It was the end of September and the football team at Penn State, where yours truly earned a degree, was off to a less than encouraging 2-2 start to the season.
James Franklin, in his third year as the head coach, now had a 16-14 overall record with the Nittany Lions. The 2016 season included a close loss to Pittsburgh and a lopsided loss to then fourth-ranked Michigan. With injuries mounting and a remaining schedule that featured several of the best teams in the country, some of the natives were getting a bit restless.
So it wasn’t surprising that athletics director Sandy Barbour had to field questions about Franklin’s future with the program when she showed up for an event on Sept. 28 in Altoona, Pa. And here, according to the Altoona Mirror, is what she said about the head coach: “He’s not on the hot seat, and he’s not going to be on the hot seat in December.”
If you’re a college football fan, you know that Penn State followed the loss to Michigan by winning its next nine games, including an upset victory over No. 3 Ohio State in October and a 38-31 victory Saturday over No. 8 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
The Nittany Lions overcame a 21-point deficit to win the conference title, but that wasn’t enough to get them into the College Football Playoffs. Instead, they will play in the Rose Bowl against Southern California (which won eight straight games to overcome a 1-4 start to the season.)
As a Penn State alum – and a member of the university’s board – I’m proud of our team, but not just because of the turnaround on the field. I’m proud of the way the coaches and administration are going about the rebuilding process.
This is the world in which we live: Microwave everything and if you don’t like the taste, throw it out for something else. It’s true in business and especially in the big business of college football – you not only need to win, you need to win right now!
Just ask Mark Helfrich. He led Oregon to a 24-4 record in his first two years, including an appearance in the national championship game. The next year the Ducks went a respectable 9-4. But this year, after a 4-8 finish, Helfrich was fired.
I don’t know enough about the inner-workings of Oregon football to know if that was a good decision. But I do know this: In college football, as in any business, you can’t microwave success – especially if you start with a depleted kitchen (which, unfortunately, was the case for Franklin at Penn State).
When I was hired as CEO of Prologis, the company had been rocked hard by a combination of poor management decisions and a global recession. We were on the verge of bankruptcy, but we knew there was no quick fix. Our leadership team addressed the hemorrhaging issues, of course, but we always tried to take a long-term view that involved establishing the right foundation for the culture and for our business model.
There were no guarantees, but, fortunately, the company recovered and now is doing very well.
No matter where you work or what you do, chances are good that you feel pressure to perform and achieve. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I’ve found that the winners in life are defined by who they are, not what they do. If they do things the right way, then winning eventually takes care of itself. And if they take shortcuts, the victories they achieve are seldom worth the price they paid.