The NFL’s Denver Broncos are in a perilous state right now. They fired head coach Mike Shanahan December of 2008. Shanahan coached the Broncos since 1995, led the team to over 125 victories and two super bowl victories. His replacement? A 32-year-old rookie coach, Josh McDaniels.
Coming from the New England Patriots, McDaniels was well-groomed for a head coaching job – he was the quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator. There is a growing trend in the NFL to hire younger people for head coaching jobs – this is not unlike what is going on in organizations today, or even in politics. Younger people are starting to get high-profile jobs.
So, what does McDaniels do when he first gets to Denver? He tries a trade with his old team for Matt Cassel, an up-and-coming high potential star QB who started for injured superstar QB Tom Brady last season. As he was the offensive coordinator and QB coach of the Patriots, McDaniels knew the talent Cassel had and wanted to bring him to Denver. There’s one problem…the Broncos already had an up-and-coming high potential star, pro-bowl QB Jay Cutler.
Of course, this trade rumor leaks out, and Cutler feels hurt, his ego bruised, and now holds a grudge against his team. There is now a lack of trust between the young star player, and the young coach and Broncos organization. Cutler demands to be traded. So, what does McDaniels do then? He undeniably says Cutler is the Broncos’ QB, and says repeatedly that he has text messaged Cutler, and Cutler has not returned any of his text messages.
Text messaged? Granted, text messaging is probably what Gen Xers and Millenials do to communicate. And, they are not in the same city to talk about this issue. But, if you as a manager had a conflict with one of your coworkers, would you want to text message that person and wait for his or her reply? Or, if you and your boss had a conflict, would you want to receive a text message from your boss as a way to deal with it?
CCL’s Kerry Bunker along with others wrote a 2002 Harvard Business Review articlecalled “The Young and The Clueless” where the article talks about a young, high-potential employee who was labeled as brilliant, strategic, energetic, and motivated (like McDaniels). Those qualities helped the young manager rise fast (like McDaniels). But, the young manager was too ambitious and had a lack of people skills, and eventually derailed (like the path McDaniels is going down).
Perhaps McDaniels is too young, too ambitious to be an NFL coach. Maybe he wasn’t thinking about the repercussions of what a trade rumor would do to the Broncos or his star Cutler. Moreover, what was he thinking about handling a conflict via a text message? The inability to handle conflict is part of “Difficulty Leading a Team” which CCL has found to be one of the five behaviors of derailed managers. If McDaniels doesn’t get this resolved the right way, his career may have already derailed before coaching his first NFL game.
Would you have text messaged your coworker if you were dealing with a conflict? Would you want to have a text message sent to you? Or, would you have been more proactive, and want to deal with the conflict directly, face-to-face perhaps, in a safe environment? What would you have done?