A former NBA head coach once told me that the hardest thing about his job was coaching the aging superstar player. The player thinks he can still run, jump and shoot like he once did, while the coach knows his skills are diminishing and the player can't be the same dominant force on a nightly basis.
Being honest with a superstar player and telling him his role has to change for the team to be successful isn't easy. Once the message is delivered, it's all on the player to decide how he will respond. The player has to realize that he can still be
impactful, and even have superstar type games. It all depends on the makeup of the player, and his determination to win regardless of numbers.
Let's apply this axiom to Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, at age 32 and in his 12th NFL season, has a different role in 2015 than he did in 2008 and 2009. Then, Larry was in his prime, helping lead the Cardinals to back-to-back NFC West division titles. In 2008, he led the NFC in receiving yards. In 2009, he tied for the NFL lead in receiving touchdowns. During the Cardinals' run to the Super Bowl, he broke Jerry Rice's single season postseason records for catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns. The next stop after Fitz's playing career ends is the Hall of Fame.
However, one of Fitzgerald's best qualities is that he never settles. There's always something new to achieve on the horizon. Even though his role has changed, his importance to the team hasn't. Fitzgerald is still a problem for opposing defenses, and is still capable of having games than remind us of the 25 year-old Larry.
His three-touchdown game against Chicago is a great example. Because there is a wealth of talent around Fitzgerald, he won't have games like that every week. However, there's no reason to believe he can't finish with Pro Bowl numbers. Other greats at the position put up big numbers in their 12th season. In 2012, Reggie Wayne (under offensive coordinator Bruce Arians) caught 106 balls for 1,355 yards. Andre Johnson had 85 catches for just under 1,000 yards last year in his 12th campaign. Jerry Rice had 108 catches in his 12th season.
Fitz keeps himself in great shape. Plus, he's determined to win a Super Bowl before his career is over. He has a quarterback in Carson Palmer who is playing lights out, and the offensive line is the best it's been in a long time. Fitzgerald may be aging, but he still has some superstar in him. That fact could mean another trip to the playoffs for the Cardinals, and another shot at the only thing Fitzgerald doesn't have—a Super Bowl ring.