Chiefs are putting in the hard work now for championship results later
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sean McGrath has seen this before, which is good. And by "good," we mean "freaking awesome."
Last spring, the Kansas City Chiefs tight end was pounding iron for the Seattle Seahawks. Attendance at the team facility was high; enthusiasm was even higher. In hindsight, the workouts of February-March-April proved to be jumper cables that led to a Super Bowl emasculation of the Denver Broncos and the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy.
Over the last three months at the Chiefs’ practice digs, it’s been deja vu all over again for The Bearded One.
Same vibe. Same camaraderie. Different colors.
"They parallel — it’s very similar," McGrath, the Chiefs’ fan favorite, tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com. "It’s about guys hanging out, besides (what’s asked in) the actual job. Guys hanging around the facility and really getting that camaraderie that we pride ourselves in, in being closer than just a ‘work relationship’ … getting to know each other’s families, kids, wives, parents in some cases."
You harvest in the fall what you plant in the winter and spring. McGrath says the turnout around the Chiefs’ facility in the snow months, the dark months, rivals what he saw in Seattle in 2012 and 2013.
Good sign. No. Great sign.
"There’s just as many people that are here in Kansas City that there was in Seattle," says McGrath, who led all Chiefs tight ends with 26 receptions last fall. "So it’s really about guys buying in to what Coach (Andy) Reid and John Dorsey are (doing), starting up at the top, (and) it trickles down to us.
"You need your time off, don’t get me wrong. But if you want to be playing into late January, early February, it means you’re going to put the time in. If you want to hold the Lombardi Trophy up, you’ve got to put the time in and you see the guys that want it, they’re going to be here and if not, they’re putting in the time somewhere else."
Nor does it hurt that they dig strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin. A lot. That whole "one heartbeat thing" works better when the cattle listen to the guy doing the herding.
"Everyone loves him," McGrath says. "I mean, he’s a great guy. He facilitates the workouts in terms of needs — (things) that we need to get better; we’re not specifically putting a workout there that’s just broad, in a sense. It’s just position-specific."
It’s flexible. Fast. Fun. A typical week: Conditioning Tuesday and Thursday, lift Friday. And farmer’s walks. Lots and lots of farmer’s walks.
"The grip work is becoming very popular," McGrath says, "guys have been (focusing on) the strength in your hands and how important that is."
In addition to yoga classes, the 26-year-old Chicago native has been steered toward focusing on explosiveness off the line; the power to fight for balls in the air; and the grace to work the high-wire act around the pylons in the red zone.
"He knows his (expletive)," McGrath says of Rubin. "It’s not some made-up deal that he got from this guy at the Gold’s Gym."
The Louisiana native has a soft Cajun accent and a tendency to deflect praise in every direction but his own. When you kid that he might be the Chiefs’ secret weapon, especially given the club’s fourth-quarter dominance during this past regular season, he laughs it off as media folly.
"I’m not a secret weapon, no," Rubin chuckles. "The secret weapon is working hard and working hard consistently and having kids that will do it.
"Everything that happens here reverts back to (the players) with their attitude and their wanting to win. And Coach Reid leading us that way. He’s a phenomenal leader and he has just backed our program to the ‘nth’ degree. And that’s another big part of a successful strength program, is having a head coach knowing what’s going on and involved and backing it. And he does. He does. He’s been wonderful."
But the most powerful tool in the box, Rubin says, is peer pressure, just as it was when these players were in college and high school. It’s a business now, and a cut-throat one, at that, but there’s no push quite like the push of the guy next to you — the guy who may be gunning for your job.
"We have some great leaders; we really do," Rubin says. "Like Eric Berry … he’s phenomenal. Our fullback, Anthony Sherman, is phenomenal. I think all of them — all of those guys are just very compliant. And that’s the key, is being compliant, working hard, that is the key."
Rubin doesn’t just get in your legs and lungs. The man gets in your head.
"He definitely teaches us how to — how do I put this? — maintain your focus out there," cornerback Sean Smith says. "Because when your body gets tired, the mind tells your body what to do. Barry’s a cool guy. You just talk to him, you can learn a lot from Coach Barry."
The devil’s in the details. The proof is in the standings.
"I mean, there’s no magic out there," Rubin says. "There isn’t. We always try to find it. There isn’t. The magic is working hard and doing it on a consistent basis."
"Yeah, shoot, ‘No Time To Sleep,’ Russell (Wilson’s) hashtag, it does speak volumes," McGrath says.
"If you’re not dreaming of winning a championship, I don’t want you around my program. And I’m sure everyone in the program feels that way. It’s not about making money, or living out whatever. It’s about winning. And winning this Lombardi Trophy, that’s what everyone wants to do."
Along Wolfpack Drive, the mindset is all about raising the bar. In every sense of the word.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.