Sunday, February 9, 2014


I am a college football fan. And as an alumnus and supporter of Texas Tech University, that makes me a fan who alternates between joy and despair. I also pay close attention to our recruiting of high school and junior college players. Who are we getting and who’s going to the competition? In reality, the whole recruiting process has gotten ridiculous and that I should spend so much time reading about it makes me look pretty ridiculous. But that can wait for another blog on another day. What is of particular interest in the wake of National Signing Day (NSD) when players sign their official letters of intent, is the rating of a team’s recruits.

Over the past twenty years a substantial industry has grown up around the evaluation of would be college football players. And most of the rating services have adopted a “star” rating system. Five star players are rare and essentially regarded as can’t miss prospects. There is a slightly larger pool of four star players. These are really good players who are also more likely to turn into exceptional players than lower rated athletes. Nevertheless, most of the “four stars” turn out to be no better than average or worse. Then there are the two and three star guys. Few will become great players, some will be average, most will not make it. Many will end up at smaller schools off the beaten track along with one star and non-rated players. A small number of them will develop into great players and even end up in the NFL. In the final analysis “stars” do matter and usually the team that ends up winning the National Championship is loaded with four and five star talent.

But what about the teams that consistently have no better than average or below average talent, but somehow achieve above average results. Kansas State is the classic example of such a program. And there are others. Over the years, I would even say that my Texas Tech Red Raiders have over-achieved relative to the quality of players they recruit. Boise State is another example of a consistent over-achiever. And lately, the Baylor Bears. Then , of course, there are the under-achievers…cough, cough, Texas Longhorns…cough, cough.

So beyond just getting the best raw talent, what’s the formula for building a high performance team? First, the coach (manager) must put them in the best position to win, strategically and tactically. Second, the team members have to clearly know their assignments. What is the job they must do and what are the desired outcomes? Third, they must have the coaching, training and tools to do the job? Lastly, members of the team must be fully engaged mentally, emotionally and physically to the task at hand.

There’s no question that a team needs a certain level of talent to be successful. But even the best talent will not win if the strategy is poor and/or the tactics are ill-advised. And a talented team can have a great game plan and still fail if the team members do not clearly understand their roles. Yet top talent, great strategy/tactics and perfect job descriptions will not get results. Team members must have the skills training and tools to do the job. The devil is in the details and poor technique and/or a lack of training will get you beat. Lastly, the team members must execute on the field. If the team members are not fully committed and hitting on all cylinders, even the most talented, well-coached team will lose. We see it in sports, business and politics.

Talent is a great starting point. And the saying is true that “you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken- ____.” But success goes way beyond just being talented or having a talented team. You must have a good plan. Know what to do. Know to how to do it and have the tools to do it. And then go do it. Consultants will charge you a lot of money and then tell you the same thing. It’s not rocket science. But it’s really hard to do. Great leaders (coaches or managers) have somehow found ways to find the pieces and put them together. They understand that star power will only get you so far. Ultimately it is team performance that determines the outcome.

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