OGDEN — SWAG is the new MAFU.
From the moment of his hire under unusual circumstances in April, Weber State interim coach Jody Sears has been talking about leadership, building his players into on-field leaders who take responsibility and take charge when adversity strikes.
In the offseason, Wildcats team leaders were asked to put their own stamp on the program.
Senior quarterback Mike Hoke, senior defensive end Trevor Pletcher, junior linebacker Anthony Morales and senior tight end Brian Jankowski were allowed to establish the rules they wanted for the program.
The Wildcats knew their leaders, Sears said, selecting the four captains by an overwhelming vote.
Working with a leadership consultant, Hoke, Pletcher, Morales and Jankowski called the four main commitments their covenants and gave them an acronym — SWAG: Selflessness, Working hard, Attitude and Great Discipline.
Sears isn’t abdicating responsibility — “Our kids are a direct reflection of (our coaching),” he says — but he gave the players authority to set their own rules.
“He allowed us to make the standards and the covenants of what we wanted, not for this year but for the whole program going forward,” Hoke said. “He gave that all to us. He put it in our hands and said, what do you want to make the rules, the expectations, the standards?”
SWAG was the answer.
Slogans are nothing new for football teams.
Former Weber State and University of Utah coach Ron McBride was famous for preaching MAFU — Mental toughness, Attitude, Fanatical effort and Unity — and hired a leadership coach.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, the coach of Weber State’s opponent this week, has studied leadership in warrior cultures and is the subject of a recent book called “Running Into the Wind: Bronco Mendenhall — 5 Strategies for Building a Successful Team,” in which authors Paul Gustavson and Alyson Von Feldt outline Mendenhall’s leadership tactics.
Hoke said the covenants spelled out in Weber State’s acronym were an effort to help each player understand what is being asked of them as players and leaders.
“Those things are expected in every program but not always put into words or a picture of what it’s supposed to look like,” Hoke said.
Each covenant’s application in the community, at school, at practice and in games is described in detail.
“Great discipline in the class room is sitting in the front, doing all your work on time, being friendly to your teachers, getting to know your teachers, things like that,” Hoke said. “A lot of the stuff is how to carry yourself off the field. The on-the-field stuff is kind of expected and coaches stress that a lot.”
In practice: “Every rep 110 percent, knowing all your assignments, putting extra time in the film room on your own,” Hoke said. “Once we get to the game, if we prepare the right way and do all those things correctly, then on Saturday it will take care of itself.”
In the offseason, Weber State’s captains organized Tuesday and Thursday players-only practices. By rule, coaches are not allowed to attend, but the captains approached the workouts as coaches would, scripting them the same way, with individual drills followed by inside run drills and 7-on-7 passing drills in the team segment.
Being responsible for others made him accountable for himself, Hoke says.
“You’ve got to be the one watching film, bringing guys in to watch film with you, you’ve got to the first guy on the field, always be locked in at those summer practices. There are no coaches there, so you can drift off sometimes,” he said. “You’ve got to set the expectation and everyone else will follow along.”
Sears said the focus on leadership has brought his team closer.
“There’s a lot more vocal leadership on the field. You hear it in practices, you hear it in the locker rooms, you hear it in meetings. I don’t know what the outcome of that is going to be, but I know they’re growing. I know they’re more mature, they’re becoming better leaders, it’s becoming more visible.”
And he expects that to show on game days. Weber State plays BYU in Provo on Saturday at 1 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“When adversity strikes on Saturdays, there will be some substance. There will be a foundation they can fall back on instead of splintering and fracturing. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’ve been here before, boys — next play,’” Sears said. “That’s the culture we’re designing.