Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

When Having It All Isn’t Enough

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. The skills he possesses – at his size – as well as how he affects nearly every game he plays, has a significant segment of NBA fans (although most of those are under the age of 30) saying he’s the best who has ever played the game. So to hear that he’s in the news isn’t shocking – except for why. James, after his guys lost six of eight games, not surprisingly was quoted as being highly critical of the Cavs’ front office.

After winning last year’s Larry O’Brien trophy, storming back from a 3-1 deficit and keeping the Golden State Warriors from going back-to-back, LeBron is letting everyone know that the Cavs don’t have all they need to be the team they ought to be. He expressed his displeasure saying the team needed to add a playmaker. Last year he told management to fire the coach (although he denied it). Well, they did – and then won it all.

What does management think of his comments? First of all, the Cavs have, by far, the highest payroll in the NBA, which cost owner Dan Gilbert a ton in luxury tax dough (proving LeBron is just like the rest of us – good at spending other people’s money). So it might not stun anyone to hear the front office’s response (keeping in mind they have to make sure nothing is said that can give LeBron reason to flee Cleveland again). “We believe in this team at a deep level, and we need to get better from within and play better, quite frankly,” GM David Griffin remarked. “We need to have a greater sense of urgency and start to develop a championship identity. I think it’s clear we have not been doing that.”

What do his teammates think of his remarks? One of them, Tristan Thompson, gave his assessment. “I just got to keep playing better. We got to keep playing harder. He’s right. We got to all play better. It’s simple,” said the Cavs big man. “This is the team we have right now. That’s how you got to approach the game. You can’t go out there hoping somebody is coming to walk through the door. Play with whoever the hell we got right now, and let’s win some [bleepin’] games.”

What does the media think? Not speaking for anyone but himself (to which many media members say, “Whew!”), Hall of Famer Charles Barkley chimed in, ripping LBJ. After mentioning the Cavs have a “Big Three” of their own with James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Barkley launched into his own tirade. “They have the highest payroll in NBA history. He wanted J.R. Smith last summer, they paid him. He wanted (Iman) Shumpert last summer. They brought in Kyle Korver. (LeBron) is the best player in the world. Does he want all of the good players? He don’t wanna compete?”

It’s probably not so much that “he don’t wanna compete” as it is he just wants better players to compete with – especially after their western rivals added Kevin Durant to their squad. Yet, with the exception of those squarely in his camp, many folks believe he has something in common with actor Peter Krause (who?) who famously said:

“At this point, I’m spoiled. I’ve actually had a really blessed career.”

Two Different Ways to Give the Same Message

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

As the clock wound toward zero at the end of the Indiana-Rutgers basketball game in Bloomington – with IU comfortably ahead, one of the Hoosiers attempted to throw down a dunk at the buzzer. He missed, the horn sounded and, prior to joining the “handshake line,” Indiana’s coach Tom Crean, walked directly to his player and absolutely lambasted him.

The tongue lashing didn’t last long, most likely because Crean didn’t want to ignore the Rutgers’ coaches and players – since his message to the youngster was that the move was disrespectful to their opponent – and blowing off the post game handshake line would have been just as impolite. Although his reaction to the play was understandable, his delivery should definitely have been altered (I heard one talking head equate it to bullying).

Allow me to reflect to a game played around 20 years ago. I was director of basketball operations at Fresno State and we were beating our opponent by a significant margin when one of our players had a breakaway late in the game (although not at the buzzer) and, rather than simply dunking the ball, he made a more crowd pleasing move, also resulting in a successful dunk, a broad smile from him and cheers from our sellout crowd. Shortly after, the game ended, the participants shook hands and headed toward their respective locker rooms.

Many, maybe even most, people who know Jerry Tarkanian will say a negative quality of his was that he never berated any kid who ever played for him. One thing is for sure. If that’s your belief, ask anyone who was in the post game locker room that night and you’ll hear differently. Jerry wasn’t two steps beyond the door before he exploded on the “dunker” – whose smile quickly disappeared. Suffice to say no one else made a sound for the next minute or two – which to us seemed more like 30 minutes. To that kid it must have felt like a week.

“Don’t you EVER disrespect the game – or an opponent – like that EVER again! It’s an HONOR to play basketball and there is no place for that type of horse(bleep)! You’re a helluva player, _____, but if I EVER see you pull another stunt like that, you’ll never put on a Fresno State uniform again!”

