Monday, October 15, 2007

Leading When Things Aren't Going Your Way

In Bo’s Lasting Lessons, authors Bo Schembechler and John Bacon relate a story from Bo’s early days coaching. He learned a lesson about leading when the heat is on from his boss from his boss and mentor Ara Parseghian that he carried with him the rest of his life. Here's that excerpt:

The following season, 1956, I left Doyt [Perry] and Bowling Green—with his blessings—to become an assistant for Ara Parseghian at Northwestern University.

Ara was not a big ego guy, he was great with players, he was a wonderful motivator, and he understood the game so well he could come up with things no one else had thought of. He was probably the most imaginative coach I’d ever seen, always adapting his plays to his players instead of the other way around like most coaches do. Heck, we used to call his practice field “The Laboratory,” because that’s where he’d try every trick in the book on Mondays, testing this and experimenting with that, just to see what might work that Saturday.

Before Ara arrived, Northwestern hadn’t had a winning season in five years, but in his first year Northwestern went 4-4-1, and everyone was encouraged. But in Ara’s second season, 1957, everything went to hell. We lost nine games—every single game we played! For a coach, that’s just about the most difficult situation you have to face.

We could keep our opponents down to one or two touchdowns, but we couldn’t score for our lives. And I was working with the offense!

Losing creates all kinds of other problems too—poor morale, nagging injuries, lackluster effort. The players were spending more time in the PR office than in the weight room. It was just a mess. I never experienced anything like that in all my years of coaching—and thank God for that.

I learned an awful lot from Ara in my first year at Northwestern, but I learned a heckuva lot more from him that second season, when he lost ‘em all. And what I learned was how a real leader leads when things aren’t going his way.

Ara treated the staff as though we were winning every game. He never gave the slightest inclination that we were the problem. He not once blamed any assistant or any player fro any loss we suffered that year. NOT ONCE.

“Stick with it, guys, and we’ll get through this,” he’d tell us. “We’re going to be okay.” We all kept busting our butts for Ara, working past midnight, doing everything we could to get that guy a victory.

I’m not saying there wasn’t some bitching among the players. When you’re losing every game, every player thinks he deserves more playing time. But I promise you this: There was a whole lot less bitching on that team than I’ve heard on teams that won half their games—and there was absolutely no, but no, bickering among the coaches.

To read the rest including how Ara led with integrity, go here.

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