For those of you who watched the LSU game against Mississippi the other night, there’s only one thing you’ll remember about that game—how atrociously the Tigers mismanaged the end of the game. LSU didn’t lose to Mississippi as much as they gave the Rebels the game because of their own lack of preparation and foresight.
For those non-football fans who are not aware of what happened, a brief recap of the end of the game:
LSU came into the game a favorite to win. They were ranked number 10 in the nation—Mississippi wasn’t ranked at all. Nevertheless, with just over a minute left in regulation play, the Rebels were leading 25-23 when the Tigers tried a desperation onside kick—and recovered the ball.
A couple of plays later LSU was in field goal range—barely. They needed to improve their field position in order to improve their chances of making the winning field goal. But on the next play LSU’s quarterback was tackled for a loss, moving them once again out of field goal range. After a short gain, the clock continued to run despite LSU still having a timeout to use. The fans were frantic as no timeout was called. LSU’s Head Coach, Les Miles, says he thought he heard people calling for a timeout–but apparently none of the officials heard it. The clock continued to run off 17 seconds before a timeout was finally called with only 9 seconds left on the clock.
It appears the coaching staff decided there was only time to run one play so they went all out for a touchdown. The play called; the team lined up; the ball snapped; the ball thrown and caught; the receiver tackled on the 6 yard line with one second left on the clock.
In college football the clock is stopped after a first down in order to have the chains and down marker moved. Although the Tigers are now out of timeouts, the automatic stoppage of the clock gives them the opportunity to get their field goal team on the field, get lined up, snap the ball, make the field goal, win the game. It would have been a tight fit to get all of that in, but they had the time since there was confusion getting the chains moved.
It didn’t happen.
No field goal.
Nope, instead a ton of controversy and blame on the coaching staff for blowing a win and maybe even an eventual BCS bowl game and big dollars to the university and conference.
After the pass that ended with the receiver being tackled on the 6, total confusion broke out on the LSU sidelines. The field goal team wasn’t prepared to get onto the field; the coaching staff didn’t seem to know whether to try to stop the clock by snapping and immediately downing the ball (not possible with one second on the clock), running one last desperation pass play, or trying to get the field goal team out onto the field.
The coaches made the decision that there wasn’t enough time to get the field goal team on and apparently they decided they couldn’t run a play. Their decision? The one decision that would absolutely guarantee they lose—snap the ball and down it by having the quarterback throw it into the ground at his feet. No matter how quickly they down the ball after the snap, at least one second will expire off the clock—meaning time will have expired and the game will be over.
How could one of the elite teams in the nation—with one of the top coaches (managers) in the country—have screwed up so monumentally?
The same way we screw up with our sales teams and just like with us and our sales teams, it wasn’t that hard. Fortunately, we can learn from Coach Miles and his team what great managers don’t do:
Great Managers Don’t Abdicate Responsibility
As the 17 critical seconds were clicking off the clock, Coach Miles says he thought he heard others calling for a timeout. It is common practice at the end of the first half or the game, when managing the clock becomes critical, for a college coach to let one of the officials know that he will be calling a timeout at some point and the coach asks the official to keep an eye on the coach so that the timeout can be called without any delay. Coach Miles didn’t do that. Not only did he not forewarn the officials that he would be calling a timeout at some point, he didn’t even take responsibility for calling the timeout; instead he relied on others to do his job for him and the result was no one called for a timeout until it was almost too late.
Great managers know, accept and fulfill their responsibility without hesitation.
Great Managers Don’t Fail to Plan
Coach Miles’ failure to take responsibility to call the critical timeout was hardly the only management disaster on the part of the LSU coaching staff. Although 9 seconds isn’t much time, it is easily enough time to run a football play and still have a few seconds left on the clock if the play results in a first down or the ball carrier gets out of bounds. With almost half a football field to navigate, there was a more than reasonable chance that the play would result in at least a first down, stopping the clock with a couple of seconds left to play.
Since there was a reasonable expectation that there would be an opportunity for one additional play, it was mandatory that the LSU coaching staff plan for that contingency and have made sure that everyone on their sideline knew what to do if it came to pass.
They didn’t plan past the immediate need—one play.
After that? Well, they’ll deal with that if and when the time comes.
Well, the time came—and went, and they lost because they had no plan. Coaches, some of them considered to be among the best in the profession, who had combined decades and decades of top notch experience, who combined had seen almost everything to see in the sport didn’t have the foresight to plan for a reasonable possibility.
Great managers plan—they take into consideration and are ready for all reasonable contingencies. Luck or the lack thereof doesn’t control their team’s destiny.
Great Managers Don’t Panic
One of the most memorable scenes at the end of the game was the LSU quarterback on the field looking at the sidelines for some direction—and seeing a coaching staff in total disarray. One coach signaling to do this, another to do that. That pandemonium and indecision was transferred to the quarterback who was obviously confused and panicked.
Since Miles had not planned for the occasion, he couldn’t let his coaching staff know what the plan was. Consequently, each coach was left on their own to try to figure out what to do. Chaos ensued, and that chaos on the part of management was transferred to the players.
Panic begat chaos, and chaos begat the worst possible decision that could be made in the situation to be made.
Great managers know that their team will respond as they do. Consequently, great managers maintain control instead of letting the situation control them.
Great Managers Don’t Blame Others for Their Failures
For Miles, the end of the game was not the end of the management failures. At the post game news conference he was naturally asked about what happened at the end of the game. His explanation was not only did he have no real clue. but he had no idea who on the sideline told the quarterback to down the ball, thus guaranteeing a loss.
That explanation may have worked 50 years ago. Not in 2009. Television cameras caught every second of the action on both the field and the sideline; including the panic stricken Miles running along the sideline desperately signaling for the quarterback to down the ball.
Is it possible that Miles was so panic-stricken at the moment he was telling his quarterback to do the one thing that would guarantee a loss that he honestly didn’t remember doing it? I guess maybe possible, but I certainly doubt it likely. I think more likely he was being consistent with his previous actions and not accepting his responsibility. Instead of owning his failure, he sought to push the blame on someone else—didn’t matter who as long as it wasn’t him.
Great managers own their decisions—right or wrong, good or bad.
It was just a football game, but one that in the course of less than a minute and a half demonstrated exactly how not to be a great manager.