Monday, February 7, 2011

Would we be better off being an NFL coach?

by Pat Gouhin

With the close of another football season I am once again troubled by the inevitable turnover at the highest levels. This past year seems little different than years past and as of early January 2011, 7 NFL head coaches have been terminated with some reports of potentially another 5 coming before all is said and done and the season is officially put to bed. With 32 teams in the league, this leaves us with annual turnover of somewhere between 20% and 40%. Is that good? Is that bad? What could be considered optimal? How do these rates compare to what we see in the chief staff officer ranks of the association community? Certainly the jobs and responsibilities are very different but there are also some similarities as well.

On 6 January the Wall Street Journal published an article titled, “Inside a College-Football Tragicomedy.” It was about a high profile college coach who was fired. There were a couple of paragraphs that struck me as imminently relevant.

“From the inside, I discovered how complicated the game had become, requiring coaches to work 100 hour weeks recruiting, practicing and watching endless hours of film – only to see that 19-year old kid miss the kick. When that happens, the head coach can expect to get thousands of nasty emails and very little sleep.”

The article goes on to portray the typical day of the star player in a very grueling and demanding way and finishes with the following about the rest of the team …”or any of the 124 other players – does any of these things poorly, or not at all, that’s the head coach’s problem. And if any of those failures hit the papers, the talk shows, or the blogs, it’s an even bigger headache.

This beast (reference to the multi-$billion industry and massive college programs) we have created may be bigger and stronger, but the coach’s job security still rests on the kids who weigh 300 pounds and squats twice that, but still can’t grow a respectable mustache.”

Any of this sound familiar? Perhaps we should be analyzing the beast along with the coach?

Now we all accept the inherent responsibilities that come with the job and understand we have to take the good with the bad and rise above the chaff, but is there a more fundamental issue at work here?

Is there a mismatch between the expectations of the stakeholders and the reality of control and influence that can be exerted by any one individual to produce “winning” results year in and year out? If so, are we as association executives living up to our responsibility to communicate the many interdependencies, variables and unforeseen circumstances that influence the illusion of control or are we perpetuating the fallacy? When we truly believe that a coach can win a championship every year and when we aren’t willing to settle for anything less, is it time to examine the fundamentals of the system in which we operate?

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