Most Saturday mornings in the fall, College GameDay is on in the background as we go through the usual morning rituals. It is not a “sit and watch” sort of thing, but it is a streaming commentary that provides an easy way to stay somewhat connected to all that is college football, pop culture and even current events. The stories, the drama, the games, the rankings, the conversations around playoffs, suspensions and above all, the passion of the fans. But what I have really noted this year, College Football has to be the greatest, most visible, easily comprehensible to the masses, case study in why leadership truly matters.
Though college football tends to be a fairly consistent parade of the same schools at the top, there is a pretty noticeable trend of how programs tend to rise and fall based on coaching changes. Part of it is recruiting. Part of it is organizational skills and management, and some of it has to do with hiring. But what is abundantly clear, leadership is the core issue. The great “coaches” are great leaders. They attract the best talent, hire the best staffs, and they build the best, most efficient organizations. Thankfully, in our highly scheduled and information saturated worlds, the simplicity of wins and losses makes for a quick and easy way to quantify the results of good leadership.
On the downside, take Michigan, Texas and Florida. They all have the talent, the facilities, donors, boosters and the support of the school, yet the wrong coach…down they go, and quickly. Yet, great leadership also has an immediate impact in the positive direction. Texas A&M, Stanford and Oregon, have all found the right coach, or coaches. They have taken average teams with inherent disadvantages to the heights of college football. Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are clearly the best examples of what a difference good leadership can make for a program. Each has resurrected floundering programs, quickly having major success at more than one school. Nick Saban has been incredibly successful at both LSU and Alabama, while Urban Meyer was instrumental in taking Florida to multiple championships, and has rapidly turned Ohio State back into a perennial power.
Leaders get the right folks in the right roles, then let them perform. The best coaches have the best staffs They are NOT afraid to hire good people. It takes a strong leader to hire a talented subordinate, or to take a risk when hiring. There has been no better example of that adage than Nick Saban’s hiring of Lane Kiffin as his Offensive Coordinator. Kiffin had issues as a head coach, has a fair bit of baggage, but clearly knows what he is doing when it comes to running an offense. He might not be the best head coach, but he is certainly really good at what he does. Saban hired him, has let him run the offense, and thus far the results speak volumes.
Just as Lane Kiffin is a “technical expert” when it comes to offense, it was clear from his tenures at Tennessee and USC, that he was not a head coach and leader. Technical expertise does not always equate to good leadership. Charlie Weis was just fired, again, from another head coaching job. He might be great with an offense, but he is clearly no leader. Will Muschamp at Florida, a defensive “genius” is standing by to be fired, as are several other technical experts who became head coaches. It is such a common pitfall. Good salesman – make him the sales manager. Disaster. Technical skills are not leadership skills.
Sure, College Football is just a game, and extrapolating leadership maxims from head coaches is a dicey proposition, but there are some themes that hold true. It is tough to argue when the results are binary…someone wins, some loses. Everything is leadership. The rest matters, but without the proper leader, it is abundantly clear, the team just does not jell and the organization founders.