Leadership in Athletics: The Cleveland Coaching Situation

Goodbye, Lue and Hue. On October 28, the Cleveland Cavaliers fired their head coach, Tyron Lue. And the very next day, the Cleveland Browns fired their head coach, Hue Jackson. Over a 24-hour period, two coaches were terminated and two teams were given a new direction — or at least they were told to find one.

People can change. But the vision never does in any stable organization that is striving for greatness. The vision of a program is superseded by any one person or group of people. NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells used to famously say, “The circus doesn’t stay in town forever.” It was often directed at players to get their act together or they would soon be on their way out the door.

There was a much deeper meaning to Parcell’s statement that will ring true for any organization. The circus is the vision. It will always be going, from town to town, finding the best and most talented people to peddle their wares. Some stay for a while, some for only a short time. But no matter what, the show must go on.

People create the company, but they must never supersede the vision. The vison for the program defines what the program stands for and who should be involved.

Finding good people is tough, but finding good people who align with the core vision is even tougher. That is the case in Cleveland. Both ownership groups had a vision for how they see their organization and the question became: Are the leaders shepherding that vision in the best way possible? Both owners signed off with a resounding “NO.”

Does this mean Hue Jackson and Ty Lou are bad guys?

Absolutely not.

Does this mean they were no longer the best men to keep the vision alive?

Yes — in their owners’ eyes and in the end those are the only eyes that truly matter.

So where does that leave the players?

The players are left to control the controllables, and that’s where the tough leadership emerges. It’s easy to lead during the status quo where there is success in no change. But when there is change, it is much tougher to determine the course of action and then follow it.

Controlling the controllables is one of the most important parts of leadership, but ignoring the noise could be even more significant. The more controversial the decision, the more the players need to shy away from it and internalize their play into their own performance. It’s the only way to move forward.

Athletes are often stuck handling the aftermath of an owner’s decision to fire a head coach. The team can be sent into a downward spiral that leads to even worse performance. The team can also rally and improve their performance. Athletes can achieve the latter by focusing on the three things they can control: effort, focus and passion.

Effort – Players choose their effort and energy levels regardless of who their head coach is. Determining that they will put maximum effort into preparing for and playing their games may be the most important thing a player should be concerned about.

Focus – There are plenty of distractions during the firing of a head coach. Social media can make this even worse. Players need to remain focused on winning and controlling what they can.

Passion – Players need to use the situation to rekindle their passion for the game and their teammates. Especially those teammates who have chosen to make the team better through the turmoil.

The seasons are not lost. These situations simply require team leaders to step up and help their teammates get through the coaching change. The leaders in the locker rooms of the Cavaliers and Browns need to stay focused on the things they can control. They also need to help their fellow athletes stay focused.  This is how they can finish strong and get back to winning ways.

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.