Lesson 1 & 2 from Bo Pelini’s dismissal – Feedback loops, plus negative energy doesn’t fuel the bus

Lesson 1 : Data, Systems and Feedback Loops

I often like to frame my perspective on things as, “being realistic”. I dislike the idea of lying to myself, just to feel better. This approach serves me well because I also understand that I can create my own reality. When I don’t like the feedback I’m getting (however I have decided that the feedback is obtained), I self assess what needs to change and go about changing it.

The key to making this work is having your systems set up appropriately to, with the right data and metrics to create that feedback loop.

One of the key arguments that I’ve told others, regarding the Bo Pelini era as the Husker coach is, “He’s won 9 games every year he was the Head Coach”  and  “He has run a clean program.”

Both of those statements are true. I also believe that they are exceptional accomplishments in the world of college sports today. It is very difficult to have consistent winning seasons. It is is also challenging to keep players away from the temptations that they are faced with, which lead to sanctions, suspensions and penalties.

That being said, in the press conference that Shawn Eichorst held to announce the dismissal, he made it clear that those are the wrong metrics. 9 wins seasons are great, but that is not how Pelini was being evaluated. He stated very clearly:

As I just said, there are standards and expectations at Nebraska that are high both on and off the field. And although we did win a bunch of games, we didn’t win the games that mattered the most. I think we gave Coach ample time, ample resources and ample support to get that done.

I highlighted the key phrase of that statement. I know that Eichorst is new at Nebraska, so maybe prior to his arrival the expectation set by Tom Osbourne was 9 wins and a clean program, but that isn’t what the current expectation is. In any position, knowing the expectations and having a short feedback loop within the system is necessary to succeed. I hope that Eichorst expressed those expectations as he took on the role of the Nebraska AD, not just in the press conference.

Let’s assume he did, one has to ask – “What steps were taken to meet those expectations?”

I honestly have no insight into Nebraska athletics, other than being a super fan. I’m assuming that as a result of the decision, there was not enough being done. Therefore, if the metric for success at Nebraska is “wining the games that mattered the most” – there’s clearly 7 years of results to show that it wasn’t happening.

As a Husker fan, I can say that the last 7 years were significantly better than the previous 4 – but that’s not good enough.

Lesson 2 – Energy & Positivity

I will admit that taking a very methodical approach to evaluation can be difficult. It feels cold and often impersonal. I can also sympathize with Bo Pelini in having a “backs against the wall” or “us against the world” tendency in my thinking. When I look at data, I can see the failings when others see the positive side.

This approach to analysis allows me to get motivated and build up energy to work hard. Survive and thrive. The sad reality of this mentality is that it also creates negative energy, when you are not extremely careful. I’ve had many people tell me that I should be less cynical and find more positive energy. It can be a challenge, as I rely on the struggle. It’s the Rocky story. It’s the Rudy story. It’s the hero’s journey.

The last time I was told I needed to work on my ability to also increase the positive energy, I went and read Jon Gordon’s book “The Energy Bus”.  I made a lot of changes based on that book, such as:

  • I stopped watching the news (mostly rehashing really bad things that make me angry or sad)
  • I stopped watching financial news (knowing they also do what they can to scare me about my financial future)
  • I stopped worrying or giving any thought to politics (I realize it’s a rich man’s game and very difficult to have any influence on matters)
  • Removing those 3 things has been tremendous, but I still naturally trend back to “me against the world thinking”.

    One reason I know this is an important piece to Shawn Eichorst’s approach is that he gave out the Energy Bus to coaches, upon arrival:  Self-Help book has more teams riding “Energy Bus”

    If nothing else, it’s very easy to observe that Pelini carried a lot of negative energy with him while acting as the Head Coach. He became so well known for it that the twitter account FauxPelini became a staple of Nebraska Football and gamedays. FauxPelini highlighted the negative and angry energy. It’s funny. I also like a football coach with passion.

    But… when the expectation has been set that you are to lead without setting yourself and the team up against the world each and every season. It was another data point providing feedback, that expectations were not being met.