There is no crises manager better than Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. The Washington Redskins could use him right now. Or rather, they could use the way he thinks.
What was Pat Bowlen thinking during the Mike Shanahan and Jay Cutler controversy last spring?
It turns out that he was thinking about how to run a football organization in crises. His moves are stark in their contrast to Daniel Snyder's. Lets take a look.
The offseason is the owner's time to move
The Broncos ended the season with four losses to find themselves out of the playoffs. Bowlen must have thought about Shanahan's dismissal for a longer time than that losing streak. Yet he did not move until season's end. The Broncos' best chance to win out was with Shanahan at the helm. They were no worse off by waiting. But by waiting until everyone knew how the season ended, Bowlen lowered the temperature of the move.
Offseason is the owner's time. In season belongs to the players and coaches. In season is when owners must act to keep the team focused on goals because anything else is a distraction.
Treat your people with dignity
Bowlen let Mike Shanahan announce his dismissal to his coaching staff. More importantly, Shanahan was the first to make the announcement. Bowlen made the formal announcement at a press conference, immediately followed by Shanahan's farewell press conference. Good-byes are hard, yet Shanahan understood, kinda-sorta, why Bowlen made the move and said so. That's a far cry from his feelings for Al Davis, or Jim Zorn's reaction to consultant help.
Mike Shanahan is not part of the buzz around Denver. Winning helps. So does the classy way Denver said good-bye.
Back your people
Bowlen never confused the fact that the front office is his real team. Put the right people in place and back them in adversity. It's football. It's life. There's always adversity. If you have the right people, you will weather the storm.
Raise your hand if you thought rookie head coach Josh McDaniels would lead Denver to a 6-1 start. It would have been easy for Bowlen to rip McDaniels for souring his relationship with quarterback Jay Cutler. Instead he backed the coach against the glamour quarterback. That set the tone for the team. I cannot imagine Snyder taking that approach.
No player is bigger than the team
Jay Cutler was the hottest commodity in the NFL last spring. With all the emphasis on franchise quarterbacks, Bowlen was quick to let Cutler go when he became a detriment.
No one player can win a championship. Bowlen saw that with John Elway. No one player can be allowed to upset team focus.
Snyder seems to think one more star will solve every problem.
Hold yourself accountable to the fans
In the midst of the Cutler controversy, Bowlen reached out to Bronco fans to explain his actions. "It has never been about one player," wrote Bowlen in an April 4, 2009 letter to fans . He didn't duck the issue. He faced the fans to explain. Bronco fans were skeptical (who can blame them). However, Bowlen had a reservoir of goodwill to draw on.
Pat Bowlen had the courage of conviction in his unproven, untried rookie head coach and the direction he set for the Broncos.
Daniel Snyder showed neither courage nor conviction in backing Jim Zorn. Neither does he show an understanding that a team is something more than a few big stars and some other guys.
The management take-away is that football teams are organizations and must be lead organizationally. You achieve through your people. Those people have to be well selected, well managed and goal-focused.
Players play. Coaches coach. Building a well managed team that is talented throughout the roster is the owner's job. Do that well and you can back them with confidence as Bowlen has.
You want owners to fade to the background during the season, but in a real crises, they must come forward to shelter the team while they figure things out. Snyder did that very well in the aftermath of Sean Taylor's death. I find it amazing how that's escaped him now.
It remains to be seen if Josh McDaniels can finish for Denver as strongly as he started. Jim Zorn got off to a strong start, too, in 2008. Bowlen's backing after a rough start gave McDaniels room to achieve.
So, who's in favor of hiring Pat Bowlen to be an owner consultant to Daniel Snyder?
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