Saints to Sinners: Business Lessons Learned from the NFL

Today’s announcement of the penalties handed down by National Football League commissioner, Roger Goodell have dramatic consequences for the New Orleans Saints football

Sean Payton - New Orleans Saints

team and coaches. For those not familiar with the situation, The Saints were accused, and found guilty of, targeting opposing players (particularly quarterbacks) to injure them and get them removed from the game. The defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, developed a system (which he used when coaching with other teams) where his players would earn up to $1,500 for hard hits and getting other players injured. Basically, “Bounty-gate” as it’s being termed, was more about bad intentions than hard hits. When it comes to players safety, the NFL has taken a hard-line and made historic decisions.

The defensive coordinator Williams, has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL. It’s a minimum of a year with the chance to re-apply then. He has a new team and this impacts them substantially. The head coach, Sean Payton, who knew what was going on and failed to stop it, was suspended for a year without pay. That’s a cool $8,000,000 (that’s right – six zeros) never to be regained. He can’t appeal. He is an employee of the NFL without a union. One of the other assistants, Joe Vitt, was suspended for 6 games. The club has been fine $500,000, lost draft picks, and lost its reputation. This is unprecedented in the NFL, and maybe all of sports. It is punitive and a clear message to the rest of the teams that this behavior will end.

The reasons for the draconian nature of the penalties? The Saints were warned in 2009 by the NFL to stop bounties. The Saints said okay, but they didn’t stop. Basically, when you lie to an investigative unit, that leads to issues. In addition, the NFL smelled huge lawsuits coming at them and probably felt that they needed to make a big statement in order to show that they are doing all they can to end bounties. They did.

So what does this mean to business leaders? Read on…

1. Head Coach Sean Payton is stunned (Read article by Jay Glazer on NBC Sports). He has just lost $8M he can never get back. He is out of the league for a year. No contact. No decisions on players. Nothing. He didn’t instigate this bounty system. He allowed his defensive coordinator to do it and basically gave him full control. The similarities to Joe Paterno at Penn State are compelling. Payton (basically the CEO) ceded control to a maverick subordinate and stuck his head in the sand. He allowed bad behavior to persist in his organization even after being warned. For that, he ended up getting the deepest blow. He makes way more money than Williams. His reputation was bigger. He has lost big time.  Question – As a leader, do you cede control to subordinates who are highly successful and stop minding the store? Are you willing to “overlook” things because the person who is running it is very successful in other areas? Example – your top sales producer shows poor judgement frequently with clients and potentially can damage your reputation. You don’t do anything because they are your top producer. You risk your reputation and potentially increase your liability.

2. Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis was also suspended for a year. This is your club’s top executive. Payton may have been the CEO, but this guy is all about your talent acquisition. Again, this is a case of not taking bold and courageous actions when you’re smart enough to know you should. It’s easy to say sitting here on the outside, but really tough sometimes when you are in the midst of the fire. Question – Do you take bold and courageous action when your gut tells you what you know is right?

3. Looking at the big picture. The NFL is all about winning today. Now, not necessarily later. Teams will fire coaches, executives, and players at a drop of a hat to win today. Heck, today Tim Tebow (last year’s golden boy and media sensation) was traded by the Denver Broncos to the New York Jets because Denver picked up Peyton Manning. Nobody is safe. The pressure to think only in the moment and eschew long-range consequences may be very prevalent in this environment. Question – Do economic challenges and issues keep you focused only on the now, rather than strategizing and preparing for long-term sustainability?

4. Reputation Damage Control – I’ve heard very little from the Saints today. Maybe they are still trying to get up off the floor. They have damage control to do. It starts with their fans and continues on with the NFL, public perception, and the media. This may haunt them for years as they go to different cities and receive the cat calls, the heckling, the poor press, etc. How does this affect their employees and families? It will have devastating ramifications for a whole lot of people. Question – Do you consider reputation damage when thinking about crisis management? Do you ever think about crisis management?

I have to think that thee will be more penalties levied against players. Lawsuits may pop up. It’s truly a tragic situation. Bad judgement and poor behavior is not relegated to the NFL. It happens daily in business. Although they are purely for entertainment value, television shows like Mad Men and The Office, and cartoons like Dilbert often skim that surface of reality and we recognize it. That’s why we watch, read, and laugh at them. But nobody is laughing in New Orleans or in the NFL offices today. I know it’s a baseball axiom, but there is no joy in Mudville today. Make sure that you learn from others mistakes and avoid a similar fate in your business.

© 2012 Dan Weedin. All Rights Reserved

Extra Points – Perspective on Life

Perspective on Life.

