by Don Yaeger
Pay attention to the way head football coach Bill O’Brien and the Penn State program have conducted themselves
in the aftermath of one of college football’s biggest scandals, and
you’ll see an effective step in the move from good to Great.
When rocked by a crisis, the tendency for most people—and companies—is
to c reate distance. In many cases, more energy is spent defending,
debating and deflecting a scandal, than surviving one. Over the
weekend, the Penn State football team took another Great step by
defeating the 18th ranked Michigan Wolverines 43-40. With such a
monumental victory, the Nittany Lions proved they are definitely
surviving… and winning, both on the field and off.
I recently visited Coach O’Brien at the PSU campus and was blown away by
his efforts – and the efforts of others in the PSU athletic department –
to reshape the culture. Their leadership has even changed the NCAA’s
view of Penn State—provoking an unprecedented reduction of penalties.
That’s a far cry from just 14 months
ago when Penn State was blasted by the court of public opinion, and
crippled by a myriad of NCAA sanctions related to the Jerry Sandusky
child sexual abuse scandal. The crisis stripped 111 wins away from the
Hall of Fame coaching legacy of Joe Paterno, resulted in $60 million to
the program in fines, slashed 25 available scholarships annually from
future seasons, and placed the program on a 4-year probation.
The lesson, for me, is how O’Brien and those I spoke with at Penn State
have handled all those sanctions. There’s something to be said in
finding a leader who accepts punishment—even if he didn’t cause the
problem for which he’s taking the punishment—and finds a way to
improve. There’s even more to be said when that improvement gets
recognized and rewarded. Coach O’Brien inherited a shamed football team
in disarray, but kept his focus on restoring order and improving his
players and program. He wasted no time in establishing a culture where it was still important to be successful and win games, but it was more important to follow rules and exhibit character.
— former US Senator — was in charge of monitoring how Penn State
adhered to the imposed penalties and the more than 100 recommended
procedures the school needed to implement. O’Brien made it a regular
occurrence to make sure Mitchell and his staff knew of every effort the
program was taking to get better. By consistently documenting instances
of good behavior and good faith, O’Brien helped shape Mitchell’s
evaluation of the Penn State future. O’Brien and Penn State were
recognized for their efforts and ultimately rewarded.
“This sends a big message to our players,” O’Brien told me the day the penalty reduction was announced.
“It shows these young people that you can be rewarded for doing things
right at tough times. It reinforces all we’re trying to teach.”
It’s important to encounter moments when making the right choices are
acknowledged. Can you think of a time when you accepted responsibility
instead of shifting the blame? Did you wallow in your consequence or
work toward a better circumstance? Visit my Facebook Page for more content and, as always, join the discussion today!