That moment is so vivid in my mind that, if someone could produce an audio of it, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if I nailed it absolutely verbatim. It also wouldn’t surprise me if someone else who was present that night were asked about it and told the identical story.

In a blog I posted close to a decade ago, I reminisced  about a conversation I had with Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and an assistant coach on the Oregon basketball staff when I was a graduate assistant, I remarked to Jim that a big problem in the college game was that coaches were making too much money, i.e. forget “they’re paid what the market will bear” there are innumerable coaches who would take head coaching jobs for much, much less – because they loved coaching. And they would do just as well, if not better, than whichever coach was eventually selected. What had prompted our discussion had to do with some mind boggling, illegal and immoral decision-making by one of the NABC members (a story that won’t be regurgitated here but was national news).

It was my belief that salaries had escalated to such a point (and this was over a decade ago when coaches’ were a mere fraction of what they are now) that some of the choices coaches were making were being negatively affected by how much money they were making because if he were to lose his job, he would find it nearly impossible to land another that would reward him so handsomely.

However, with such exorbitant salaries comes equal (or greater) expectations – and what follows that is more and more pressure – until the ultimate – a national championship is won. And even that will only appease the “faithful” supporters for a few years. Anyone who is a fan of college hoops, and especially Indiana’s program, will attest to the excessive admiration Hoosier fans showered on Tom when he patiently resurrected the proud, but probation-riddled IU program he inherited. When the team’s success didn’t continue its upward ascent (remember, this is a school with a long tradition, as in five national championships between 1940-1987), fans became disgruntled (shocking, isn’t it?) and turned up the heat on coach Crean.

Maybe because I consider Tom Crean a friend (even though it’s been years since we’ve been in contact), I truly believe his behavior that night in Bloomington had to do with pressure - and it caused him to forget a major tenet of leadership – the same one Tark displayed that night and throughout his storied career:

“Praise in public; criticize in private.”

It’s the Fans’ Favorite Time of the Year

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

College football is down to its championship game, the NFL’s playoff season is beginning and college basketball and the NBA are deep enough into their respective seasons that drama is front and center (Grayson Allen, Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins). Fans are beside themselves. The activity they all agree on is in full swing: criticizing, and ultimately, firing coaches. One invention that has made talking about firing coaches so much more enjoyable – as well as make the fan sound like an expert – is analytics.

Black Monday has come and gone and with it, several NFL coaches. Others are treading on thin ice. Or on they on the hot seat? Coaches get it from both ends of the thermometer. This year, as with every other, many, many college coaches received pink slips (although not nearly enough to satisfy the fans). Close games that were lost were proof that the coach choked, while close victories were either due to luck or should have been blowouts.

This NBA season might set the record as far as disappointing its followers, as there are some pundits currently claiming that this year will see no – as in zero – NBA head coaches dismissed. Seems as though the new coaches will be given at least another year to try to turn around the mess they inherited. Chip Kelly must be wishing he’d gone into hoops.

Wait, won’t there still be 14 teams not make the playoffs? So shouldn’t at least two-thirds of those teams change head men? Plus at least a quarter of those who made the playoffs? Every true fan can name 3-4 teams that would have done better with different guys leading those teams (even if those 3-4 teams change depending upon which fans you ask).

College is a little different. People aren’t nearly as close to pro coaches, so it’s easier to criticize someone who’s making a ton of money and not winning (or getting his team to cover for those of you who watch games for more than just the purity of the sport). College coaches are different. Fans may actually know the coach, or at least have met him at a function (alumni, service organization) where the school forced requested him to speak. Having shaken a person’s hand, looked him in the eye and either told him you thought he was doing a good job or wished him luck, makes the coach human – and (nearly) everybody has some empathy. I mean, one-and-dones have drastically changed coaching strategies – and expectations. This makes speaking about firing him all the more difficult – until you get to a place where the majority of the people are calling for his head. Then, joining in becomes much easier – and, even, fun.

Jim Murray, the greatest sportswriter of all-time, once wrote, Nothing is ever so bad it can’t be made worse by firing the coach.”