Joe Paterno

Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno passed away over the weekend at the age of 85. Paterno was the head man at Penn State for over 40 years and built a legacy of greatness on and off the football field at Happy Valley over the years.

For many, especially without a lot of football history, they know Paterno as the coach fired abruptly in disgrace last November when it was revealed that a former assistant coach had allegedly abused children. There are still questions on what Paterno knew, when he knew, and what actions he took. On one of his final interviews, he acknowledges he felt he did the right thing, but in retrospect, he should have done more.

There are many ways people will view the life and legend of Paterno. I think I will choose to remember him as a man who had great impact on the lives of countless young men. Yes, I believe he made mistakes in the Jerry Sandusky situation. Yes, he should have done more. But in the end, when you take a look at the entire body of work, the final few pages of the last chapter should be viewed in perspective of the whole book.

How often do we judge people or issues based on a small sample set, rather than the entire body of work? The next time you have to, I hope you consider perspective in your decision.

This week’s quote – “Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy.”  Joe Paterno

© 2012 Dan Weedin. All Rights Reserved

Anatomy of a Crisis – Penn State Part 2

I guess maybe the Board of Trustees read my blog post today. They have relieved Coach Joe Paterno of his duties immediately.

This isn’t the last we will hear of this. The fallout will be widespread and legends and reputations tarnished. This isn’t a scandal that involves boosters buying a car for a kid. This has serious issues related to damaging lives.

Damage to reputation has the chance to harm more deeply than any other peril. How do you protect your organization’s reputation?

It’s a question to consider in calm times; not in real-time…

© 2011 Dan Weedin. All Rights Reserved

Anatomy of a Crisis – Paterno and Penn State

It only takes one mistake…

Joe Paterno

Legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno is stepping down at the end of the season and leaving Happy Valley in disgrace. Not for anything that happened on the football field; not for wins and losses; and not even for NCAA violations. His 61 years at the same institution (46 as head coach) ends abruptly because he made poor decisions and turned a blind eye to issues involving his subordinates.

Read ESPN story

Paterno was aware of allegations against his defensive coordinator and friend Jerry Sandusky, who is now being accused of molesting many young boys from 1994-2010. Paterno turned in the information and left it in the hands of his boss. Big mistake. His boss is now being charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. The school’s board of trustees are scampering around trying to quell the uproar. The crisis has now escalated beyond the sports world.

So you may ask, what did Coach Paterno do wrong? He has not been charged with any legal improprieties. Why has he become the central figure of this giant mess? Why will he ultimately be included in civil lawsuits that will continue to haunt his days?

Joe Paterno is Penn State. His brand and reputation over 46 years as the head man at the helm of a successful football program makes him the face of the university. Good, bad, or indifferent; that is the reality.

As CEO of the football program, he bears the ultimate responsibility for what happens on and off the field. Issues dealing with wins and losses may just cost you your job. Issues as detestable as what happened with Sandusky will cost you your job, tarnish your reputation, and potentially hurt the university in a myriad of ways.

Paterno is guilty of doing the minimum. He handed off the issue to his Athletic Director. His next mistake was the killer. He did nothing. He blindly put his trust in his boss to deal with it and then went back to coaching and recruiting. He allowed Sandusky to stay around the program and the campus. In fact, in 1998, the police investigated Sandusky for this type of behavior. At that point, the guy should be gone. Should be allowed nowhere near the campus.  Paterno had that control. Instead, Paterno stuck his head in the sand and left it to others to clean up. Here is the problem…when you are the face of the institution and the CEO, you’d better make sure things get resolved.

Paterno told the board of trustees to not spend another minute thinking about him. Really? Paterno wants to go out on his terms and finish the season. I say no. He forfeited that opportunity. The trustees are now the ones in crisis management. What does their communication plan say? What do they need to do to salvage any semblance of reputation for their academic university that has always been viewed as “clean?” In my estimation, you don’t allow one of the central figures in a cover up to have a coronation. Heck, last night, the 84-year old Paterno made the decision that it was okay to encourage a pep rally outside of his home with 3,000 students by leading a “We are Penn State” cheer and a hearty “Beat Nebraska!” Yeah, like that is important. Disturbing. The board of trustees need to show courage in decision-making and dismiss him. If you were in their seats, what would you do?

Hindsight is 20/20. I get that. However, that is why it is so important for executives and business owners to think about this in advance. By virtue of having employees, these things are liable to happen. They are vulnerabilities that you face. How do you respond to employees, the media, your customers, your supply chain, your family? If you don’t have a plan in place now, then you risk your business and your reputation.

If the mighty Joe Paterno, who built an empire in over 60 years, can fall in 5 days, how quickly can you and your organization fall?

© 2011 Dan Weedin. All Rights Reserved