Weird and wonderful world of coach motivational tactics

Instagram @josemourinho

Coaches at all levels of athletics have to be teachers, tacticians, psychologists and master motivators. And they will go to some extreme and bizarre lengths to motivate a team.

Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said he channeled 1980s prop comic Gallagher in an effort to inspire and excite his team prior to facing the Minnesota Vikings. Outfitted with a sledgehammer and watermelons, the Cowboys coach and some of his players smushed and smashed their way through the melons.

"We had a number of points of emphasis that we were trying to hit, so a number of guys got to participate, and once again I'd say it was a lot of fun. It was well received," McCarthy said after a 31-28 victory over the Vikings.

McCarthy isn't alone in going outside the box for ways to motivate. He's not even alone in using heavy tools to prove a point. Here are some of the weirdest and most wonderful coaching motivational tactics we could find.

2020: McCarthy as Gallagher

The Cowboys were looking to snap a four-game losing streak Sunday. As noted, the coach and team smashed away at fruit.

Did it work? The Cowboys won, so the seed of inspiration was planted. Unless they were seedless watermelons. McCarthy also told the media this week that he could keep the tactic around.

What they said: "We had to actually take our own watermelons with us because it's a little harder to find big watermelons in Minneapolis this time of year than Dallas, from what I was told," McCarthy said.


2020: Winner gets a ham

Iberian ham is one of the most expensive foods on the planet. In 2016, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, a whole leg from one brand from southwest Spain was priced at $4,872. So Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho got a bargain. Mourinho made a bet with defender Sergio Reguilon. If Reguilon could stop Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez from dribbling past him in their Premier League contest, Mourinho would buy him a ham.

Did it work? Let's pig out. Reguilon held up his end Saturday by winning all four of his one-on-one matchups with Mahrez. Tottenham won 2-0 and took over the top of the Premier League table. Mourinho's ham cost him $650.

What they said: "A promise is a promise," Mourinho wrote on Instagram.


2019: Just punch the clock

When Chicago Bulls coach Jim Boylen wanted to make sure his team was working hard -- putting in the hours to get better -- he went old school. He had a custom time clock made and each player got a timecard to punch in on the clock when their shift at the Chicago Bulls factory began.

Did it work? Ultimately, time ran out on Boylen. He replaced Fred Hoiberg in 2018, coaching 58 games that season and then the entire 2019-20 season. Boylen was fired in August, compiling a 39-84 record in Chicago.

What they said: "This is wack, man," Basketball Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady said about the clock on ESPN's The Jump.


2017: From ashes to March Madness

Xavier was in trouble and on a losing streak that could have cost it a trip to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The month of February was about to torch the Musketeers' tourney hopes. So they torched February first. Or, at least the page on the calendar. The team burned a calendar then kept the ashes in a clear jar, not exactly the elegiac urn ashes generally require.

Did it work? After losing the night immediately after the calendar burning, Xavier made the Big East semifinals and earned a No. 11 seed in the tournament. Once there, the Musketeers set fire to many peoples' brackets by beating No. seed 6 Maryland, No. 3 Florida State, and No. 2 Arizona before losing to top seed Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.

What they said: "We had a big aluminum trash can in the middle of the locker room," coach Chris Mack said. "We made sure all the smoke detectors and alarms were off. Everybody burned [the calendar].


2015: Spitting bars and the scouting report

Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw was trying to reach a young team. He tried taking away players' phones. He tried reading books about millennials. Nothing was working. His solution to give the team a scouting report: music.

Did it work? Not at all. His music and coaching apparently got tuned out. He was fired during the 2014-15 season after a 56-85 record in Denver.

What they said: During a Nuggets game, ESPN's Rachel Nichols reported that Shaw was "frustrated that these players seem to need more praise than in his day."


2014: A football's funeral

The Oakland Raiders were 0-4. They had already fired their head coach, and Tony Sparano was now the interim coach. When the team reached its bye after Week 4, Sparano went to the heavily used "burying the past" metaphor. But literally this time. On the team's practice field, Sparano buried a football to lay to rest that terrible start. With the Raiders having since moved to Las Vegas, it could still be there waiting for an intrepid archaeologist.