How about we update Jim’s quote (since some might dismiss by saying it’s become outdated)? Here’s one I heard while listening to a podcast with Doc Rivers. Doc is a guy with a ton of security because he has so much credibility – a coach with an NBA championship on his resume and one of the most highly respected guys in the business (plus he’s got such a gimormous contract). When the question was posed to him about winning a championship. His answer was simplistic, but telling:

“People don’t appreciate how hard it is to win.”

Terry Bradshaw Suffering from Terminal Hard On

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

If you haven’t heard the latest gossip from the world of professional football, pull up a chair and get a load of this. Terry Bradshaw, an icon in Pittsburgh – a city in which they take their icons very seriously – criticized the Steelers’ head coach, Mike Tomlin, calling him “a great cheerleader guy.” Why would Bradshaw go public on the leader of his “alma mater” so soon after they clinched a playoff spot? Keep in mind that Tomlin has a Super Bowl championship on his Steelers resume.

That doesn’t seem to matter to Bradshaw. Turn back the clock a decade or so ago and you’ll recall the same guy throwing less than kind words about another Steelers championship coach – the one and only Chuck Noll. The two of them were the greatest coach-quarterback combination of the Super Bowl era – the mere fact that they won four Super Bowls seems to both begin and end that argument. In fact, I spent one of those glory years (1976-77) living in Pittsburgh where people must be really confused because of the nine states I’ve lived inhabited, nowhere are folks more proud of “their own” than in the ‘Burgh.

Bradshaw’s complaint was Noll was too tough on his young quarterback from Louisiana, that young Terry was the type of guy who needed a hug every now and then. Recently, Bradshaw was a no-show at his former boss’ funeral. One would have thought Bradshaw would make have made an appearance if, for no other reason, than to have made sure.

Possibly, Bradshaw is “anti” Super Bowl-winners because he also has taken aim at Ben Roethlisberger who, like Terry, is a multiple Steelers Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Bradshaw most definitely is an equal opportunity critic as he made the statement below, taking to task another Pittsburgh Super Bowl-winning QB who has won several.

No one can say Bradshaw plays favorites. His tenure with the Steelers and his head coach, Noll, certainly had to have been a rocky one. When asked for a statement following the funeral of the revered coach, he took a swipe at still another championship signal caller - himself. Here’s what he had to say about the winningest coach-QB combination (certainly as far as winning the most brass rings is concerned):

“I’m proud to have played for (Noll). It was a great honor. My relationship wasn’t good, as you well know, but he made me understand my job responsibilities, because I had to grow up.”

Why Does the NBA Feel a Need to Undermine Its Officials?

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

As if it’s not bad enough that referees make bad calls, the NBA, for some unknown reason (transparency, perhaps?), lets the viewing public – and even those who didn’t see them – in on the mistakes its officials made in games already played. Other than the league office patting itself on the back for being “transparent,” there is absolutely no reason for such a magnanimous gesture.

Doing so relives a bad time from a game that’s already been decided, so admitting to errors only compounds the problem. The team that “got screwed” – and who felt they were cheated out of a victory (even though the correct calls might not have assured them one) – is even more upset. The winning team feels as though their efforts are being diminished. And, worst of all, the refs – who have a thankless and, in the case of officiating in the NBA, an impossible job to perform – feel like the people who ought to be backing them are throwing them under the proverbial bus.

The prime example was the recent contest between Cleveland and Golden State. If ever there was a regular season game which had all the earmarks of an NBA Finals rematch, it was the Xmas Day match up between the past two years’ finalists. The Warriors were in control of the game, up 14 in the fourth quarter when some sloppy play by them, combined with some clutch buckets by the Cavs turned the contest into a tight ballgame.

LeBron James dunked with 1:43 left and the score tied at 103. He proceeded to hang on the rim, swinging back and forth in a move that would have made another King – Tarzan – proud. Possibly because the play was so eye-opening, and the crowd noise erupted to such a dangerous decibel level, the referees ignored Bron’s over-exuberant gesture. Then, on the Warriors’ final possession, Richard Jefferson switched onto Kevin Durant who had come off of a screen. KD slipped (according to his postgame remarks, “not on my own”), and fell to the floor as the game clock expired. No call by any of the three officials.

