The Tournament has become one of those events that has become a cultural phenomena. No need to say “which tournament”, it is just The Tournament. It goes beyond college sports and basketball, it permeates the public consciousness. Pools and brackets become the thing of water-cooler conversation and office bulletin boards. It produces drama, stories, heroes and goats, as well as some timeless moments and memories. And this year the tournament was brought to us on every possible delivery medium the media has at their disposal, and we gobbled it up. And in this festival of March Madness, I found myself thinking of 3 particular people: Billy Donovan, John Calipari and Charles Barkley.
Find them on the rise, give them the opportunity, support them, pay them well, and let them do their job. That is the model for really successful, long-term hiring. In college basketball, or any sport, one would be hard pressed to find a better example than Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators. Two National Championships, 5 Final Four Appearances, multiple conference titles and a winning tradition for 16 years and counting. All of this at a “football school”. Billy Donovan was hired as the Gators head coach and given a 6 year contract at the age of 30. Was it a risky hire, yes. But it was a calculated risk. Billy Donovan had a very clear record of having studied and learned from some of the best in the business, a relentless work ethic, and an ability to relate to players, administrators, alumni and boosters. Billy Donovan is a great example of taking the long view in hiring – find the right person, regardless of age or experience, support them and then let them do their job.
John Calipari has proven himself yet again to be the master of the “one and done” model. His Kentucky team was again a collection of phenomenally talented freshman, arguably the finest collection of future professional players on any one team in the tournament. John Calipari takes a fair bit of heat for his overt recruiting of those young men who clearly state they have no interest in being a “student athlete”. His recruiting pitch is in effect “I will get you ready to go pro”. Like many, I was initially put off by his approach and embracing of the “one and done” mentality. However, what I have come to realize is that John Calipari is simply playing by the rules. John Calipari did not make the rules, but he has become the best at playing within those rules. He gets more of the best players to play for him than anyone else. That is amazing recruiting. He is also clearly an impressive coach. He is able to take a collection of individuals and turn them within a 30 game season into one of the best teams in the country. That is great coaching. Someone like John Calipari should not be judged for abiding by the rules. Don’t fault the person for being good at their job.
Mentors. Counselors. Coaches. Trusted Advisors. Advocates. Regardless of the title, we all benefit from having a core group of those “who have gone before”, who can share their wisdom, some hard-earned lessons, and above all be that voice of reason and honesty when we need it most. We all need a Charles Barkley in our life. Sir Charles is a unique character, and to a degree is maybe playing to the part, but make no mistake he is one savvy dude. And above all, he tells it like it is. What little I saw and heard of the various broadcasts, you could count on Charles being very honest in his assessments. If a kid did not play well, he said it. If the stars failed to live up to the hype, he said it. No sugar-coating. No hyperbole. No positive spin or feel good comments; just raw, unfiltered, and technically based feedback on performance. We could all benefit from someone like Charles…especially if they are as colorful as Sir Charles.
I do not watch a lot of college basketball, but what I do watch tends to be in March. The Tournament is just a special event…it is fun to have on in the background. It also reminds us of some great fundamental lessons in business: hire well, do not begrudge others success, and have someone in your circle that will be honest.