One Important Leadership Lesson from the BCS Title Game

BCS Leadership LessonAfter last year’s BCS Championship Game, I wrote a blog post giving ten reasons that Alabama won. Here we are, a year later, and Alabama has repeated as champions for the 2012 season. Their 42-14 victory over Notre Dame at Sun Life Stadium was a lopsided affair. Alabama sprinted out to a 28-0 halftime lead which saw Notre Dame playing uninspired football.

When asked by the on-field reporter going into the locker room what fixes they would have to do in the second half, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s remarks caught me completely off-guard. His reply – “well, maybe Alabama doesn’t come out for the second half.” Incredible. And his following remarks weren’t much better. He gave plenty of credit to Alabama but definitely bemoaned his team’s efforts. He mentioned nothing about adjusting the game plan, just that his team needed to do better.

I know that his players and assistants didn’t hear the remarks at that time. They were headed to the locker room and didn’t have access to the luxury of live television. But the expression on his face said it all. As he stood in front of his players at halftime, I’m sure that the unspoken message was loud and clear – the game was already over.

Some of you will say that maybe Coach Kelly was trying to be funny. Perhaps he was giving credit where credit was due; after all, Alabama simply manhandled Notre Dame during the first half of last night’s game. I do think that he was being honest and sincere. There was a lot of talk from the ESPN commentators about missed tackles and poor execution on Notre Dame’s part. But Alabama was spot-on last night and I’m not sure that even if Notre Dame had been at their best that they could have played with Alabama last night.

I think that as leaders, whether in our workplace, schools, homes, community, church or wherever, we have an obligation to publically uphold and defend those that we lead. If things aren’t going well, we need to take responsibility for those results. If those that we lead are doing well, we give them all of the credit. It’s what we owe to our team. While his players did not hear Coach Kelly’s halftime comments live, they will hear them as they play the game back or as others talk about the game. Those words are powerful and carry a lot of weight with the young men on his team.

A leader also has to believe in his team and be willing to take the fight right up to the end. A 28-point halftime deficit is huge, but think about it this way – Alabama scored 28 points in 30 minutes. When they came back out of the locker room in the second half, there were just as many minutes left to play. Ultimately Notre Dame played better in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.

Alabama was clearly the better team last night. And every game requires that someone win and someone lose. But a leader has to believe in their team. I don’t know what was said in the Notre Dame locker room at halftime or after the game, but I do know what he told the media. While Coach Kelly was gracious in defeat, he should have looked right into the camera and taken full responsibility for his team’s performance. Any issues that he had to address with his team regarding their performance¬†should have been kept private. That’s how you earn and keep the trust and respect of those that you lead.

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