When Successful Leaders Run Their Course

Mike Shanahan

As big of a Denver Broncos fan as I am, I’ve previously opted not to use my blog publisher as a means for expressing sentiments on the topic.  Sports opens up a whole, new subject of conversation I’m choosing not to use my blog forum for at this time.  However, I feel compelled at this point to articulate some feelings I have about the Broncos that spill over beyond sports to the subject I do write about, on occasion, of leadership and management.

When the Broncos won back to back Super Bowls before John Elway’s retirement in 1999, I articulated loudly that I was at peace with whatever happened to the Broncos from that point forward.  To my surprise though, and to my dismay, I have watched in agony a Broncos team that has been mired in mediocrity for the past nine years.  In fairness, the ’99 team was riddled with injuries (including a career-threatening one to Terrell Davis) and a post-Elway hangover that didn’t really count.  On the other hand, this year’s pathetic squad has also endured its share of injuries but has no good excuse for its generally poor play.  Except for one main one.  And, oddly enough, one that’s not being talked about hardly at all–not on the Denver radio stations, in the Denver newspapers or really even on the popular football blogs including Pro Football Talk.   

I’m referring to an increasing need for Mike Shanahan to leave his post as the head coach of the Broncos.  This notion is generally startling when I mention it to folks around Denver but I don’t understand why: the Bronx have won one playoff game since Elway retired, all facets of their game this year (O, D, Special Teams) were ranked towards the bottom of the league, their defensive and offensive lines are in virtual shambles, expensive pick-ups including Travis Henry didn’t pay dividends at all this year, etc etc. 

I, honestly, felt like Shanahan should have been gone earlier this decade but was willing to be patient especially after the ’06 team (which also didn’t make the playoffs after an embarrasing home loss in week 17 to the Niners) showed signs of great, youthful potential with the likes of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Mike Bell (poor Mike Bell–where have you gone in just one year’s time?)  Now, however, after this pathetic season–what excuse can be used for Shanahan now?  He is the longest tenured coach in the league and deserved some significant time to rebuild and grow a new foundation for the team after Elway’s departure.  But, nine years?  In the business world, I can say with a high degree of certainty that a business CEO would never get nine years of patience from a Board of Directors if the company underperformed for such a period of time.  No matter how successful they had been in the distant past.

I do understand that owner Pat Bowlen won’t be willing to fire Shanahan and I fully comprehend that notion.  But, I believe that it’s time for Shanahan to acknowledge that his leadership has run its course, as does happen in the world of sports and business alike, and recognize that new blood at the top is exactly what this rebuilding organization requires.  He would depart now, disappointed I’m sure, but respected and able to obtain future employment with almost any other organization in the league if he was interested in the future.  However, another season in ’08 like this one in ’07 will cause collateral damage that may leave Shanahan, among others, unable to even faintly recall those great years of the late 1990s and his accomplishments a a leader of the organization at that time.



Filed under Management, Sports

6 responses to “When Successful Leaders Run Their Course

  1. Mark

    Great post.

    I agree with the general sentiment, however, I don’t necessarily agree with the CEO analogy. The head coach is not the CEO of a football organization; if fact, he is not even really upper management.

    The football coach is a middle manager, whose ultimate job is to implement the strategy of the organization. For instance, if the Tide brand loses significant market share for several consecutive years causing P&G to lose significant money, who is ultimately held accountable– the brand director or CEO?

    Now if the Broncos are treating the head coach as the leader of the organization, then that is an even bigger issue and the entire front office should be cleared out.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Mark. That’s a really interesting perspective in terms of how a sports coach compares to a business professional.

    However, while I may agree with your assessment of the coach as a “middle manager” in some organizations, I can certainly tell you it’s not the case with the Broncos as I understand it. A GM does exist in the organization but Shanahan has major influence over personnel decisions and his responsibilities extend beyond coaching duties in other areas as well. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say he is the “number 2” person in the organization behind the Owner, Pat Bowlen. And, in the case of Bowlen, like other NFL Owners, he is there largely for financial and moral support.

    I did hear conversation on a Denver radio station today about taking away some, but not all, of Shanahan’s responsibilities. Perhaps that is an acceptable solution all around and one that certainly gets at the heart of your point.

  3. Mark

    If that is true, then I would be even more concerned about the future of the Broncos. I would challenge anyone to name a successful large or mid-sized organization where the person who sets the strategy is the person who is held accountable for implementing. These two jobs require completely different skills sets and require you to look at the business with a different perspective.

    This reason is why so many small businesses fail as they try to scale quickly. Either the leader can not handle details or the leader is no detail focused that he can’t make the right long-term decisions.

  4. “This reason is why so many small businesses fail as they try to scale quickly. Either the leader can not handle details or the leader is no detail focused that he can’t make the right long-term decisions.”

    Not sure i agree with you 100% Mark. There is a tremendous amount more that goes into starting a business.

  5. Pingback: Random Sports and Leadership Musings « Chillin’ in Suite 200

  6. kc2

    Well, now that Mike is gone…who’s next? I’m pulling for Marty Schottenheimer.

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