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We always hear about Mack Brown and how he is the CEO of the Longhorn Football team.

We've heard it ad nauseum and debated whether the moniker was aptly or inaccurately applied.  It is also dangerous to listen to business approaches and assume they match up exactly with college football and clearly there is so much management mumbo jumbo in the world, I certainly don't want to go Tom Peters on you.  That said, I know a great Texan who is doing a kick ass job as a CEO out here in Silicon Valley and we were discussing the CEO tag and I asked him his thoughts on being a CEO and how it applied to Mack. - S.R.

Everyone wants to be a CEO - my shareholders, my customers, my employees - even my daughter who just graduated with a MBA. And for several years now, Mack Brown has referred to himself in the third person as the “CEO” of the football program at UT. It sounds impressive, but I seriously doubt he or most people understand what being a successful CEO really requires.

I believe that what it takes to be an effective CEO of the football program at Texas is the same as here in Silicon Valley – the ability to make correct decisions quickly, without hesitation or perfect information, and to be willing to sacrifice any part of the company in order to make the whole team successful, lacking any favoritism or regret. It’s a lot more stressful than having a staff meeting at 10am, presser at 11am, and a catered BBQ at noon in Bellmont.

This will require such difficult people decisions as firing your best friend, not promoting a founding employee who has waited for his or her time to be a VP but lacks sufficient skills, or eliminating 75% of your employees in order to save the entire company.  Ever talked someone who was getting a great promotion to another company into staying with you for greater risk and less money? Losing sleep while trying to figure out to make next month’s payroll? Talking the best salesman from a larger, rival company into quitting his job and joining your unprofitable start-up? I now know why my Daddy used to call his CEO, “a baby-faced chicken killer”.

I think Mack had these instincts, fine-tuning them while serving as a minor league head coach in Louisiana and North Carolina. I also believe he lost this edge after the 2005 season as he got accustomed to a $5M annual salary, constant accolades from ESPN, and with a HCIW to function as his proxy with Bellmont. He even got his customers (fans), shareholders (UT administration), and employees (players) to buy into his notion that it was all about 10-win seasons and not championships. More gravy, please.

The data from recruiting firms I’ve seen is very compelling – the least successful CEO’s are those trying to repeat the magic for the second time (and I count his first 7-year run at Texas and NC as his first successful CEO performance). Even Satan himself found his second head coaching gig with the Miami Dolphins to be a nightmare and failure before returning to his more comfortable dark ways of the SEC.

So, here is what I believe Mack needs to do now:

o Hire a truly competent management team, led by three key subordinates:

  • --- CFO (Defensive coordinator)
  • --- VP of Sales (Offensive coordinator)
  • --- Either VP Manufacturing or Business/Product Development (Special Teams)

These critical positions should be his most trusted advisers, not his secretary (director of operators) or faithful janitor (S&C coach). They should be competent, unafraid to speak their mind, and have the ability to recruit outstanding junior managers and individual contributors. In the future they may also be an effective CEO as well, but not yet. Their #1 jobs are to help Mack make the right decisions and develop younger people.

-          Recruit the best talent – players, coaches, and staff. This used to be Mack’s personal difference-maker. But it will once again require long car trips again and a return to eating 3-4 meals weekly in other people’s homes, not Sally’s kitchen. No longer can Mack expect to send out invitations to the June elite camps so that he can have his ring kissed in Bellmont before offering. He needs to hit the streets again and get to personally know the new Texas HS football coaches who have taken over the game in the past 5 years, not to just recruit their sons, but to get them to send UT the best HS football players in the state.

-          Win B12 championships.  Multiple championships. I don’t care how many months a person made quota if they fail to make their annual number. I define success for the Longhorn football program as winning B12 championships. Is Mack not ready to commit to winning multiple rings? Well, we have a nice gold watch for him. I’ve met several of the new Silicon Valley Billionaires – some of the luckiest twenty-something year-olds in America. And most of them never repeat the magic again. Luck doesn’t matter much if you want to raise a large family of kids with the Homecoming Queen, and not just have the bragging rights to a one night stand.

-          Mack needs to walk, talk, and act like a football coach, and not someone who is trying to decide if they want to be Governor. Announce to the players that all positions are open to competition. Play the best players regardless of seniority. This spring insist his management team fits schemes to the talent on campus, and make sure everyone is committed to the plan. Fire another staff member. Or as Jimmy Johnson used to do, send a lazy player to the “asthma field”.  And spend some more time in the film room himself. Mack can delegate, just not abdicate.

-          Reward his customers.  It’s our money that pays Mack’s salary and funds the program. He should never forget that when he is tempted to lecture us for being drunks or incompetent of basic football knowledge. Being Texas fans, we have seen a lot of very good football over the years. Mack will not BS us ever again and get away with it. Bi-planes with banners are just a phone call away. And he should tell us “Thank you” once in a while. Especially the 600,000 or so fans that made the trip to Austin and watched his team shit a brick 5 times this past season.
The vast majority of most people I know have the brains to be a CEO. Maybe one-fourth with the smarts also have the heart. But only a very small percentage has the stomach to do what the job demands over a long period of time. We are about to learn which category Mack Brown fits.