The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership

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9781591842668: The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership
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Offers insights and best leadership principles from the successful coach of the San Francisco 49ers, explaining how he motivated people, crafted winning teams, and his words of wisdom such as Believe in people, and Keep a short enemies list.

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About the Author:

Bill Walsh was head coach of the 49ers from 1979Â 1989, with an overall record of 102-63-1. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993 and died of leukemia at age seventy-five on July 30, 2007.

Steve Jamison is a bestselling author, the executive producer of the John R. Wooden Leadership Course, and a consultant to the UCLA/ Anderson School of Management.

CRAIG WALSH is the only surviving son of Bill Walsh and an executive in Silicon Valley.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

How to Know if You’re Doing the Job

When I give a speech at a corporate event, I often ask those in attendance, “Do you know how to tell if you’re doing the job?” As heads start whispering back and forth, I provide these clues: “If you’re up at 3 A.M. every night talking into a tape recorder and writing notes on scraps of paper, have a knot in your stomach and a rash on your skin, are losing sleep and losing touch with your wife and kids, have no appetite or sense of humor, and feel that everything might turn out wrong, then you’re probably doing the job.”

This always gets a laugh, but not a very big one. Those executives in the audience recognize there is a significant price to pay to be the best. That price is not something they laugh at.

Coaches Aren’t Supposed to Cry:
Survive One Minute at a Time

In my second year as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, we were preparing to play the defending AFC East champions, Don Shula’s powerful Miami Dolphins, a team that was formidable, especially at home in the Orange Bowl.

The showdown came in week eleven of our schedule and at the worst possible moment for me because after a great start to my second season— three straight wins against the New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Cardinals, and New York Jets—we had lost seven consecutive games. Our year was imploding. (The previous season, my first as head coach, our record had been 2–14, which meant that since I had taken over leadership of the 49ers we had won five games and lost twenty- one, the worst record in the NFL.)

A loss to Miami on Sunday would be our eighth in a row and likely have enormous consequences, including the possibility of my being terminated or at least being put on a “death watch” by the media— an unofficial lame duck and powerless coach.

Conversely, I recognized that a victory against the Dolphins would stop the hemorrhaging and provide hope for salvaging the last part of our season, which, in turn, could have a positive impact on the following year. Huge stakes were on the table. I was somewhat hopeful, perhaps even optimistic.

Nevertheless, the professional and personal magnitude of the upcoming Miami–San Francisco game clouded the entire week’s practice for me and created a brittleness in my behavior that was out of character. I was brusque, short-tempered, and not as tuned in as I should have been.

The game itself— played in suffocating Florida heat and humidity— turned into a bruising battle in front of over seventy-five thousand screaming Dolphin fans who had packed themselves into the stadium. For the 49ers it was like going to a wild party to which you are uninvited and unwelcome— everybody tries to throw you out the window.

Miami’s tropical sun had pushed daytime temperatures into the nineties, and dusk didn’t bring them down. In fact, the heat seemed to get worse, as if we were playing in a swamp, trying to move in quicksand. None of this appeared to affect Coach Shula’s team. They built an early lead and held onto it throughout the game. It seemed evident that we were headed for our eighth straight defeat— a potentially disastrous event.

However, with time running down— less than two minutes remaining— 49er kicker Ray Wersching, perhaps the league’s best field goal specialist, calmly nailed a winner to get us within a point: 17–16. Immediately, the entire San Francisco bench leaped up, pumping their fists and yelling wildly. You could feel this huge surge in momentum erupt. Unfortunately, it was a short- lived surge; our field goal did not count. To my dismay, a holding penalty was called against us and the score was nullified. Quickly, I again nodded at Ray, who strapped on his helmet, trotted out, and calmly kicked another field goal from five yards farther back. Again, raucous cheers erupted on our bench, but immediately another flag was thrown and another penalty called against us.

Now the line of scrimmage put us out of field-goal range and forced us into a passing situation; we needed a first down to retain possession of the ball. Quickly, we completed a pass that gave us just enough yards to pick up the first down. The 49ers had survived for the moment, stayed alive. Or so it seemed.

