Apr 5, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke during the Spring Game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Peppered Football - The World Of The Contextualist -- Part IV


GBMWolverine Coach's Corner2Posted at 7:00am — 4/28/2014

Peppered Football – The World Of The Contextualist — Part IV

What Will Work?

With the football implications of Formism and Mechanism identified and discussed, the series now turns to Contextualism. Words that describe Contextualism include common sense, functionalism, and pragmatism. History becomes important to the raw Contextualist who has a love of the past and a high level of respect for those participating in the venture (players, coaches, everyone).

Acts of enterprise are frequently explained by linking future expectations to the past. The path to Contextual success can be then explained by amalgamating previous historical acts together into understandable and measurable goals. Besides history, Contextualists need goals to explain and measure success. Without goals and the associated analysis, Contextualists can become confused and functionality most certainly decreases.

The very context of the act involved is the root of the Contextualist’s existence. Acts are judged by success: if success follows, then that to the Contextualist equals truth. Common sense, and to some degree local knowledge, play into the Contextualist’s desire to achieve truth by achieving goals that produce success.

Using history, Contextualists try to influence the future through established guidelines, rules, measures or mantras. The role and reliance of history for Contextualists far surpasses that of the other world views.

It is not always so easy to identify the Contextualists among us, but by the description above, one can see that Coach Hoke clearly has Contextualist traits. Sometimes Contextualists are confused with the final world view of their cousins, the Organicists.

In football, history is known as tradition and should not be discounted. But history does not block, tackle, and execute all the physical and mental nuances of football. Hence, it becomes easy to retreat back to a Mechanistic need within a football staff. So, once again, be warned, talent and precise mechanism are a tough combination to beat. But the Contextualist world view has a place in the football world, especially at this time point where the fulcrum is uncertain of its final destination.

Coach HokeScholarship sometimes breaks the Contextualist camp into two separate schools, descriptive and functional. Descriptive Contextualists delve in appreciation of history; the past can be used to justify the future. The goals of the event need to be precise and measured by an agreed on standard, or the venture can frequently go wrong. That is the inherent weakness of this world view.

The functionalist branch of Contextualism is not quite so idealistic. Concepts that are well founded are accepted, but such ideas, rules and concepts must fit within the bounds of practicality and intended results. The ultimate objective is to influence future events and outcomes, in the case of Coach Hoke, that means win football games. It is assumed the ideas, forms, concepts, historical extrapolations, etc. of the effort are sound and applicable (and capable of replication) to broad future situations. In short, the descriptive types are more Formist, the functiuonalists do more homework and rely more on evidence of success.

When dealing with an intricate situation that contains complex elements, the Contextualist turns to science to organize systems that are workable. This incorporates ideas such as the Formists, but the ideas are more than mere mental phenomena; instead there is evidence for probable success. The Contextualist critically wants a system to succeed, or the venture could become a waste of time. In this regard some Mechanism may become a needed assistant.

Coach Hoke Photo by Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.comBased on the small sketch presented above, it is clear that Coach Hoke has incorporated many Contextual components within the Michigan Football program. Coach Hoke surely has a grasp of the historical significance and accompanying legacy that makes Michigan’s program so rich. His grasp includes a deep appreciation of a rich tradition.

Hoke has recently shown some public evidence of seeking what pragmatically works over theory and firm ideas. But only some evidence is indicated. Recent difficulties have forced Coach Hoke to move more to the Contextualist position and perhaps put the basics of Formism on the back burner. It can be said that the recent comments about a lack of leadership and the changes that can be expected extend into the Contextualist side of coaching. Simply put, the leadership program and offensive coordination were assessed as not working, and therefore not worthy of being considered as a truthful foundation of Michigan football.

300w_BradyHoke_PreviewCoach Hoke rejected one simple idea, player leadership as a given, and instead has adapted another extremely long held belief, that of the coach as the primary leader. Some harp on the accountability aspect, but the truth is that Hoke and staff are merely taking one Formist idea and replacing it with another. The change has been mandated by a realization that no evidence exists that the former view has sufficient support. But the change is not a guarantee of future success.

As basic ideas, both possibilities have merit, player and coach leadership. The cause of last year’s much publicized leadership debacle was more a result of the parts and not the idea, that is, certain participants chose not to adhere to the basic underlying ideas. As mechanists will point out, with no functioning parts, no machine (system) is possible. Harsh or not, Hoke stated that accountability means the staff did not do enough to either foster or monitor leadership.

The above evidence again shows the weakness of the Contextualist world view, especially the descriptive branch. The program ideas and system were certainly well thought out and rooted in historical success. The parts simply did not fall into place, whether it is leadership, offensive philosophy, or the grasping of concepts by both the offense and the defense. But the strength and saving grace of Contextualism is that eventually Formists and Mechanists realize something is just not working and practicality, pragmatism, and a willingness to grasp the very definition of success as the root of truth propels Contextual change. This phenomenon clearly has evolved in a matter of months. Only the staff knows when the exact tipping point was reached, but it was not instant, instead the tipping point was likely a collection of historical events that collectively triggered the Contextualist mechanism to new strategies.

Viewers have a choice when confronted with a lack of perceived success. The system can be blamed, the parts can be blamed, or both can be blamed. Each person has individual expectations and definitions of success. But to the Contextualist, success is as important as to any other world view; perhaps more so, since success and what works defines the truth.

Mistakes can be made in these personal, off-the-cuff evaluations, especially when assessed from afar with only mental schema providing “evidence.” The expectations may be too high, or the raw material (coaches and talent) may not be adequate enough. But the evolution of team success cannot be assessed in a microcosm of time, based on limited evaluation, as is common in today’s instant gratification world.

Oct 5, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines athletic director Dave Brandon before the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

One good thing to note: Director of Athletics Brandon seems to have a true grasp of Contextual traits and is more aware of needed changes than most give credit. Coach Hoke now becomes the reluctant Contextualist who is seeking what works.

From all accounts cited above, Coach Hoke can function well in this world view. So, the scorecard is pretty good in the Formist view, lacking in the Mechanistic view, and evolving into the Contextual world. This venture could well yield success. The reluctant Contextualist (Coach Hoke) may choose some hard core Mechanism to achieve his aims, but again, maybe not. Things are in flux, and flux is a basic ingredient of Organicism.

The final segment will define and analyze the world view of Organicism, perhaps the most difficult to approach due to its slippery nature. Until then view on.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Dan Keller

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