Did it work? No amount of last rites was saving this season. The Raiders lost the next six games after the burial and finished 3-13.

What they said: "Here's your shovel, here's your tool and those four games are over with," Sparano said. "And we're about ready to go to work here. Everybody understand that?"


2008: Time to chip in

Tommy Bowden had been fired during the college football season and Clemson turned to its wide receivers coach to become its interim head coach. Dabo Swinney wanted a way to show he was there for his team no matter what happened to him after the season. He used a local store to make poker chips that said "All In" and gave them to players.

Did it work? Exceedingly well. The poker chips are still part of Clemson tradition. Each player gets a chip for each game of the season and they drop one chip in a bucket for each game. Swinney turned that early tactic into two national titles and a national powerhouse program.

What they said: "When I got the job, there were lids on the program like, 'OK, Clemson, you can only do this, but don't go any higher than that,'" Swinney said in 2017. "'You can win nine, but let's don't win 10.' We just have slowly knocked off the lids off the program."


2008: Pants optional

Another interim coach in 2008, and another tactic. Mike Nolan had been fired by the San Francisco 49ers. They turned to Mike Singletary. Down 20-3 at halftime to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8, Singletary dropped trou. San Francisco staffers said he was trying to dramatize how embarrassing the team's play was.

Did it work? Sort of. After starting 2-5, the Niners went 5-4 with Singletary. He returned as coach in 2009. However, Singletary couldn't fashion sustained success. After going 8-8 in 2009, Singletary was fired with one game remaining in the 2010 season with the 49ers at 5-10.

What they said: "I used my pants to illustrate that we were getting our tails whipped on Sunday and how humiliating that should feel for all of us," Singletary said in a statement following the game.


2006: Of wheelbarrows and water buckets

In 2006, Miami Heat coach Pat Riley had his third different team in the NBA Finals. He knows how to motivate superstar players to win. That doesn't mean he can't turn to the props and metaphors when he has to. He used a mystery bowl, a wheelbarrow and a bucket of water in 2006. He also had Dwyane Wade.

Did it work? The bowl had 120,000 cards saying "15 Strong" as well as motivational messages written by each player. The wheelbarrow had been used earlier in the season as an analogy about trust. Then to illustrate the desire to win a championship, he held his head in the bucket of water to show players they had to want it "like it's your last breath." The Heat defeated the Dallas Mavericks to win the title, so it worked.

What they said: "We brought a wheelbarrow in to put stuff in because he gave us a story about trusting people and pushing a wheelbarrow across a tightrope," Heat guard Gary Payton said in 2006. "He's a great motivator."


2003: The 'ax-cident'

"Keep chopping wood," is a common football coach cliché. A week probably doesn't go by where a player or coach doesn't use some iteration of the phrase in a news conference. Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio took it to another level in 2003. He brought in an ax and tree stump for players to chop. Players seemed to enjoy the chopping for a while.

Did it work? Does a kicker burying the ax in his leg count as working? Punter Chris Hanson was taking hacks when the ax bounced off the stump and into Hanson's leg.

What they said: "If you feel your shin, the skin's really tight. So when you slice it, it expands very quickly," Jaguars athletic trainer Mike Ryan said. "When I looked at it, the whole front of the shin was just flayed wide open."


1992: A bull becomes a steer

The all-time champion of extreme antics for motivation is Mississippi State football coach Jackie Sherrill and his tactic prior to facing Texas in 1992. Sherrill allowed a bull to be castrated in front of the team in what he called an "educational" experience.

Did it work? Not for the bull. The Bulldogs, however, did defeat the Longhorns.

What they said: "We didn't do anything inhumane to an animal," Sherrill was quoted by The Associated Press as saying after the act came to light. "The calf is standing in living color today going about his business. Let me put it this way: I don't think that calf was embarrassed."