Earlier this year, in the New England Patriots’ bye week between the end of the regular season and their first playoff game in the divisional round, Tom Brady spent some time with his personal throwing coach, Tom House.
The then-41-year-old, five-time Super Bowl-winning, three-time NFL MVP had just wrapped an 11-5 regular season that saw him complete 65.8 percent of his passes with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
He told Boston radio station WEEI at the time that “football is always about technique and fundamentals and the more sound you are — in the bigger games you need to be as sound as possible.”
Brady and the Patriots went on to beat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
Brady turned to House, a former Major League Baseball pitcher who also works with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan among other NFL quarterbacks, after his longtime throwing guru, Tom Martinez, died in 2012.
For years, as he racked up Grand Slam wins, Tiger Woods worked with swing coaches and even rebuilt his swing more than once in an effort to make him the best golfer possible.
These days Woods doesn’t employ a full-time swing coach, but he does have someone he consults with on his putting.
The point remains, however: Two of the greatest players ever in their respective sports know the value of having a coach to help with mechanics, to help hammer home the little details that often make a big difference.
Not every athlete, apparently, feels the same.
‘I already know exactly what I need to work on’
On Thursday, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield chatted with media before the team’s final regular-season game and was asked about how he’ll spend his offseason outside of team activities.
“I already know what exactly I need to work on and improve going forward,” Mayfield said via the Akron Beacon-Journal. “That is the exciting thing about it, it is always a continual process of getting better and improving.”
Which is great. Mayfield would be lying to himself if he didn’t believe he had room for improvement; despite having some of the best offensive skill players in the NFL on the field with him, his numbers dipped from last year in pretty much every category.
But here’s where Mayfield sounded incredibly short-sighted and, really, arrogant: He has no interest in working with a private coach.
“I do not need somebody to teach me how to do a three-step drop,” Mayfield said. “I can look at film and be critical of myself. Throughout this process, I have had people help me out along the way and try and take things from different people. Anytime I am around somebody, I ask questions. Do not act like I have it all figured out.
“There is always room to improve and take things from there and there, but I would not say that I will go on the beach and swim through the ocean and try and learn how to play quarterback by doing that.”
We’re not sure which passing gurus Mayfield has met or knows of, but we’ve never heard of a personal coach telling a player he’ll be a better quarterback by swimming in the ocean. A more fit one, sure, but House and Martinez likely didn’t help mold Brady into the quarterback he is with dips in the Pacific.
And the notion of being taught a three-step drop? Getting a coach doesn’t mean he doesn’t know the basics of quarterback play, but if you’re doing the drop inefficiently, a coach could, maybe, help with that?
‘All of it is good’
It sounds like Mayfield’s decision runs counter to what his own coaches on the Browns would like to see happen.
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken knows players at all positions can benefit from offseason position-specific work or strength and conditioning work.
“You have it at all positions. Some are strength and conditioning. Some are technical,” Monken said. “All of it is good; people that dedicate their time and their livelihood to improve players’ performance on the field. But there is a difference between tutoring and training and then what we have to do, which is be held accountable for their actions.”
Monken wouldn’t affirm to media that Mayfield’s footwork, which was flawed this season, needed work or that it greatly improved through the course of season.
“There are times you really see improvement there, where he is able to go through his reads, his progressions. We have protected better the last few weeks, which I think has helped. We just have to continue in terms of route discipline and protection, and I think then the confidence will continue to grow,” Monken said.
Mayfield did acknowledge it needed work but again said he will fix it on his own.
“I can have somebody watch my feet ... just having somebody film it and being able to look back on that,” he said. “Repetitions are the way to get better for me. That’s just how it is has been, doing that and filming it.
“It has definitely improved as the year has gone on. There is a lot of room for improvement for me, just being critical of myself. Yeah, I have improved, but still I need to take that next step.”
Why the reticence to get additional help? Mayfield can say he doesn’t act like he’s got it all figured out, but his stance toward this certainly says otherwise. He can do repetitions all he wants, but if he does repetitions with poor footwork, he’s just reinforcing those bad habits, not making things better.
Doing drills with a coach, even if they feel rudimentary to Mayfield, will re-wire his mind and his muscles to do his footwork properly every time, or at least close to every time.
‘It would be me’
Mayfield is known for his bold proclamations, starting at the 2018 NFL combine when he said no one was better suited to fix the long-frustrating Browns than him.
“I think if anybody’s gonna turn that franchise around, it would be me,” he said then.
But being a franchise quarterback is so much more than brash talk and magazine covers. It’s working day-in and day-out, pretty much 365 days a year, when everyone is looking and no one is looking. Based on the pay scale and the level of glory (and, to be fair, blame) that comes with being an NFL quarterback now, there shouldn’t be a day where you aren’t doing something to get better.
Sometimes that means paying a specialist to help you refine your fundamentals.
Mayfield said he hired a chef this year to stay on a good diet and be at his optimal weight, but ignoring the other areas where he needs help and where a new set of eyes could help is not a wise course of action.
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