As I watched in disbelief, a linesman raced in and gave Miami a spot so friendly it could have gotten him elected to local public office. Our drive had been stopped three times in a row under increasingly outrageous circumstances. What made it maddening was that Shula had been berating officials throughout the game whenever they made a call against the Dolphins. This seemed to be his reward— a spot he had to love and two penalties against us on the previous plays. As bad as the 49er season had become, nothing this agonizing and damaging had happened to us before. And the crowd loved it.

Sensing the imminent kill, fans went into a stadium- wide uproar as we silently turned the ball back to Miami— the game essentially over as the Dolphins extended our losing streak to eight games with their 17–13 victory. The pain of that loss haunts me even now as I think about those final seconds ticking off the clock.

It was a horrible and numbing defeat, overwhelming for me because of its potential impact— a job I had worked for my entire adult life was in jeopardy— but also because of the stupid, self-inflicted, almost suicidal way in which we lost. As the crowd roared its approval and Miami players and fans swarmed over the field, I stood alone on the sideline in a cocoon of grief, emotionally gutted, wondering if I had the strength to even get back to our locker room.

Unless you’ve experienced this type of emotional shock and the bleak interior landscape it creates, it’s hard to comprehend the impact. The memory never leaves you and acts as both a positive and negative force, spurring you to work harder and harder while also creating a fear inside that it might happen again. (For me, that fear eventually became more than I could handle.)

Now Shula trotted briskly across the field to shake hands and offer a few perfunctory words of condolence. I have no clue as to what he said, but even though I was in some state of shock, instincts took over. I offered my hand; he shook it, shouted something in my ear, and disappeared back into the public pandemonium and celebration at midfield.

The next few hours— until we got out of the stadium complex and arrived at the Miami airport— remain a blur. I can’t remember what, if anything, I said to the players and coaches in the locker room or reporters in the press room. Probably I was on some kind of automatic pilot and experiencing what victims of violence go through when they blot out the memory of the assault.

While the moments immediately following that game are missing in my mind, the long trip home is vivid. Coaches aren’t supposed to cry, but I’m not ashamed to admit that on the night flight back to San Francisco I sat in my seat in the first row of the plane and broke down sobbing in the darkness. I felt like a casualty of war being airlifted away from the battlefield.

Bill McPherson, Neal Dahlen, John McVay, Norb Hecker, and some of the other San Francisco assistant coaches and staff understood the grief I was experiencing and shielded me from any players who might come into the area— they huddled around my seat, blocking off view of me, while making small talk and eating peanuts, acting like we were all involved in the conversation.

Believe me, I was not participating in whatever it was they said or eating peanuts as I slumped down, depressed, in my dark little space, contemplating whether I should offer my resignation. Most debilitating of all— devastating— was a gnawing fear that I didn’t have what it takes to be an NFL head coach. At one point I actually decided to hand in my resignation the next morning; then I changed my mind.

I have tried to describe my anguish, but the words come up short. Everything I had dreamed of professionally for a quarter of a century was in jeopardy just eighteen months after being realized. And yet there was something else going on inside me, a “voice” from down deeper than the emotions, something stirring that I had learned over many years in football and, before that, growing up; namely, I must stand and fight again, stand and fight or it was all over.

And that was the instinct that slowly prevailed as we headed home in the middle of a very dark night. I knew that in a matter of seven days the New York Giants were coming to town with the sole intent of making sure that neither I nor the San Francisco 49ers would stand and fight again. In my mind— or gut— and in spite of the pain, I knew I had to force myself to somehow start looking ahead— to overcome my grief over the debacle in Miami— or it would severely damage our efforts to prepare properly for the battle with New York; my comportment would directly affect the attitudes and performance of everyone who looked to me for answers and direction. I had to do what I was being paid to do: be a leader.

I wish I could tell you that’s what happened— that I simply turned a switch and was magically transformed from an emotional basket case into an invincible field general. It wasn’t that way. It took time for me to stop despairing and regain some composure, to settle down and start thinking straight, but gradually, during those hard hours on the flight back to California, I began pulling myself together.

In the NFL events occur— hit you— at supersonic speeds with volcanic force during the regular season. There aren’t months or weeks to recover, not even d...

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