Hiring NFL Coaches and Rockstars

As you know, I love a good sports reference. The Indianapolis Colts have an agreement, in principle, to hire their next head football coach. Josh McDaniels is currently the Offensive Coordinator for the New England Patriots. Yes, those dreaded Patriots. The reaction from Colts fans has been mixed. Some are excited about pairing the success McDaniels has had as an offensive guru with the talent of quarterback Andrew Luck going into his prime (assuming he is healthy). Others, like one of my favorite IndyStar columnists, Gregg Doyel, think this is a colossal mistake due to his past failure as a head coach with the Denver Broncos, among other things. Which will it be? Can McDaniels build upon the success of his Patriot days or will he repeat his failure as a head coach for the Denver Broncos? Let’s look at some Harvard research to see if there’s an answer.

If you follow the research and logic of Harvard’s Boris Groysberg and his book, “Chasing Stars,” conventional wisdom would say McDaniels fails. Currently, he sits in the wonderful winning nest of head coach Bill Bilichick and super-handsome future Hall-of-Famer quarterback, Tom Brady. Sprinkle in some unstoppable Rob Gronkowski and one would think Josh has a stacked deck. And he does.

But when he briefly left that nest in 2009, he failed. He failed with the likes of Kyle Orton as the QB. He was at the helm when the team drafted Tim Tebow. He was the youngest head coach, at the time, and his immaturity showed. Former players said he was arrogant and like a high school bully. In his 2nd season with the Broncos, he was fired while embroiled in a video taping scandal. Huh, I wonder where he learned that?

While I love my Colts, they currently aren’t the New England Patriots. Luck has shown signs of being a top-tier QB, but he hasn’t played in over a year and is recovering from shoulder surgery. They’re defense is a mess, their receiving corps is light, and they have way too many holes to fill to get back to championship football.

Back to Groysberg. In the workplace, many organizations spend tons of dollars recruiting the best stars from other organizations. The theory is if these people are rockstars in their current role, they will be able to replicate that same success at our company. That theory has been tested and, according to Groysberg, the rockstars rarely meet the expectations and high performance they had at their previous company.

Why is that? Because the environment, surrounding team members, tools and information, company products and brand, all played a factor in this person’s success. Yes they were talented, but they also had great people around them.

Organizations look at their internal talent and put labels in succession planning like “ready now” or “high potential” or “future star.” And then go out and hire what they think is a rockstar from another company. Knowing the research from Groysberg, companies would be best served to promote the high performers in their own organization even if they feel they aren’t quite ready. They are a known commodity. Companies can continue to provide the necessary teams to support these individuals.

For McDaniels, is he a great individual talent whose success has been predicated on the tutelage of the great Bill Bilichick and golden arm of Tom Brady? Or has he truly learned from his past failures as a coach? He’s not walking into a similar environment that will lead him to success, but the quarterback potential is there.

For the sake of this die-hard Colts fan, I hope the research of Boris Groysberg is wrong.

*image courtesy of the IndyStar

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