Sunday, December 7, 2014

What School Leaders Can Learn from Baylor Coach Art Briles' Rants Against the CFP and the Big 12

If, at any point in the last 24 hours, you've been paying the slightest bit of attention to the world of NCAA football, or even browsing social media, you probably know that today the NCAA unveiled the teams who will compete in the first-ever College Football Playoff system (a four-team, two-round playoff to determine an undisputed NCAA national champion). The first three teams announced (Alabama, Oregon, Florida State) would have been on most everyone's list of teams who deserved to be in the CFP. The fourth pick... not so easy. While the selection committee landed on Ohio State as the fourth and final participant in the CFP, two schools from Texas had legitimate arguments as to why they should have been considered for the final spot: TCU and Baylor.

If you aren't a sports fan, Bear with me... This is not a post about sports or football.

On Saturday, December 6, the Baylor Bears took care of business against 9th-ranked Kansas State. After the game, Baylor's fiery coach, Art Briles, made a pretty passionate argument for why Baylor should be in the CFP. You can watch that on-field, post-game interview below.

As if he couldn't get more fired up, Briles confronted the Big 12 commissioner and blasted the Big 12 Conference about how a conference whose slogan this year was "One True Champion," could declare TCU and Baylor co-champions. Briles said, You know, if you're going to slogan around and say there's 'One True Champion,' all the sudden you're gonna go out the back door instead of going out the front? Don't say one thing and do another." Briles went on to say later, "I'm not obligated to [Big 12 Commissioner Bowlsby]. I'm obligated to Baylor University and our football team." Briles appeared Sunday morning on ESPN and further made his case for being in the CFP and further knocked the scenario created by the Big 12.

Looking through the lens of football only, Briles' rants may seem like the bitterness of a coach on the outside looking in at a football party to which he was not invited. With no lens at all, perhaps Briles' words seem to come from a place of anger or even insubordination. However, looking at Briles' behavior through a leadership lens creates an entirely different perspective. 

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Art Briles has taken Baylor Football from the doormat of the Big 12 to the doorstep of the NCAA national championship hunt. Certainly he's done this with brilliant execution of his X's and O's game plans, but we can't discount the role his leadership ability has played in Baylor's ascension to the top of the Big 12. Anyone who knows what's been happening with Baylor University and Baylor Football knows that coaches, players, students, donors and football fans are devoted to Briles. His coaches and his players would run through walls for the former high school football coach who charms with his Texas drawl. Why does everyone adore Art Briles? Consider one of the statements quoted above: "I'm not obligated to [Big 12 Commissioner Bowlsby]. I'm obligated to Baylor University and our football team." Briles has earned undying devotion because he is willing to stand up for his team, willing to take heat for his team, and, if necessary, willing to go to the mat for his team and the university they represent.

A school leader often find himself in situations where he must quietly take bullets from many directions, including from above. A school leader often must enforce directives, instructions, policies or procedures he dislikes, and often must abide by philosophies and ideas of which he does not approve. However, there are times when a school leader must tip-toe (or, as Art Briles has done, dash full-speed) out to the edge of the dangerzone and speak up on behalf of those he serves and leads. When a school leader can do this passionately and authentically, even if it means drawing the ire of those above him, his team will rally. His team will go to the mat for him just as he went to the mat for them. 

What Art Briles said about the CFP and the Big 12 had absolutely no bearing on the selection committee's final decision. Briles probably knew that ahead of time. However, Briles publicly and passionately challenged the system on behalf of his school and his team. By standing in the gap for his school and his team, he furthered cemented his position as a leader who has the undying support of those who coach and play for him. A school leader would do well to follow Art Briles' example and take a stand for those he leads. In return he will earn the trust and devotion of his own team. When a school leader has that kind of devotion from his team, he can take them from being doormats to being on the doorstep of greatness and beyond.

1 comment:

Nichademus said...

Well crafted statement. I think this is an important issue that lots of heads and top administrators neglect. I certainly did too often neglect it, and often to my peril. Briles' people knew he was out of line, that he could be heavily sanctioned for taking that stand so publicly. They also knew he was passionately fighting for THEM. So to him, it didn't matter what a potential recourse might be. He was doing the right thing.
Thanks for the posting
Regards and Merry Christmas