting through huge piles of destruction, as an example. That certainly wasn't an easy job for them, but it was necessary because that's what rescue workers do. We're a football team, and playing football is what we do. I had to get them to understand that the day was going to be extremely emotional-both for us and for our fans-but that we were going to have to go compete and not give up because a lot of people were counting on us to play hard and, perhaps, create a small diversion from the tragedy we had all just been through. And then I reminded them how we had practiced and practiced well in nonideal environments.
We had come together as a team and made it through those subzero practices, and we did well. We had somehow found the energy to make it through that, and we were going to do our best to find the energy to make it through this.
As a player, I had never been through anything as tough as that game. But I did know a little bit about finding a good performance despite the conditions or atmosphere. When I was with the Eagles in the late 1970s, every fall we were forced out of Veterans Stadium by the Phillies and had to practice at John F. Kennedy Stadium, which made the Vet look like a palace. We'd dress at the Vet and drive our cars, in our uniforms, to JFK. There was a track around the field, and guys would race around it like they were in the Indy 500 until our coach, Dick Vermeil, found out and put a stop to it. But I think practicing in that crummy field and in situations we weren't accustomed to made us tougher and paid off when we had to play in adverse conditions later in the season.
With the Jets in 2002, one of our bigger inconveniences or wakeup calls was when I decided to make a change at quarterback. The quarterback taking over, Chad Pennington, had been with the Jets for two seasons but had gotten only a few reps in a couple of games. But we were in trouble, and I knew I needed to shake things up good. I could have changed the left guard or changed the safety, but I knew the team would simply say, 'Okay, so what? He changed the left guard, and he changed the safety.' But when you change the quarterback, then you're sending a message with shock waves attached, and now they're saying, 'Man, if he changes the quarterback, he could very well change me.'
I made sure they knew that this was not an act of desperation, that I wasn't suddenly panicking, because I had told them I wouldn't ever do that. I simply said I thought it was time to see what Chad could do. And I told them that it wasn't a change for just one game, that this was his team now, and his job was to win games. It was amazing to watch the effort level rise almost immediately. They knew I wasn't playing, and they also knew that they needed to give Chad their best effort so that he-and the team-could succeed. It gave my players the jolt they needed, and we found ourselves a pretty good quarterback in the process.
You find out a lot about the people you're leading when you throw something new and difficult at them. Do they respond and step up, or do they look at you like you're the crazy man who just messed things up? But I believe you've got to change something when staying the same isn't getting it done. I'm not a guy who's going to holler and shout and belittle people, and I'm not changing that. But I am going to make changes, swift changes, and I don't blink when I do it.