Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Explain James Harrison, Please

Before Malcolm Gladwell's quarterback and teacher quality piece completely fades from the zeitgeist, I'd like someone, preferably Malcolm Gladwell, to explain Steeler linebacker James Harrison's career to me. I don't understand how an undrafted free agent gets cut twice, barely hangs on the team for five years, and suddenly becomes a two time All-Pro, team MVP, and candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.


JuneA said...

Great question Tom, but I think that is the exact point of Gladwell's piece. Harrison fell through the cracks b/c he was "too short" to play outside linebacker in a 3-4, when teams prefer tall, fast hybrid LB/DE types like Lawrence Taylor.

What did Harrison have? Drive, heart, and enough of the skills needed (like speed and strength). Gladwell is right that for the most part, we know what we need in linebackers (speed, power, strength, smarts etc.) but of course there will be outliers like Harrison who was deemed too short in height.

I think his analogy to teachers is spot on... we don't really know that what we teach in certification programs is really what makes a "good" teacher, but we do know that highly literate individuals, good communicators, charismatic folks, and those with the heart and desire to teach might end up making pretty good teachers... so why not lower the barriers to the profession and try to attract as many good people as we can (and keep them!! which is another issue to solve).

Tom Hoffman said...

Wellll... I actually didn't really mean it specifically as a refutation or confirmation of Gladwell's argument about teachers. I just don't understand what changed with Harrison. If the Wikipedia article is to be believed, he wasn't even have that much drive and determination (he was ready to retire in 2004). The Steelers didn't really try to keep him -- they kept cutting him. Yet suddenly something clicked and he became a star.