Football Friday from Dive Valley

I’m imagining (key word and concept) a better future for the Broncos. This future has a safe harbor for my Broncos Santa Hat and my Snuggie.

I have not given up on the snarling horse of the apocalypse.

But in my reflecting on the lessons of the Josh McDaniels-era in Denver, I keep coming back to how many of the mistakes the Broncos made are mistakes I have made too. It’s the tale of decision-making in our modern lives.

First, a movie clip. One of the great scenes in movie history, “Rip it Out” from Dead Poet’s Society.

Apparently, Dr. Jay Allen Pritchard, PhD (he’s a double doctor, a great little joke I’m sure Williams put into the script) has infected the brains of so many football scribes and the Denver Broncos leadership. Dr. Pritchard, PhD is what Seth Godin calls the “The Lizard Brain”. Others I know call it the Resistance, Satan, Crowdthink, The Other, That Voice in My Head, etc. The point: we seek greatness because we know it is good, but then we damn that greatness to hell with our insatiable desire to measure and quantify said greatness. The whole idea of measuring poetry (or art of any kind) is moronic. Providing a graphic mass of consequence as a tool to determine greatness? Idiocy.

But that’s what the Broncos did with McDaniels. Sketch him out. He fits the profile. The guy is smart. He’s an offensive guru. He’s a math guy. He is of good stock. He plots well.

But he had (has) no people skills. He’s infected with hubris. He had no background in personnel decisions – at all – and was entrusted with those decisions in addition to head coaching duties, play calling duties and offensive coordinator duties.

Pat Bowlen and Joe Ellis are just like you and me. We let the Lizard make these decisions for us all the time. I see it in how REALTORS try and run their business. It is the thirst to quantify everything. More listings. More ads. More photos. More apps on their iPad. Are they graphing any higher? Sure. Are they happier. Ha. Trust me, I know of what I speak. Guilty as charged.

Politicians do this. More pork, more press conferences, more sound bites, more Sunday morning shows. Are their citizens any better?

Your boss might be doing this. More meetings. More productivity. More slogans. More more. Are you going anywhere.

You might be doing this if you’re looking for a job. More time on the resume. More applications. More posts in your blog reader to read more about more.

Where is any of this measurable-more going? Is there any story behind it? Is there even the semblance of a plot?

The reason to bring this to light is the ability to lead people is often overlooked. In football terms, the brilliance of Mike Tomlin as a hire in Pittsburgh had nothing to do with where he plotted on any graphs. It had to do with his ability to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, understand 80 years of football obsession and culture, and then ratchet that up even more. There are many articles out there this week about Bill Bellichek’s hollow coaching tree, that he can’t spin off great coaches who use his system. I’m sorry, that’s not at all fair to Bellichek, and I don’t care what you think of him. He’s 10-2 right now and has the best team in football despite a lousy defense. He allocates his strengths better than anyone else in the league. What’s the hardest stadium to play in right now? Foxboro. I think the dude knows what’s going on. Like the aforementioned Godin says in Linchpin, in terms of leadership, there is no map when leadership is at stake.

The era of systems (in business-terms, the 80’s and 90’s, in football-terms, Bill Walsh) is dead. We live in a tribal culture (Twitter, Facebook, MobileMe, Ning) and an increasingly tribal economy. The internet is a tool that profoundly expands the ability of individuals to connect with one another and disseminate ideas. At the same time, what it does best is tighten bonds in small audiences. The small audience of ardent fans is the most important. It’s much harder to go and get new converts, then it is to maximize the benefits of the already-on-board diehards.