In the report from the NBA office the day after the game, the league admitted James actually should have been assessed a technical foul for deliberately hanging on the rim and that Jefferson should have, in fact, been called for a foul on Durant. If the NBA office’s intention was to create more “sports bar” arguments, they certainly have accomplished their goals. What, in reality, they did was to lessen a classic NBA regular season game – and, perhaps, set a precedent for future games – both of which could have been avoided. To admit mistakes is admirable but as long as nothing can be done to affect the outcome, it’s unnecessary.

This NBA admitting officiating errors reminded me of a humorous incident from several years ago. During the 1986 Sweet Sixteen game between #4 ranked Michigan State and top-seeded Kansas, a clock malfunction occurred with 2:20 to go in the game and the Spartans ahead by four. Following a made free throw by MSU, the Jayhawks inbounded the ball. For at least 15 seconds, the clock didn’t move. Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote argued, to no avail, as the game was going on. A couple weeks later, at the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Convention (which coincides with the Final Four), the spokesman from the NCAA Rules Committee referenced that game. He told the hundreds of coaches in attendance that one of the changes being made was that such an error would be correctable in the future.

Heathcote was one of the best coaches in the nation. He was also one of the funniest. He raised his hand and, even before he was recognized by the speaker, bellowed:

“Is that rule retroactive?”

Coach As Father Figure

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Coaching in today’s world is more difficult than in any other era. It’s mostly because of social media and how “public” the coach’s job is. Then again, that could be true about any employment position. Coaching is just more visible and people care more about it, i.e. its results.

Mike Krzyzewski is catching heat for the actions of Grayson Allen, one of his players. Last season, Allen had a couple incidents in which he tripped opponents. Video replay, another invention which makes jobs harder than they used to be, makes any excuse indefensible. Up until  a couple days ago, most fans forgot about Allen’s, ahem, missteps, possibly because it’s a new year, possibly because Duke has been without some key freshmen and Allen has been carrying the Blue Devils, possibly because of some other reason.

Fast forward to their last game and an all too familiar scene of Allen tripping an opposing player. Only this time his reactions following the transgression magnified his problem. He was seen yelling on the court and exhibiting disturbing behavior on the bench. Something, obviously, needed to be done. Duke’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who’s dealt with nearly every situation a head coach could during his illustrious career, had no lack of assistance in this case. Commentators, writers, studio hosts – both radio and television – even fans, had no reservations about “helping” Coach K deal with such a volatile situation.

As he has done so many times before when facing criticism, Krzyzewski listened and then, basically, said he was perfectly capable of dealing with it, without help from anyone else. He claimed to know Allen better than anyone, certainly better than anyone who was chiming in with an opinion about what needed to be done. He is as protective of his players as any coach in college.

As this story was making front page news, another well-respected coach got in the news for acting in a different manner toward a few of the players he coached. George Karl, whose last coaching gig was with the Sacramento Kings, is coming out with a book and must have gotten advice from his publisher that revealing some juicy tidbits would pump up sales.

He made some inflammatory remarks about players, most notably Carmelo Anthony, a superstar he coached when both were part of the Denver Nuggets organization. Why, other than to help sales, he felt the need to make such remarks about guys he coached so long ago is unknown at this time. While there were critical remarks about Anthony’s game, the most hurtful comment was about Anthony and fellow teammate Kenyon Martin. “Kenyon and Carmelo carried two big burdens: all that money and no father to show them how to act like a man.”

One writer came out and said the line was taken out of context but let’s put aside that part of the story. Karl speaks often about his college coach, Dean Smith, as being a (second) father figure to him. It’s been said a college coach is a father figure to is players, especially for the many players who grew up without one. Mike Krzyzewski is praised by his players as, if not a father figure, a guiding light in their lives. Of course the major difference between a college coach (high school coach too) and a professional coach is just that. Pros shouldn’t need father figures; they’re getting paid and are on their own, earning boatloads of money.

Yet, in this one instance, let’s put some pieces together. George Karl was an adult, coaching Carmelo Anthony who, when he began his professional career with the Denver Nuggets, was 19 years old. Karl had not only a father but, when he was the same age as his superstar, Dean Smith in his life. Didn’t Karl have any sympathy for a 19-year-old who grew up without a father? Didn’t he feel any responsibility in helping this young kid with issues beyond offense and defense? Was he, with his background so diametrically opposed from his rookie’s, so callous to feel he was only supposed to provide Xs and Os help to him? Did it never occur to him that if he were to show even a smidgen of the concern and subsequent advice he received from his mentor, it might make the team better, i.e. if not to improve the kid’s life, make the team more formidable? Whatever else, Karl missed a chance to make an impact on the life of a youngster (independent of whether he was a “professional” athlete or not).

