Monday, May 17, 2010

The Firing of Mike Woodson and the Definition of Success

I heard an interview on a sports talk radio station, 790theZone, with Rick Sund, General Manager of the Atlanta Hawks. He was nervously defending the firing of Mike Woodson and the future selection of a new head coach. After having fired Coach Woodson due to wanting to "hear another voice" in that role (careful what you say when a performance psychologist is listening to the radio), he said that, indeed, one year ago, he felt that Mike Woodson was the man for the job. What a difference a year makes.

Unbelievably, then, he went on to say that he was going to sit down with other people connected to the team to build a profile to use for selecting the next head coach. He was planning on putting together a long list and a short list of candidates. Why is that unbelievable to me?

Initially, my first question in the firing of the Mike Woodson was: why get rid of someone who had improved his team every season for six years, made life miserable for the future champion Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA playoffs, and gotten past the first round of the playoff the last two years running?

Secondly, why would you fire someone and try to replace him with a hypothetical someone? Why remove Woodson, who had proven himself to be capable of keeping the team at that level or above, and replace him with someone for whom you had no discernable evidence that he could keep the team at that level or beyond?

My question now is why would you not have a profile in mind when you evaluated the current head coach and now have to come up with one as you start to select the new coach? It would seem to me that it would be just as important to have a profile for evaluation purposes as it is to have one for predicting the future. In fact, why would the profile be any different for Mike Woodson than for Coach X?

Lastly, why is he just beginning to put together a list? Shouldn't he have one already? Just how many candidates are out there that he doesn't know about? Shouldn't he keep his head coach until all of these things are done? What else hasn't he done yet or thought of?

Finally, what retread or old head coach (who is now probably an assistant) will fit a profile for the future that Mike Woodson alledgedly did not fit? For that matter, what up and coming coach would fit?

Based on GM Sund's performance in the firing and hiring of his head coach, should't his head be on the line? Perhaps that is why he sounded so anxious.

My suggestions to any team or organization that is letting go of someone:

1. Develop criteria for performance and success at the beginning of the process.
2. Let the individual and the team know what success looks like.
3. Make sure that you have looked closely at that criteria before you let them go. 4. Also, make sure that there are people interested in your position and they meet your criteria before you pull the plug.

I really want to see the new coach that can assure the Atlanta Hawks that he/she can top 53 regular season wins, make it to the playoffs and get beyond the second round (in other words, the conference finals) in the 2010-2011 season.

What kind of criteria are you using for your performance and the performance of others? What is your definition of success? Is it realistic? Is it attainable? Is it measurable?

For more on performance psychology, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.
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