Leadership Lessons from Coach Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes

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Leadership Lessons from Coach Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes

There are thousands of blog articles that have been written about business and leadership lessons that can be learned from sports teams. Today, as I watch the Iowa Hawkeyes attempt to become 11-0 this season and earn a spot in the Big 10 Championship game, I am inspired to write one of those articles.

Everyone has an opinion about the Iowa Hawkeyes this season. Myself included. Some say the schedule is too easy. Others say leadership and philosophical changes have resulted in a brand new Iowa football team. First though, let’s take a look at the facts.

Facts About Iowa Hawkeye Football

  • As I write this, the Hawks have a 10-0 record.
  • They are #5 in ESPN’s Week 12 College Football Rankings.
  • Multiple records have been broken this season.
  • Head coach, Kirk Ferentz, is in his 17th year at Iowa.
  • Their 2014 record was 7-6.
  • They were 8-5 in 2013.
  • In 2012, they finished the season at 4-8 overall and failed to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2000.

Knowing When it’s Time to Make a Change

When you look at the facts listed above, specifically the Hawk’s records over the last several years, you can appreciate why people have been so vocal about Kirk Ferentz and his long-term viability as head coach.

I can’t even pretend to understand how challenging Kirk’s position is as head football coach at the University of Iowa. Sure, he is compensated well for those challenges and struggles but let’s remember an important thing here – Kirk is a person, just like you and me. You know the saying, he puts on his pants the same way we all do.

Can you imagine what it must be like to get feedback from literally thousands of people week after week? He gets to hear about his and the team’s performance from reporters at press conferences, in newspaper articles, over social media, and more. And what about the feedback from fans and foes that he runs into as he tries to have a normal dinner with his family in Iowa City? It definitely takes a special person to be able to handle this constant stream of feedback.

I am also not going to pretend that I am “in the know” about everything that is happening in the Hawkeye football program. I am just like everyone else—on the outside looking in.

With that being said, when I look at Kirk and the 2015 football program, it seems as though he decided to filter through and listen to some of the feedback that he was hearing. Even more importantly, he decided to make some changes as a result of the feedback. Some of these changes have been very visible. A major change was the decision to go with a new quarterback for the 2015 season. Most of us will likely never know everything that led up to that decision but CJ Beathard seems to be the right fit for this 2015 team. The team’s style of play has changed as well. Of course, this can be attributed to a lot of variables but again, the changes seem to be working.

Then there are the changes that aren’t as obvious to all of us. Things like coaching style and technique changes. Process changes. Game prep plans. Workout schedules. The list goes on and on.

Lessons in Leadership from Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes

So what does all of this have to do with the business world, organizations, or even your own role? Honestly, there are a lot of things that we can learn!

  1. Businesses face the same challenges of success and failure everyday that sports teams do. Many times, it just isn’t as visible.
  2. Company leaders and football coaches share a lot of similar responsibilities. They are setting the vision and guiding the ship to its final destination.
  3. Company leaders are people too! They have feelings and families just like the rest of us.
  4. One of the toughest things for a leader to do is to evolve their own skill set as the organization pushes them forward. Like Kirk, that may mean trying something different after years of using the same approach.
  5. Good leaders make tough decisions. It may mean that a certain employee gets promoted or the business decides to employ a new strategy. Whatever the case, good leaders make the necessary decisions to keep moving forward or in an attempt to solve a problem. Doing nothing isn’t the answer.
  6. It’s never too late to make a change. Even if you missed an opportunity, there are likely more just around the corner. Kirk is almost 60 years old and has been coaching for years.
  7. Listening to feedback and making changes based on that feedback, can be the difference between success and failure.
  8. People and process changes can have a dramatic impact on outcomes.

As I wrap up this blog article, there is 2:12 left in the 4th quarter and the Iowa Hawkeyes are up 40-20 over Purdue. As a University of Iowa alumni and long-term Hawkeye fan, I am happy to be along for the ride this season! The changes made this season seem to be the right answer. Now, the next challenge for Kirk and the Iowa Hawkeyes is to identify and be ready for the next round of changes!

By | 2016-10-25T16:33:59+00:00 November 22nd, 2015|Blog, Careers, Change Management, Leadership, Organizations|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Mary Greiner November 25, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    Love the article! Somehow I knew this wasn’t written by Tim…hahaha. Maybe with the changes ISU is making Tim can write a similar article next year:)

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