With all the opinions on what Mike Krzyzewski should do and what George Karl didn’t, there is one item I have yet to hear from all these people who have answers after the fact. It’s a topic I brought up with a few coaching friends of mine a couple weeks ago, regarding a subject – a teaching point – that had taken place earlier this football season – the actions of Colin Kaepernick. My opinion was well-received by my colleagues, yet something I haven’t heard discussed to date. How do you feel about it?

“Any coach who hasn’t had a discussion with his (or her) players about the Kaepernick situation should be fired.”


A Lighter Look at Sexual Harassment

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Early in my coaching stop at USC, a co-worker in the athletics department called me over. “Hey, congratulations. You came in third. And you even got a first place vote.” When my brow furrowed, she realized I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Every year,” she explained, “the females in the department conduct an anonymous secret ballot on which male coach they’d want to be stranded with on a desert island.” You came in third this year and even got a first place vote.” I was doubly surprised. First, because I’d been with the Trojans for three years and had never heard of such a poll  and second, because I came in third – with a first on somebody’s ballot. Nothing like a little boost to the ego – but I simply smiled, thanked her for the “good” news and went back to my office. There certainly was no feeling of being offended, although I did realize there might have been someone who would have taken offense. Please believe me when I say I would have felt the same way if I’d found out about the ladies’ poll – and she told me that I hadn’t received a single nomination.

A month or so later our athletics department held a mandatory sexual harassment seminar. All personnel members filed into the meeting room. I happened to be seated next to John Robinson, our legendary football coach. Being a wise guy (not to generalize, but something that comes easy – or at least easier – to somebody from New Jersey), I began the meeting by asking the female presenter, a retired military officer, “Is harass was one word or two?” Maybe because of the mischievous look in my eye, maybe because of the muffled laughter coming from many of my colleagues, maybe because she would have rather kept to her script, she only gave me a stern look. To let her know it was just a funny line, I apologized to the group – each of whom knew my comment was meant as a bit of levity. Truthfully, the little joke was regarding the word, not the topic – which is I realize is anything but. JR turned to me and, barely audible, said, “You are crazy.”

The woman was about 45 minutes into her presentation, which included video examples of what was and what was not considered sexual harassment, when I raised my hand. She shot me a glance – with somewhat of a jaundiced eye – and asked if I had a question. The people present wondered if I would be foolish enough to joke at this time.

I began, “Here’s a fictitious situation I’d like to ask you. If the men in the department conducted a secret survey, asking the male colleagues to rank first, second and third which female department employee they’d like to be stranded with on an desert island, would that be considered sexual harassment – even if the women never found out about it?”

The lady almost jumped with excitement (or relief) and exclaimed, “Yes! That is an perfect example of sexual harassment.” As she continued, I was glancing around the room. The females were sinking lower and lower in the seats, some absolutely glaring at me, a couple others shooting me a shocked look. Was I really going to expose their little scheme? The speaker finally ended her comments, praising me for giving such a vivid illustration.

“Uh, OK, thanks. I just wondered about that situation.” The women sat up straighter, yet some continued with the evil eye.

My point was not to belittle a serious issue we all know occurs in the workplace – and most everywhere else. It’s my belief that 99% of the people who sexually harass others are fully aware of their actions - and that there is no place for such behavior. However, I truly believe the PC police have become a tad overly sensitive on this subject.

The school district in which I worked after returning to public school education (following 30 years in the world of college basketball) was (and remains) such a place. Allow me to share a brief story.

During one of my freshman algebra classes, with an administrator in attendance to (allegedly) evaluate me, I asked the kids if anybody had an answer to a certain problem. No hands went up. I said, “Oh, c’mon, somebody has got to know this one.”

A shy, bright, little girl seated a couple rows from me, sheepishly raised her hand and said, “Is it x=15?”

