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Death and Transformation

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I’ve got some bad news for y’all:

***EVERYONE AT BARKING CARNIVAL IS DEAD***

(gasp)

Sailor? Scipio? DEAD.

Srr50? DEAD.

Trips? DEAD.

Huck5000? UNPLUGGED.

Well OK, I may be wrong. I’m only assuming everyone’s dead…because I’ve been asked to contribute! And not just in comments, where juxtaposition makes me look kinda civilized!

So either everyone’s dead, or someone in the BC pantheon made a decision that’s about 10% genius and 90% totally retarded. Time will tell.

Problem is, I have no real specialty to offer, and no relevant expertise. I dropped out of high school football my freshman year. I’m not a coach, I’m not a writer, I don’t have inside connections and I don’t have silicon parts. For the most part, I’m just a dude at the bar watching the game.

“I am not a Barker. (smile) I’m you."

OK. Enough with the introductions. Suffice it to say that I may drop in now and again to dump a gelatinous pearl of faux wisdom on your head. Just like Thomas Friedman.

***

I recently went back to UT to get a grad degree (Class of ’10). Along the way, I co-founded a KVRX radio show on public affairs. In 2008, for a show on leadership we interviewed Ed Goble, who could be best described as the CFO of the UT athletic department. Impressive guy, even if the interview was a little dull (the dullness was our fault, not his).

The one major takeaway I had from that interview, though, is how remarkably corporatized Bellmont has become - especially in respect to executive support and training. They feel hyper-aware that most of the head figures around the department are creeping into retirement age, and they’re trying to coach up a young generation of assistants how to be effective leaders. To do this, execs and coaches alike have turned to the study of management and leadership. They regularly consult with UT faculty who teach leadership and management classes. They have reading circles, where they discuss the top books in the field. They hold 360-Feedback sessions. They define mission statements and core values. Et cetera.

Personally? I’m not a big fan. Studying leadership and management is most useful for understanding what goes wrong in academic case studies. It’s not so effective as a guide to action. You can purchase the ten best books on management, follow them all to a tee, and everything could still blow up in your face because you didn’t buy the eleventh book. Management is hard because it’s obnoxiously driven by a chaos of context, and nothing ever ever ever (ever? EVER!) meets your expectations. It’s just a source of useful lingo, and a placebo for control.

But you know what? I’ve taken some of these classes, I’ve read the books. So I feel like I have a couple of insights into how the department – and Mack Brown in particular – thinks about making decisions.

One adamantly clear thing is that Mack Brown sees himself as a transformational leader. One who teaches his followers to become leaders and communicates a clear vision and inspires by example. And he’s very, very good at it, especially when the climate is right. The philosophy is simple: if you put the kids’ wellbeing first, burnish up the pride of the fan base, announce visions of full stadiums and championships, and show everyone what a decent person you are, soon enough the kids will bust their ass for you. And you’ll win. That’s how he transformed North Carolina into a top-5 team and that’s how he woke a Texas program from a decade-plus of hibernation.

Sounds like the only kind of leader a football team should have, right? Well, not entirely. Another option is transactional leadership. Carrots and sticks and rigid authority. Think Bob Stoops. Love it or hate it, but it often works.

That’s because a system of transactional affairs is pretty easy to maintain. People slacking off? Show them the stick. Show them the carrot. If that doesn’t work, increase the size of stick and/or carrot. Rinse. Repeat. It’s so easy, even a slack-jawed yokel could do it.

Transformational leadership is much harder to maintain, especially when you’ve achieved your initial vision. Back in the late nineties, the coaching staff were on a mission to restore Texas’ glory. And today that vision has pretty much been achieved (tysm Vince!! lolz luv u xoxoxo). And that loss of vision, I believe, is the main problem with the coaching staff these days - especially the ones who’ve been around awhile. They’ve been all the way up the mountain. It took a lot of work to get there – for awhile, it looked like it would never happen – and the panorama was exquisite, the crowning achievement of their lives. And they’d love to go back some day. But the need to go back, to do all that work, to risk getting stranded on the mountainside – the challenge is just as daunting as before, and their drive isn’t as strong.

And this is where transactional leadership can be useful. You set standards above expectations, let everyone know exactly what’s acceptable and not, and dole out substantial rewards and punishments as promised. Either staff will comply, or they will leave. And once the reconstituted staff is hungry enough to pursue a title at full-tilt, you lay out a new vision, and you can become the cuddly-bear coach again.

It seems pretty clear at this point that transactional leadership does not come easily to Mack. Very few players and coaches have been held accountable for this hideous rotten placenta of a season. Maybe they have been scolded or some such. But that’s not good transactional leadership. Words are just words, no matter how they’re spoken. You have to set high standards and mete out consistent real punishment for being sub-standard. Drop a ball? You don’t start. Call a hideous game? Give the assistant the headset. And so on. Or else your attempt at visionless leadership simply DOES NOT WORK. Pretty much by definition.

And it’s pretty clear that whatever form of accountability being practiced right now DOES NOT WORK, amiright?

My hunch is that Muschamp admires Mack’s transformative focus and wants to learn more from him. But he’s essentially a transactional kind of guy.

Does that mean I want Mack ousted and replaced with Muschamp? Not exactly. Remember kids, we’ve fallen pretty damn far. If you think some mild re-jiggering of the status quo will deliver great results next year…well, take a long look at 2011’s depth charts for the secondary and O-line, and get back to me. We need LOTS of kids to step up, and soon, or we could repeat this whole turdball-stuck-in-the-throat experience next year.

In other words, this program will probably need a full-on mental transformation to succeed in the near future. And Mack knows exactly how to engender that kind of atmosphere…if the minds are willing.

But the first order of business should be to clean house. And for that, I think Muschamp should be given veto power over coaching hires and fires and contract incentives. Player depth charts too. He probably remembers a thing or two from Saban about demanding excellence, and right now is the time to start using that knowledge.

Once the house is cleaned and everyone has the hunger again, let Mack do his thing and I bet we’d charge right back up the mountain. And Mack would go out on a high note, and Muschamp would inherit a killer team that his form of leadership could keep on top

(pinch)

(wake)

Holy crap, I almost forgot how much we suck.

(resumes wrist-cutting)

Comments appreciated. And I ask the community to please swiftly strike down any juvenile who comes speaking of Chris Simms. THIS THREAD IS NOT ABOUT CHRIS SIMMS. Bellmont is not the only place that needs more transactional justice. Be harsh and consistent. Thank you.