The VPM Blog

Agency FRONT LINES: Why I Quit Coaching

Posted by Don Crow on Feb 18, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Since I left the US Army in 2000 and joined the corporate world the term, “coaching” has been a daily staple. “Coach your team up!” or “That employee needs you to coach them on the correct way to handle a difficult customer,” or even, “We hire coaches, not managers.”

If you’re a business owner, either literally or by title in a large organization, it’s time to retire from coaching in favor of program building. My retirement from coaching happened about one year ago and it’s the best thing I could have ever done for my business.

No, I didn’t sell my agency and I didn’t hire a new CEO.

Believe it or not, this Dye-Hard Auburn fan took more than a few pages from an arch-rival’s playbook. I doubt you’ll find another Auburn fan who will admit to anything other than loathing for University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

I’ll be the first.

Coach Saban is the epitome of a program builder and that’s exactly what business owners need to embrace over coaching. Sure, he’s out there on the practice fields and sidelines, and he’s not afraid to go uber tactical on a player or assistant coach who makes a mental error. It’s well documented and mocked.

Coach Saban has built a program at the University of Alabama that is quite simply, stunning. The VPM Office TV was set to national signing day from start to half past finish. And all day, the program most compared to was the University of Alabama. I'm not going to say we were happy about it, celebrated it, or did anything other than say, "there he goes again." That's the value of building a program your cross-state rival begrudingly acknowledges.


 photo credit: Nick Saban via photopin (license)

Why? They don’t recruit college talent at Alabama, they recruit next-level talent. Once on campus, the staff runs the ego out of the overly hyped 18 year olds, and then in three years send that same player off to the NFL with one or two national championship rings and at least that many conference championships.

Every. Single. Year.

Going into 2016 signing day, Coach Saban had produced five straight consensus number 1 recruiting classes. His 2015 signing day was widely regarded as his best ever and that’s saying a lot compared to his first class in 2008 which began the program building at Alabama. His ability to evaluate talent at an early stage, identify those prospects most likely to excel in his system and then close those relationships is remarkable. There are multi-million-dollar business development professionals who can’t match Coach Saban’s attract, convert and close rate.

You’ll hear every other program in the SEC and most of the country boast about their, “impact players” and how they, “filled their needs, regardless of recruiting rankings.” Bullshit. That’s what their Sports Information Directors scripted for them after that same coach cursed under his breath with each crimson cap that was donned for the cameras.

But Coach Saban’s prowess extends past the first Wednesday in February. He’s got to do a lot more before that raw talent becomes a functioning member of his team.

It starts with not allowing players to refer to the heat during the summer practices. Let that sink in. It’s over 100 degrees by index most days in the humid deep south and you’re working hard from before sunrise until after sundown and you can’t even complain about the heat as a joke.

Mental toughness starts with attitude. Nick knows this.

Then he instills in them the ability to treat each play as if it’s the only play of practice or the game. Focus, focus, focus and focus some more on the details. Bad play? Get over it and start over with the next. It’s not a new day in Tuscaloosa with each morning alarm, it’s a new game with each snap. Imagine how easy it must be to genuinely shake off the one or two losses each year if you’re more consumed in the fine details that make up each assignment, scheme and play called. A loss is just a learning opportunity on a grander stage. There are countless opportunities to improve mentally and physically with the sting of a defeat and the enduring mark of an “L” on the record books.

Overriding the entire process is a constant message: “Do the right thing, always.” Classroom, practice, at home, on the road, going to bed, getting up in the morning….life. Coach Saban doesn’t have to demand it in some totalitarian way, he expects it, rewards it when it’s in practice and then lets the results speak for themselves in a winning culture that has produced the only two Hesiman Trophy winners in the entire University of Alabama football program and 17 first round draft picks.

So yes, Nick Saban may “coach,” but more than that he’s built a program and constantly reinforcing the importance of that program in every aspect of the operation. I humbly submit to you, more of us need to be program builders. That's why I quit coaching and have been moving my agency towards this model for almost one year.

For me, the “process” looks something like this:

  1. Identify the right talent for the team, including our clients now and the clients we want.
    1. Gratitude and humility are important in delivering great customer service, so if we interview someone who can’t take the time to send a simple thank you note, we don’t hire them. Ever.
    2. Be slow to hire and quick to fire. You’ve no doubt seen this one before but until you focus on making it happen, you’ll never see the true benefit. When people demonstrate through their behavior they don’t want to win at Verge Pipe Media it’s a sure sign they won’t be collecting another paycheck. It may seem harsh in a PC world run amok, but it’s made immediate positive impacts for us.
  2. Give people a job to do and don’t expect anything but their best.
    1. Mistakes happen. And they have. But, we are quick to correct and expect the offender to own up to their mistake, learn from it, share with the team and move on.
    2. You can’t expect what you don’t inspect. I read every single blog and social media post that goes out. Exhausting? Damn straight. But, if you know the founder is reading everything going out the door and he’s going to comment on the very best content in the morning meeting, you’re going to sit a little straighter as you type.
    3. Whomever said, “Lower your expectations and you’ll be happier” was probably looking for an excuse to their lack of happiness. I won’t lower our standards for anyone, especially our employees.
  3. Prepare your people for life after you.
    1. I learned an important phrase from Auburn equestrian coach Greg Hall. He teaches his team that ,“they will be nurturing a tree they’ll never see shade from.” In other words, everything they do today will have an impact on the team of tomorrow or next year (and beyond). Which again lends credence to expecting the very best from everyone while they’re sporting the VPM blue and orange.
    2. We know that having just graduated from college at Auburn doesn’t mean you want to stay in Auburn to work. So our relationships with interns and part-time employees is built upon them giving us their best while they are here and I’ll do my level best to get them drafted in the first round. So far, I’m pretty proud of our record.

Admittedly, there’s a special place in our hearts for coaches, even if we never played a snap, tip, drop or pitch. They epitomize hands-on, working your way up, and an eye-to-eye style often lost in the business world.

But it’s not the way to long term, repeatable success. You can't build a program that will last for a decade or longer without high expectations, a process built around winning, and 5-star talent. I’ve learned it the hard way, and not just because I’ve had to acknowledge a guy that coaches that team up north.

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