I walked over to her and touched her on the elbow, saying, “One.” Then, touched her forearm a couple inches lower and said, “Two.” A couple inches lower, “Three” and, finally, touched her wrist, saying, “Four.” I looked her in the eye, smiled and said, “Thank you, Emily. I know can always count on you.” The class laughed and we moved on. In about 10 minutes, the bell rang and the students were off to their next class.

Shortly after the kids left, the administrator came up to me and made a remark that I’m absolutely certain was meant to be a vital learning experience for me. “Jack, I completely understand why you did it but, in the future, you might want to reconsider touching your students.”

I just looked at the administrator. My response was, “You just sat and observed me teaching and that is your first comment? Nothing about whether or not I was connecting with the kids, or if my explanation of the material was effective, or if they seemed interested?” I actually did consider the next line and said it anyway:

“Do they actually pay you to do this?”

Anyone Who Complains About Newton’s “Suspension” Should Not Be Allowed to Be a Parent

Monday, December 5th, 2016

A pretty safe assumption last night was that any fan watching the Seahawks-Panthers game was shocked when Cam Newton stayed on the sideline for Carolina’s first possession. After much scurrying around (whew, lucky the network has sideline reporters), it was reported Newton was benched for a disciplinary reason: that the Panthers have a team rule that players are required to wear a tie when entering the arena – and Cam wasn’t wearing one (verified by pregame photos). To make matters worse, backup QB Derek Anderson threw a pass that was picked off and, eventually, turned into a Seahawks’ field goal.

Speculation ran rampant. “It couldn’t have been just for a tie. No one would be foolish enough to make such a petty move.” It’s bad enough the Panthers came into the game at 4-8, played in last year’s Super Bowl and Cam Newton is the reigning NFL MVP. But fans are fickle (there’s a candidate for understatement of the year) and, if given a chance, will voice displeasure at the drop of a tie hat. “If they were fighting for a playoff spot, that never would have happened,” could be heard at sports bars throughout America (and especially in North Carolina).

Naturally, that would come from a somewhat sensible supporter. “Rivera should be fired for suspending Cam. That one play cost the Panthers the game – or at the very least, got them down and put them in an early, unnecessary hole” would be a comment from someone several rungs below the fanatic ladder.

Now that the dust has settled, let’s take a look at it. If Newton violated a team rule, what’s wrong with punishing him for one play! Next, the pass should have been caught. OK, the receiver deflected it, allowing for an easy interception. Seattle did capitalize but only for a field goal. It wasn’t like it was a horrendous throw, resulting in a pick-6. Newton was back on the field following the kickoff, so it must have been predetermined and not a surprise to the Carolina organization.

With all the criticism today regarding parents being fearful of disciplining their children, the action Rivera took should be applauded. When an NFL player is held accountable, whether it was truly for a dress code violation or something more serious, the action taken should be applauded.

Anybody who’s upset that Cam Newton was suspended for one play – in a game the Panthers lost by 33 points - should have their parenting license revoked. If they don’t have children, they should reconsider if they plan on it. Especially at 4-8, it would have been easy to look the other way (assuming it was due to not wearing a tie). Independent of what caused the move, this country won’t fold due to lack of discipline. More because of the opposite.

Or as Clara Barton said:

“The surest test of discipline is its absence.”

How in the World Can Anyone Deny that Football Might Not Cause Head Injuries?

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

It took me a long time but last weekend I finally got around to watching the movie Concussion. One of my nine Division I basketball stops (my first full-time gig) was at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh. It was during the 1976-77 season – right during the heart of the Steelers’ dynasty. I didn’t know Mike Webster but, like everybody in the ‘Burgh, we all felt we knew all the guys who played for the World Champs. So, when Webster’s tragic story became public, to all of us who were fans of the Steelers, it was like one of our family members was suffering.

While an argument could be made for “Iron Mike” as the best NFL center, his legacy has become that of the poster child for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). One poignant moment from the movie was when the audience was told approximately how many violent hits to the head Webster had endured throughout his football career. As more and more former players were discovered as having contracted CTE, it became all too apparent that, although football is such great entertainment for so many of us, playing it certainly takes a toll on the players’ bodies -and especially to their heads.

Recently, a survey was taken regarding football and one of the questions was “Are head injuries a serious problem in football?” 5.7% of the respondents answered no. My first thought wasn’t that such an overwhelming percentage realized how serious the issue was. It was incredulity that 5.7% actually believed it wasn’t true.

