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Tuesday, February 6,2024

Leadership In Sports: An Elusive Quality

By Mark Tudino  
The tsunami of resignations/firings/retirements in the NFL and college football this past month left those who watch or comment on such matters wondering who was going to take their places, sort of a musical chairs for people and jobs not accustomed to being in that situation. Out was, arguably, the greatest head coach in NFL history, and it’s debatable if he jumped or was pushed out of his longtime job as head coach of the New England

Patriots. The same could be said about former Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll, who was essentially kicked upstairs following his team’s failure to make the playoffs. Mind you, this is the same guy who won one Super Bowl, and should have had a second, but for a ridiculous play call at the goal line.

And the surprises weren’t limited to professional football; longtime college football icon Nick Saban, also in the conversation for GOAT of his profession, stepped down from Alabama after 17 incandescent seasons featuring six (six!) national championships.

Yes, all three men are in their early 70s, and with the exception of Saban, have not experienced recent success, with the mantra of “the game has passed him by” being a popular theme to characterize their demise. Carroll and Belichick especially, will be hired by some team, probably by the time you read this article. Saban retired because of his fatigue with the player-retention process, involving both the collegiate NIL rules, as well as the unrestrained Wild West atmosphere known as the transfer portal, where some players attend three or four schools during their time of eligibility. ‘Bama reacted immediately by hiring former Washington head man Kalen DeBoer to take over the reins. Will he be successful? Who knows? But it does place a spotlight on that undefinable quality which separates successful coaches from their contemporaries.

I was reminded while watching a documentary on former Gator and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier – owner of seven SEC titles, and in the discussion for being a top 10 college coach of all time – that leadership is an almost mystical quality, impossible to define, but mandatory for success. What are those qualities? If you were to ask 10 different people, you’d get 10 different answers, but best I can tell, it starts with an almost spiritual belief in our own ability to be successful. Call it vision, or an unshakeable faith in your core values, but everyone I mentioned in the preceding paragraphs has a way of winning – and of relaying that winning belief to the men (and women) they lead. It starts with having a formula of success you have absolute faith in, and transferring that idea of success to your team. How that’s done is still a mystery, but it will be fascinating to see which coach ends up in which job where – and Philadelphia and Dallas might be on the clock as well.

UPDATE: Normally we would not revisit a past column’s content, but it’s been brought to my attention that in the top 10 sports stories from last year, I omitted the meteoric impact of Lionel Messi and Inter Miami. Fair enough. But in reality, Messi only played a handful of matches, and MLS’ haphazard scheduling makes it tough to keep track of even when they play. But his impact is undeniable. Maybe next year?


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