The riff on intrinsic motivation lingers from week to week and echoes from year to year.
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater head football coach Kevin Bullis insists that his Warhawks look inward for motivation. They don’t change their level of energy depending upon their opponent or the magnitude of the game.
That paid off for UW-Whitewater in 2017 when the team won its final six football games of the season to finish 7-3 only to miss the postseason. A greater lesson of commitment to process was learned.
Bullis never wanted to focus on the fact that the team likely was going to miss the playoffs. He just wanted them to get better.
Bullis maintains his tune that the Warhawks stay focused on themselves and not get distracted by rivalries or “uncontrollables,” as he calls them.
But the context in which he carries the tune is undeniably important heading into a 1 p.m. game against UW-La Crosse on Saturday.
When the news that the UW-Whitewater defensive playbook was emailed from former offensive coordinator Craig Smith west to Dubuque head coach Stan Zweifel, and up the Mississippi River to UW-La Crosse head coach Mike Schmidt, Bullis didn’t change his tune.
That information was made public in January. Bullis said he was focused on preparing for spring practices.
When Dubuque came to town to open the season, Bullis said the Warhawks were focused on preparation and were internally motivated.
There are several personal ties between the UW-La Crosse coaching staff and the UW-Whitewater coaching staff.
Schmidt and UW-Whitewater defensive coordinator Rob Erickson coached together at UW-Platteville. Schmidt and UW-W offensive line coach Brent Allen each played at the schools they currently coach at when the Warhawks and Eagles regularly played to determine WIAC champions.
Schmidt told the Daily Union last year that the rivalry still runs deep. So deep that when his children get their school-supply-list-mandated box of crayons, they’re instructed to throw away the purple ones. Allen is said to have a similar distaste for the color red.
Before the Lance Leipold era, when UW-Whitewater won six national titles in eight years, the Eagles and Warhawks were bitter rivals. That carried into the early days of the Leipold era, however the scoreboard has indicated the two programs may be in the same conference but are in different leagues.
Something changed after Leipold and the Warhawks came from behind to win a 35-28 game in 2007. UW-Whitewater trailed, 28-10, and came storming back to take the lead with 1:01 left.
Leipold never lost to UW-La Crosse, and UW-Whitewater hasn’t lost to the Eagles since dropping the final game of the 2004 season.
Since that loss in 2004, the Warhawks have been building and restoring and managing an identity. “Pound the rock” is at the heart of that identity as is a relentless commitment to the process.
On the other side of the ball Saturday, the Eagles (5-2) are in a three-way tie with UW-Oshkosh and UW-Platteville with 3-1 records in the WIAC. Schmidt and UW-La Crosse are trending in the right direction to restore the rivalry implications that date back to when the Eagles won six of their 33 WIAC titles in the 1990s.
Though Bullis admits the rivalries in the WIAC are rooted in history, he wasn’t quick to submit that the January playbook conundrum would have a significant impact on players heading into the 2019 season.
“I think executing your job as a wide receiver or as an offensive linemen, you need to be focused on that,” said Bullis in an exclusive interview with the Daily Union in August. “That has to be the only thing in your mind. That is ultimately the greatest motivation.
“Our job is to go out at this moment and concentrate to the best of my ability on what I’m doing to be a better linebacker or to make myself a better cornerback or a better coach.
“That’s why those other things are borderline irrelevant.”
The result of the message from Bullis is an enviable identity regularly referred to as committed to the process.