Then I saw the following quote on a story in the November 17 issue of Yardbarker. It was from Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys. “I recently I had a CAT scan done . . . under an assumed name,” the Cowboy’s top man said. “Afterward, the radiologist said, ‘I noticed your age. The reason I came down – and here he called me by my assumed name; he didn’t know who I was – was that you have the brain of a 40-year-old.’ My other doctors were in the room; so was my wife. I’ve got some witnesses. The point is, I was a fullback and a pulling guard. I used my head all the time, and I played football a long time. And that had no impact.”

And that alone is proof enough for Jones that there is no link between football and brain injury. So much for research.

All I could think of was:

“Lord, help us all.”

Leaders Have Different Styles

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

If a poll was taken asking Americans who the greatest leader ever is/was, it’s relatively obvious there would be no conclusive winner. However, should one prerequisite be that the person had to have been a coach, there’s a good chance John Wooden would lead be the leading vote getter. On a personal note, my two years as a graduate assistant at Washington State (1973-75) coincided with Coach Wooden’s last two years at UCLA.

Many people tell stories of how Coach Wooden never forgot people he met and how gracious and warm a person he was. I happen to be living proof of that. It was universally known that, not only did Coach Wooden attend every UCLA home game after he retired, but exactly where he sat. Since his seat was directly in line from the visiting team’s bench to its locker room, I always made it a point, during my four year stay at USC (1991-95), to stop by and “pay my respects” to the greatest college basketball coach – and, arguably, the greatest coach of any sport – of all-time.

The first couple times the conversation was identical. “Coach, I’m Jack Fertig. Just wanted to say hello.”

“Oh, I know who you are, Jack,” was his reply on each occasion. Actually, there was an incident in 1974 when one of the Bruins’ players misplaced his national championship ring and thought he’d left it in the locker room at the Performing Arts Center on our campus at WSU. Possibly because I was the only single coach on our staff, I happened to be the only coach left at the arena after the game. I was asked by the UCLA staff to check with our custodians. After an exhaustive search, we couldn’t find it anywhere. When I got to my apartment later that night, I got a call from one of their coaches, apologizing for the inconvenience, that the kid had left the ring at the hotel.

Whether or not he actually remembered a 25-year-old grad assistant or not, it was a pretty special feeling. The next two years, I tested him by simply saying, “Good to see you again, Coach,” as I shook his hand.

Incredible as it may sound, he responded both times with, “Nice to see you, too, Jack.”

What Coach Wooden accomplished at UCLA is unparalleled. Because of the way the NCAA Tournament is run today, e.g. 68 teams, multiple teams from conferences, teams not assigned by region only, no coach will ever approach his record (10 NCAA Championships in 12 years). Yet, it wasn’t not only his coaching prowess that defined the Wizard of Westwood. Consider that he won the Player of the Year award (1932) as well as numerous Coach of the Year awards and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player (1960) and a coach (1973).

Many of his leadership ideas have been published in the books detailing his life and coaching career. The following is a list from Wooden’s Wisdom – Personal Coaching and Mentoring from one of America’s Greatest Teacher/Coaches (Vol 5, Issue 262) – an email I receive every week or so from Craig Impelman, one of Coach Wooden’s sons-in-law. It mainly applies to ending practices and conversations.

  1. You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.
  2. Learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
  3. Listen if you want to be heard.
  4. What is right is more important than who is right.
  5. End on a positive note.

It doesn’t take an expert analyst to notice the difference between Coach Wooden’s style and that of our newly elected president. Yet, Coach Wooden understood the team was infinitely more important than the individual and that the only way to achieve goals was through teamwork. It’s unfortunate that, as a country, we haven’t been able to put aside differences – as vast as they may be – for the betterment of the country. In the past it was the Republicans doing what they could to ensure Democratic failure. Now, it’s like it’s the Dems chance to undermine their “opponents.” President-elect Trump’s campaign message was the polar opposite of Coach Wooden’s strategy, although much of what he’s done since winning the election has been in direct contrast to his previous rhetoric.

I don’t claim to have known John Wooden any more than anyone else but one thing I learned from, and about, him was little can be accomplished without teamwork. To borrow one of his many phrases, the attitude the people of our nation need to adopt is:

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”