Texas 21-Alabama 37: Mack Brown’s Failed Leadership

As a devoted UT Longhorn graduate and fan, it pains me to write this.  But as the inscription on the Main Building says “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” I am compelled to reflect on the absolute failure of Mack Brown as the UT coach at the BCS Championship.

I realize that my fellow Longhorn fans and Texas-Exes will want to revoke my degrees but hear me out.

He failed as a leader to prepare the team for when (not if) a key player goes down.  Such was the case early in the game by the great Colt McCoy.  Brown failed to have a succession plan, rally the team emotionally, and fully understand that it is a team sport.

Soon after McCoy’s injury two things became painfully apparent:

  • Garrett Gilbert was not prepared to take over as quarterback

  • The team was not prepared to function without McCoy

As to Gilbert, no disrespect whatsoever to him.  Frankly, after the first half he shined.  The future of the great UT Longhorns is secure!  However, Brown failed to adequately prepare Gilbert to enter the game. 

Brown had no succession plan.

Remember what I’ve discussed in earlier posts about succession.  It applies to this situation as well.  Simply put, while Brown had a successor to McCoy he had not adequately prepared him for action.  He did not give Gilbert enough time in real games for him to develop playing-time experience, develop leadership with the team, and for him to understand the emotional elements of being on the field.

Imagine yourself in a similar situation.  Your boss is gone.  You have to lead.  You’ve never really ‘done it’ other than a simulation (“practice”). 

No wonder Gilbert and the team were befuddled in the first half.

The other fatal error Brown made is related to succession.  He failed to prepare the team for the transition.  It was obvious that the team was shocked when McCoy went down.  Not only could you see it in their play but you could see it on the sidelines.  The entire organization was in shock.  Brown should have called everyone together to rally them.  That would have been an excellent use of a “time-out”.

Even more, Brown should have prepared the team for the inevitability by giving Gilbert more game playing time.  Doing so would have allowed a stronger bond for all as well as enabled the team to make the transition quicker.

And there was a third failure of Brown.  From the beginning of the season he had a dual focus on the national championship (team) and on the Heisman trophy (McCoy).  You simply can’t have these competing goals.  In doing so you ensure neither will be met.  A dual focus ensures a blurred outcome.  Brown sent a mixed message to the team.  And remember, football is a team sport.  Yes, it takes talented individuals—at least 11, not just 1.

Brown and other coaches (and all leaders) can learn from this debacle:

  1. Prepare your team for change—it will happen and you don’t always control when it will

  2. Rely on the collection of the team rather than just one person

  3. Prepare each person’s replacement (successor) by giving them real-time experience

  4. Always remember to manage the totality of a situation particularly during a crisis—your team needs you more than ever

I would be remiss in not ending this by saying that I’ll always be a Longhorn fan.  And as I was taught on the Forty Acres, that means rigorous debate is welcome and encouraged.

Hook’em Horns!

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