Accountability: It takes more than one leader or coach

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, November 24, 2022

It’s no secret that LSU has pretty much gone where quarterback Jayden Daniels will take the Tigers during this surprising season.

As for being the player who would take over and lead them to a surprising spot in the SEC Championship, head coach Brian Kelly saw a seminal moment in what appeared to be a small gesture after the Tigers’ 45- 20 upset of Ole Miss on Oct. 22.

After personally accounting for 369 yards and five touchdowns that afternoon, Daniels grabbed Kelly before the head coach went to face the media and reminded him to give ample credit to the offensive line.

Email newsletter signup

Kelly noted that Daniels, a transfer from Arizona State, earlier in the season likely wouldn’t have been comfortable and confident enough in his new surroundings to be ordering his head coach around.

But somebody had to do it.

Kelly had said since taking over the program that team chemistry, team discipline, had to come from within, from the players themselves — not from the coaches berating and staying on them 24/7.

That certainly seems to have happened.

But it’s far from “Jayden Daniels’ Team.”

The quarterback was just a handy example for Kelly to use to show how what appeared to be a rag-tag, mixed bag collection of players, (admittedly with some talent) has gradually come together to become a unified team, one that will play Texas A&M Saturday having already clinched a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Although he’s become more vocal and demonstrative in taking charge as the season has progressed, Daniels is simply the most visible leader.

“I’ve never really been a believer that there’s just three or four captains on a team and that’s it,” Kelly said. “I like roving leaders. I like that to come from all forms — freshmen, sophomores, juniors.”

He used defensive tackle Mekhi Wingo as a random example.

“Transferred from Missouri, just a sophomore, but we’ve gotten great leadership from him,” Kelly said.

Or linebacker Mike Jones.

“He’s not even in a starting position right now,” Kelly said, “but he means a lot to our football team. So I think it’s important that everybody serves some kind of leadership role to get accountability across the board.”

There were too many others to list, he said.

It may have come from within, but it had to start with the coaching staff.

Kelly’s nudge was to pick a dozen or so leaders last winter, each of whom drafted players to be in their pod, so to speak, that they held each other accountable in various on- and off-field categories that became a competition of sorts. Gold stars, atta-boys … and demerits, too.

“That is kind of for me how you build that accountability and discipline, that personal discipline,” Kellys said, “when you share it throughout the entire program and in each class as well.”

It’s why he thought last week’s 41-10 victory over Alabama-Birmingham was important, no matter what outsiders might have thought about the quality of competition.

“They showed great mental toughness to play right and do their job, certainly a game — not an SEC opponent — but I really liked the way that they prepared and played the game the right way for four quarters, in less than ideal (cold and misty) conditions, not a full crowd. All those things usually equal a change in the way you think.

“But their consistent application of our process allowed them to play each game with a faceless opponent and go our do their job the right way.”