Management Lessons From The NFL


mistakesNFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been under pressure to resign for his handling of the Ray Rice situation. For those who don’t follow the NFL, Rice, a former Baltimore Ravens star running back, knocked out his then-fiancée in a casino elevator in March.

After an initial two game suspension, Rice has since been fired by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.   When asked by a reporter why he should keep his job, Goodell stated: “Because I’ve admitted my mistakes and am in the processing of fixing them.”   And he’s been willing to address other mistakes he’s made.

One of the controversy’s surrounding Goodell is the full video of the Ray Rice incident.   Goodell stated that his original decision was based on having not seen the video. There are claims that the video was sent to the NFL and that Goodell had every opportunity to view it before his original decision.

The truth?   Yet to be determined.

But let’s look at a few facts about the overall job performance of the Commissioner.  Goodell works for the owners of the teams.  Yes, he must deal with and regulate the players, but they are represented by a players union.  In fact, that union is appealing the indefinite suspension of Rice.

With Goodell as Commissioner, the value of NFL teams has risen 32 percent since 2006 off of a very high base. The NFL is the most valuable sports franchise in the world; worth a collective $45 billion.

He’s dealt with the issue of player head injuries, bringing the issue out of the closet, addressed the long term financial support of injured players and issued new rules to minimize the danger while playing.

While not up to the financial performance of his predecessor, it’s still a respectable performance. Has he made mistakes?  Of course.  Is everyone happy?  Of course not.  But unless he lied to the public and the owners about the video, should those mistakes end his career?  Probably not.

Let’s contrast Goodell’s responses to criticism to those of Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Deron Sanders a Hall of Fame cornerback, now a reporter and Trent Dilfer, a former Seahawks quarterback both reported that the Niners players have turned against the coach and want him out.  Rumors have also circulated that Harbaugh is at odds with the CEO of the organization.  And there is strong evidence that Harbaugh is already looking for his next job.  Harbaugh’s response to the criticism: “It’s a bunch of crap.”

Again, let’s look at the performance on the job. In 2011, Harbaugh agreed to a 5-year contract to become the next head coach for the Niners.  He succeeded an interim, single game, head coach after the firing of Mike Singletary. Despite a 5-10 record the previous year, Harbaugh led the team to a 13-3 record in the regular season, winning the NFC West division while finishing second overall in the NFC and bringing the team to the NFC Championship Game. This was the first time the 49ers had made the playoffs since the 2002 NFL season, generating widespread praise.

Despite winning three games so far this season , there is clearly something wrong within the 49ers this year. It’s visible, sometimes even on TV, in the body language and the interaction of the players with the coach. And given the team President is tweeting in defense of his coach, we’ve probably just seen the tip of the iceberg.

Two successful men; different approaches to problems.

By now, you’re asking yourself: What does this have to do with me or my business.   Plenty!   In almost every company we deal with, while there is a real business problem that needs to be solved, the crisis that led to our involvement was caused by denial and/or ego.

We’ve given examples in many of our previous emails:

(1) The Company President that cut salaries by 15% while routing bank loan payments to his personal account.

(2) The CEO who took more in compensation and loans in one year than the total gross margin of the company.  

(3) The company management that turns inventory once a year and attempts to justify it.

(4) The family owned company that required consensus from all involved family members to make any decision.

(5) The company that borrowed money from the business equivalent of a payday lender to support excessive spending……… And the list goes on.

Each of these events precipitated a crisis that required outside intervention. And while some of the companies survived under existing management, others did not and were liquidated or sold as going concerns.  

But almost all of the crises were preventable.

If you manage a company or support management, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the company managed on sound business and financial principles or is the ego of the CEO a driving factor?
  • Does everyone connected with the company believe that management operates with integrity?
  • Does the senior management listen to knowledgeable advice from both inside and outside the company?
  • Can upper management admit mistakes, reflect on them and take action to address them?
  • Is there a climate of respect for the opinion of others with respect to decision making?
  • Is there tolerance for the mistakes of others, especially those with solid job performance?
  • Does management “shoot the messenger”?

While a company’s culture and management arrogance may not be reflected on national television as with the NFL, the answers to the above questions can make the difference between success and failure of a business