Football vs. business: Two views on leadership
By Charlie Barnes, Executive Director - Seminole Boosters
If everyone could hit a baseball, major league players wouldn’t be millionaires. Classic movie stars such as Cooper, Fonda and Stewart made their performances appear effortless. Steve Spurrier took Duke to an Atlantic Coast Conference championship in football and made it look easy.
Coach Bobby Bowden and Albert Dunlap are examples of the talent to make it all look so easy. Seeing them play golf together is like watching Gens. Eisenhower and Patton spend a day in a Jeep. Bowden is serene and deliberate; Dunlap is aggressive and demonstrative.
Al Dunlap’s gift of $10 million to Florida State University was spotlighted recently in the Florida State Times. The former football player and track athlete is retired, now living in Ocala and Hilton Head.
Their skill is not golf. The most specialized talents of Bowden and Dunlap fall within a fairly narrow range of leadership. They have the ability to take not much and to make something of it.
Dunlap rode across America’s business landscape in the 1980s and 1990s, offering his gun for hire to corporate boards that were desperate for relief. Alan Greenspan said: “Dunlap is corporate America’s ultimate change agent.” According to Greenspan, Dunlap’s specialty was taking sleepy, non-competitive companies and turning them into world-class performers.
None of this happened without controversy and angst. In fact, Dunlap’s best-selling book is not called “Mean Business” without reason. But men like Dunlap and Bowden keep their own counsel and take the heat without complaint. That is the responsibility of their brand of leadership.
Dunlap’s talent was for saving failing corporations. Bowden demonstrated similar talent for turning around failing football programs.
Football coaches talk about the basics, about how games are won by blocking and tackling. Similarly, Dunlap cautions, “Remember that business is simple; don’t over intellectualize it.”
Dunlap developed his own simple formula for corporate success, a four-step progression that he embraced with religious zeal. Here are Dunlap’s “four simple rules,” with Coach Bowden’s informal comments on how they might reflect his own recipe for turning around a football program.
Dunlap Rule No. 1: Get the Right Management Team. Bowden says the first thing he did was hire a staff: “Before recruiting or anything else, I got my own people in place. Most of the time that means cleaning house.”
Dunlap is a little more direct: “I cannot keep the people who created the debacle I’m expected to fix.”
Dunlap Rule No. 2: Pinch Pennies. This is interesting, because Bowden contends this approach doesn’t fit in coaching.
“Before you take the job,” Bowden says, “you negotiate a budget. It’s usually more (than they were spending before).”
Dunlap says cost always is the enemy: “Cost will kill you, even if you come out with better products.”
The athletic parallel may be seen in scholarship costs growing by multiples almost annually. Dunlap says the “Rule of 55” means 50 percent of a company’s products typically produce only 5 percent of its revenue and profits. In business, you can cut under-performing or unprofitable product lines. College athletics under National Collegiate Athletic Association rules and Title IX regulations is a different ballgame altogether.
Dunlap Rule No. 3: Focus on Your Core Business. Dunlap says, “Ask yourself, ‘What business are we in, and what business should we be in?’ When you have the answer, sell everything else and focus on the core business.”
Bowden agrees: “Before you’d take a job, you’d make a deal. ‘I’ll come if we can establish these specific priorities.’”
The core business is building a winning football program.
Dunlap Rule No. 4: Come Up with a Real Strategy. What Dunlap means by a real strategy is to focus on areas where you have a competitive advantage: “If you don’t have one, know how to get one.”
Dunlap says to capitalize on your strengths to give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Bowden calls the football parallel to that rule his “game plan” or “plan of attack”: “You establish your style. Are you going to run the option? Are you going with a four-man front?” You have to go with something you know, and recruit players who fit that system, he says.
Coach Bowden agreed with three of the four rules. However, Dunlap wasn’t pleased when I told him that Bowden said, “You can’t cut costs and rebuild a football program.”
“Sure you can,” Dunlap said, “You can always cut.”
“Well, how would you do it?” I asked. “This is football, not business. How would you cut costs?”
He thought about it; gave it the look of a man who never loses, never quits. Finally, he smiled and leaned forward, fixing me with those transparent pale blue eyes that have struck fear into the hearts of opponents.
“Here’s how you do it,” he said. “You play with 10 guys.”