Tough Endings

You hire someone with expectations he’ll be with you a long time. Sometimes that works and he makes it a career – you look like a genius. Other times he leaves for a different position – you’re disappointed. Then there are times things don’t work out – and you decide a termination is in the organization’s best interest. You toss and turn the night before, get into work early to deliver the hard news, and get on with finding a replacement.

Two days ago, my alma mater fired head football coach Charlie Strong after three seasons. While he changed the culture among the student-athletes – every one has received or is on track for receiving his degree – the number of losses on the field were unacceptable at a university that considers itself college football elite.

In my January 2014 newsletter – a few weeks after he was hired – I wrote:

“Five decades after the Civil Rights Amendment, Charlie Strong becomes the first African American coach of a men’s athletic program at UT. ‘I don’t ever want to look at is as being the first,’ he said at an introductory press conference. ‘I want to look at is as I’m a coach and that’s the way I want to be treated.'”

UT-Austin president Gregory Fenves and athletics director Mike Pence wanted their coach to succeed for many reasons – and were patient until the end of this season’s finale. However, like in any business, results matter… and it became clear after three straight losses that a change was necessary.

Sometimes being in charge means making the hard call. That’s a primary role of leadership. It’s also why some days leaders don’t look forward to getting out of bed.


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