October is always a fun time in sports. The football season is well underway, and basketball is right around the corner. For me, I love this time of year because I get to hear press conferences and Q&A’s from three of my favorite coaches. As an entrepreneur, I can appreciate the focus and leadership they impart on their teams. Also, you can always count on Nick Saban, Bill Belichick, and Gregg Popovich for great sound bytes and hot takes. Now they can be a bit rough with the press, men of few words, and often misunderstood. However, you cannot deny the seventeen championships between them, and each of them has something that I much admire.
Nick Saban will probably be never be mistaken for someone with a sunny disposition. Some may think he is a jerk. However, for those of us in the business world, we much admire Saban. Take the end of the 2013 National Championship game. Alabama has the game well in hand with a 42-14 lead in the final minutes against Notre Dame. Alabama is on offense and getting ready to snap the ball. AJ McCarron and Barrett Jones get into a shouting/shoving match at the line of scrimmage. They disagreed about an adjustment being made at the line of scrimmage, and there was a delay of game. This scene epitomizes how Saban runs Alabama football and the success it has had. The culture of Saban so heavily influences the team into making the right play than being up big in the waning moments of the National Championship game didn’t matter. All great business owners understand that a process is more important than the end product and that the end product is a by-product of the process. It would make sense that Saban gets that. He did major in business for undergrad, after all.
Warren Buffet famously said that “a great business is one that your idiot brother can run.” What he ultimately meant is that when you create a fundamentally sound business, all you need to do is change out a few items, tweak some things ever so often, and you should still find business success. Its all about the system. That quote reminds me of Bill Belichick every time. Let me be clear; There are no idiots on his team, especially the quarterback that leads it. The dynasty of the Patriots may arguably be the best in professional sports. However, the system is a simple one. It’s the discipline from every player as they rotate in out of Foxborough from its superstar quarterback to the 53rd man on the roster. Every person understands their assignment, and every person only focuses on that assignment. The system also requires peer accountability. Belichick doesn’t have to talk much because the doctrine or “Patriot Way” is all about each player doing their part while not worrying about what the next man is doing. If the next man is doing his job, it all comes together like the sweetest sounding symphony. It’s quite similar to Saban’s process, but in the system, it’s more about the people than the doctrine. So just like Coca-Cola, IBM, and McDonald’s, this has allowed the Patriots to stay successful for a very long time.
For the longest time, Gregg Popovich was known as a defensive-minded coach. This doctrine had netted him four championships. However, before the rise of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and the Golden State Warriors, Popovich saw the writing on the wall. The league was changing with more points being scored, and the 3pt shot more and more apart of team strategy. His stars were aging, and the NBA was getting younger. So he went from a defensive strategist to an offensive guru. He focused on spacing, skip passing, and the 3pt shot himself. Signing Danny Green and Drafting Kawhi Leonard also helped him to get younger, as well. This move demonstrated Popovich’s leadership in his willingness to change. Many older coaches would have just stuck to what they knew and let the chips fall where they may. However, the coach we affectionately know as “Pop” showed a willingness to adapt to the change of the uptempo NBA style and even got another championship out of it…almost two. Many leaders make the mistake of changing for the sake of change. However, leaders like Pop make an intentional change to the point where everyone is better for it and puts them in a position to win.
So yeah, maybe these three come off a certain way that could be considered socially awkward. On top of that, they may ask a lot of their players. However, there is a lot we can learn from these three when it comes to leadership and building a culture that fosters winning. Warren Buffet is probably right when referring to the idiot brother in running a business, but I would rather have one of these three instead.