If Shannon Sharpe is elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this winter, will the entire Denver Broncos franchise show up for his induction next summer? No way. When Dick LeBeau was inducted this summer, did the entire Steelers organization show up? Yes.  Now some will be quick to point out that when Elway was inducted, there was a huge turn out of Broncomaniacs. Fair enough. But Elway was a transcendent player, possibly the best quarterback ever, and the first Bronco ever inducted into the Hall. Dick LeBeau never even played for the Steelers, he’s their flippin’ Defensive Coordinator, and there are something like 5678 members of the Steelers organization already in Canton. Is it likely that on a Friday morning in Pittsburgh, a small group of friends get together, and heading out the door plop their Steelers lid on the mussed-up hair? No. But there were multiple people wearing Steelers gear this morning at Panera at 6:45 in Colorado Springs (The Broncos were shut out).

To that end, Mike Tomlin is as good a business decision as he is a football coach. I have nothing more to measure this on other than the fact that his tribe is growing. The Broncos tribe is shrinking.

The Denver Broncos are yet another dinosaur that is clinging to the Dr. Pritchard, PhD, school of measuring greatness. A lot of businesses are still clinging to stupid graphs. Rather than making art, they’re worried about defining measurable metrics and creating some mass and hoping that this mass (what some might better call a tumor) has weighty enough stuff to go forth and do good. They call this a plan. It’s sabotage.

If you were to do an unflinching SWOT analysis of your business or your career, would you spend your time really looking at your strengths (like you should), or would you look instead at what other people were doing and focus entirely on your shortcomings? Clearly, the Denver Broncos take the SWOT approach and focus on the W & T and forget the S & O. Think about this for a second: is your career or your business doing what the Broncos do?

Here is what the Broncos are doing (compare this to your career or your business): The Broncos have for too long under-utilized John Elway (“The Duke of Denver”) as a marketing engine for the company. He’s practically begging his way back in. STRENGTH: Put Elway on as the face of your franchise. He’s Colorado Royalty. They have the perfect quarterback (Tebow) to run the Oregon Blur Offense which would be particularly devastating for teams that have to travel to Denver and play at an elevation 4000 feet higher than any other stadium in the league. STRENGTH: Tebow sells more jerseys than any player in the league, could run a unique offense, and make Denver a terrifying place to play again. A once loyal and passionate fan base is shut out of training camp because the team practices in a sterile suburban setting called “Dove Valley” (which I have misappropriated “Dive Valley” for this post). STRENGTH: Practice two weeks in Greeley or Pueblo and make the team accessible to the masses for at least a few weeks out of the year. This will re-energize the common citizenry to actually save up to pay for tickets for a game or two a year. The teams colors are blue and orange.

They insist on wearing navy uniforms, which excite no one, and have reduced a potentially hallucinatory color in their pallet to secondary status (orange, see example, Barrelman). STRENGTH: revert to orange and blue. There is no mistaking where you’re playing when the blur offense is gassing you and 72,000 fans are re-energized behind their team, for good or for bad, as they don a hideously loud shade of orange apparel. That’s gonna be good for a win or three a year.

This is not the story you want people talking about

How many more wins will these actions produce? Silence, Lizard! It may not create more wins in the short-term. But it does creates a story worth talking about. That’s long-term value. It creates something (a tribe) worth buying into. Todd Haley famously wagged his finger at McDaniels and said “There’s a lot of #*@! being said about you.” That’s not worth talking about. That’s the stuff that jeopardizes teams abilities to grow, sign talent and improve. The Dr. Pritchard, PhD graph might measure things well, but it eventually is the last thing you want someone talking about.

What the Broncos have done over the last 15 years (yes, the start of the Shanahan-era) is take everyone of their strengths and found a way to convert it into a weakness. They have abandoned what made them lovable and unique, and instead chosen to follow what everyone else did. They were orange, and they went navy. In the end, the organization itself has become like so many others. Except, they’ve become insufferable because the only thing people can measure – their record – is terrible.

This behavior is not unique to Bronco-Town. People sabotage their own careers, businesses and lives all the time in similar ways.

  • What strengths have you kept under wraps for too long?
  • What leadership stake have you not exercised?
  • What story can your business and career tell better?

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