Posted: 2:30 a.m.
Mike Abrashoff's voyage from Naval ship captain to a Bengals pep talk had all the twists and turns of maneuvers at sea.
All Abrashoff knows is that when head coach Marvin Lewis called him out Saturday in Arizona to request his appearance at a team meeting Monday, he got on a red eye. When he heard Wednesday that Lewis, quarterback Carson Palmer, and wide receiver Chad Johnson spent the media session raving about his talk, he was on his second cross-country flight since Lewis called.
"When he calls, I fly," Abrashoff said. "I had heard about him and how he's respected around the NFL. It was an honor to get the call."
If the Bengals make the playoffs, Abrashoff's 2002 book, IT'S YOUR SHIP: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, will replace The PB Story as the most popular book in Bengaldom. It had already reached legendary status even before Lewis called, not to mention No. 2 on Amazon.com after Monday Night Football spiced the Bengals opening night victory over the Ravens with the story of how Palmer gave Lewis the team-building book to read over the offseason.
Abrashoff took his "seeing the ship through the eyes of the crew" philosophy that turned the U.S.S. Benfold into one of the top boats in the Navy and wrote a book on management principles.
The Benfold had the highest gunnery score in the Pacific fleet and completed a pre-deployment training cycle in record time. All the ship's career sailors signed on for another tour when only 54 percent usually re-up, according to a publisher's press release.
Palmer's father, Bill joked Wednesday, "Where's my cut?" After all, he's the guy that started it all.
While Bill Palmer worked at the John Hancock Insurance Co., in Boston, he arranged through a speaker's bureau for Abrashoff to come speak. He was impressed and invited him back a couple times.
He actually first gave the book to Carson's younger brother, Jordan, then the senior quarterback at Texas-El Paso. At the time he was reading it, Jordan walked into head coach Mike Price's office and saw a copy on his desk.
"I was taken by his story and the delivery was very impressive," Bill Palmer said. "I got to know him and read his books and I thought it applied to just about any situation. Jordan was in his senior year and I thought it would be good for him, and eventually it found its way to Carson."
Bill didn't realize Carson gave the book to Lewis until it hit Sports Illustrated at training camp.
"I was proud that he did," Bill Palmer said. "I'm sure Marvin took it the right way. I think it's great Marvin had him in to speak. I'm sure he gave a good talk."
A press release from the publisher outlines the book's key points:
Taking command, or how to establish respect and trust from the very outset
Going beyond standard procedure to achieve true innovation and progress
Leading by example, or how to best set the tone and spirit of everyone around you
Building a crew's self-esteem through praise and trust
Looking for results, not salutes, or how to knock down barriers between the lower and upper ranks, so that those at the bottom will take initiative and those at the top will welcome it
Improving the crew's quality of life, or how to find the right balance between work and fun
Abrashoff said talking to a football team wasn't much different than talking to his 310-member crew.
"I think both have a lot of hard-working young people that maybe didn't have role models growing up," he said. "They know how to win, but they don't know how to succeed.
"I changed my approach with them," he said. "They're very wealthy and wildly successful people, but I wanted to relate to them by means of respect. We all want to be respected and it's important to respect each other."
After the talk he said he fell into a five-minute discussion with wide receiver Chad Johnson and came away extremely impressed.
"I don't want to betray any trusts and say what we talked about," Abrashoff said. "But I've got some nephews who think Chad Johnson is the greatest and he took time to sign some things for me."
Carson Palmer appreciated meeting the man behind the pages.
"We're trying to find ways for his stories to carry over and relate to what we do as a football team," he said. "You try to find a way to put what you've heard into what we do, and what our goals are, and what we're trying to get done during the day in practice. And you hope there's some carryover there."
It's no coincidence that Lewis made his call the same week he berated his team for the umpteenth time for being selfish.
"I think his biggest message was that he made everybody feel important," Palmer said. "He talked about the guy on the ship that deals with all the sewage, and how if he didn't do his job, the whole boat suffers. Whether you're a special teams guy, a backup DB, whatever it may be, everybody's important and everybody needs to feel important, and he made everybody feel important. He made everybody feel that they had ownership of what was going on, that their work and their time and their efforts had to all come together as a team to get that job, to reach that goal."
Lewis said he was going to look at everything over the bye, including himself. The captain helped.
"Rather than saying it was all him or all them, his message was that it was together," Lewis said. "They wanted their ship to be looked upon as the best. They found a way to go about things and do it that way. He's an excellent speaker. He was able to bring it to an understanding level where we could interact and ask questions."
Monday may not be the last time he gathers the Bengals on deck. An Arlington, Va., resident, Abrashoff said Lewis has invited him to the Nov. 11 game in Baltimore.
ESPN didn't hawk his book on the last Monday night telecast , the 34-13 loss to New England. But Abrashoff caught the flareup between Palmer and Johnson and later heard about Palmer taking the blame.
"Since the story came out in Sports Illustrated I've become a fan," he said. "I was proud of Carson. He did what any good captain would do: He took the hit for his crew."