For two years, I worked for the Rutgers Football program under the direction of Kyle Flood. In my time there, beginning with the 2014 season, there was a universal thought amongst my co-workers and college football fans that Kyle Flood was in over his head leading the Rutgers Football team program as it entered one of the most competitive divisions in college football, the Big Ten East.
Sure, we thought we could become bowl eligible, but we did not expect to exceed that. These many doubts proved to be true, and Kyle Flood’s tenure as the head coach of the Rutgers Football team proves what Seth Godin wrote in Tribes: “If you don’t have the ability to lead, it can be dangerous to try.”
From 2012-2015, During his time leading the program, the team endured twelve total arrests, involving ten different players. Also, Kyle Flood himself was found guilty of academic misconduct after violating university code when attempting to lobby for a player’s grade to be improved to make the player eligible for the upcoming season.
All of these occurrences over a four-year period led to his failure as a leader and dismissal from his position as head coach of the football program.
I believe that these issues can ultimately boil down to failure in communication at the organizational level. Successful communication relies on a level of trust within an organization, which will keep a singular focus and allow for collaboration amongst it’s members.
I found that there were failures at both the internal and external levels. Internally, communication within the program was poor. For example, Coach Flood always stated in the off-season that we were “competing for a Big Ten Championship.” That was simply not a realistic message to give to his team as those hopes were usually dashed three weeks into the season.
It was these types of unattainable goals that ultimately lead to establishing a culture of failure.
Externally, Coach Flood explicitly attempted to distort the truth in the academic scandal that ultimately led to his firing. When asked why he used a private email account instead of his university registered account, he said, “The issue with the private email was really just to protect the student-athlete, a student-athlete whose academic record had always been, to some degree, on public display when it shouldn’t have been.”
If a player is in good academic standing, then their academic record would never have been a topic. This player was not in good standing, and by saying this, Flood not only removed his athlete’s responsibility for being a topic of media coverage but also hid the real reason for using a private email, which was likely to erase any trail of his wrongdoing. This failure of external communication furthered an already negative perception of his leadership within the program.
None of these failures became so clear to me until I got the opportunity to operate under the new coaching staff at Rutgers University lead by Chris Ash.
After watching just one practice I saw that, as Simon Sinek wrote in Start with Why, “there are leaders, and there are those who lead.”
A leader, Kyle Flood, is merely someone who holds a position by title. But someone who leads, Chris Ash, can be any person, regardless of a title, that does what is needed to be done. The simplicity of Coach Ash’s messages and central theme of accountability are extremely refreshing adjustments from the far reaching goals of the Kyle Flood Era.
When asked if winning championships was a realistic goal for his program, he answered, “we’re not going to make a lot of goals that talk about results with winning games and championships. We’re going to worry about making goals that make us better tomorrow than we were today.”
“It’s about getting better every single day,” he said.
Being present at practices this winter, I can honestly say that he has stuck to this quote every day. Therefore, there is better internal and external communication in the Rutgers Football program.
In addition to an improvement in communication, Coach Ash also shows that he has begun the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of the program’s current reality. It is ultimately a fact that Rutgers will not win the Big Ten this year, and Coach Ash accepts that.
But he is willing to focus on the things that he feels he can control and make his players more capable of becoming champions. He does this simply by holding them accountable and demanding maximum effort. I have personally been inspired by his messages without having a conversation with him, and I feel motivated to be a better person by having the opportunity to be in his presence.