Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Night Beer: Leadership from Sokol, Osborne, and Pelini

What a quiet offseason it's been for Nebraska football since the end of spring practice. Looking back over the last few weeks, it's been pretty much Mavericks and Omaha stadium entries because there really hasn't been much of substance regarding the Huskers to blog about. Yeah, Tyler Gabbert "committed", but anymore all that really means is that "he's decided he's attending the University of Nebraska unless he changes his mind". In other words: much to do about nothing. Unfair to Gabbert? Maybe, but I'd think fans around here would have learned their lessons after watching big brother Blaine and Josh Freeman change their well as watching Harrison Beck and Patrick Witt transfer. Bottom line is that I don't start setting expectations for any player until they enroll on campus and put on a jersey.

David Sokol joined Tom Osborne and Bo Pelini for "Leadership 101" last week. Leadership is kind of an enigmatic experience for me; one I'm still struggling to get my hands around just what it is. But at it's core, it's more communication than anything else, which seems counterintuitive to me at first. I've previously felt it was ideas and brilliance at it's core, but how do you explain leaders like Ronald Reagan going from "Bedtime for Bonzo" to the White House?

Sokol's name keeps showing up in sports circles in recent years. He's donated to Creighton to fund an arena on campus. He was a critic of UNO's administration in the Nancy Belck/Jim Buck fiasco. And don't forget MECA's involvement with the downtown stadium and negotiations with the Omaha Royals. But his first public involvement in sports was with Frank Solich back in 2003, and he talked a little about what happened:
“When Frank reached out to me, he was having to change some assistant coaches. He asked me, ‘How do I do what I have to do?’

“He had been thrust into the head coaching job without being able to make his own mark on it. Tom wanted him to keep those assistants. Frank did not confide early enough to Tom that recruiting was sliding because some of those coaches had basically retired with Tom. He needed to make some changes but didn’t know how.

“The thing I hated about the whole (Steve) Pederson thing was that Frank was making a lot of progress and had hired a good staff, including Bo, and we never got to see what they could have done.’’

A lot of recruitniks have taken their shots at Frank Solich and his alleged struggles in recruiting. I hate to bring the subject up again, but Sokol brings us a reminder that college football is a team game. If parts of the team aren't living up to their end of the bargain, it's hard to have success. By all accounts, Solich struggled with that leadership issue until it finally boiled over in 2002. But did Solich turn things around in 2003? We'll never know...and it's an issue that frankly, will never go away.

Pelini's comments on leadership seem to be somewhat hypocritical when you look at Pelini's sideline antics last season, until you realize that while you see what he's doing, you don't know what he's actually saying. So I've read Pelini's quotes from last week over and over again, and I'm getting a feel for what he's actually doing on the sideline:
“You have to know when to put the hammer down and when to put your arm around someone. Sometimes you’ll see a kid make a mistake in a game that results in a touchdown the other way. As he runs back to the sideline, the coach runs out to meet him and chews him out.

“Is that what’s best for the kid — or the coach? The coach is basically saying ‘It’s not my fault.’ What you have to do is pull the kid over and say, ‘You’re better than that. You’ll get them next time.’ You have to coach them up. Fix it. You don’t ever point the finger. You point the thumb — back at yourself if you’re a leader.’’

“You can’t be the same for everyone. You have to adapt according to how people are. Some people react to criticism, and some don’t. Know your employees. It’s your job to get them from Point A to Point B. But I always try to end whatever I say with a positive thought. If you can’t let it go, they won’t let it go.’’

No doubt that Pelini uses strong language and strong emotion on the sideline. But is he attacking the person, or the mistake? Note that he points out that everyone reacts to criticism differently, and perhaps the people that get the biggest chewings-out are the ones that react well when getting a barrage from Bo. Also note that last paragram: end it with a positive thought and let it go. It seems that the director probably turns away from Pelini before we get a chance to see it, but I wonder if we had the audio track from Bo Pelini's headset, we might not get a different perspective of Bo Pelini on the sideline.

Speaking of fiery leaders, the World-Herald's Chad Purcell was back on the hockey beat today, if only for a day (hopefully it's longer), to highlight UNO coach Dean Blais. What's become clear to me is that Blais not only has an eye for talent, but also a love of teaching and a love of the game. Just about everything I read about Blais confirms my belief that this is the man that UNO needed to hire to take UNO hockey to the next level. It's going to be quite a treat to see how UNO responds to this change.

Will UNO be in the WCHA or CCHA after this upcoming season. Reports from the WCHA world seemed to indicate that it's a "done deal"...but then Trev Alberts put the brakes on that on Friday, saying that it's anything but. What does this mean? Well, UNO is in the drivers seat on this deal. UNO doesn't need to make the switch, but college hockey and the WCHA needs UNO to switch. There are other options, but none are as attractive. If UNO makes the switch, UNO's concerns have to be addressed, and Trev Alberts seems to be driving a hard bargain.

Bottom line: I think UNO will end up in the WCHA, but the arrangement will be to UNO's favor in the end.

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