The biggest management lesson from Steve Spurrier’s resignation

After a notable 10 year run as the “Head Ball Coach” at the University of South Carolina, Steve Spurrier announced his resignation from the team during a press conference on October 13, which was broadcast nationally on ESPN.

While many who follow college football thought that Spurrier’s tenure with the Gamecocks was in its twilight, most observers and fans were surprised that Spurrier elected to end his coaching career at South Carolina in the middle of the season. The Gamecocks, 2–4 at the time of Spurrier’s resignation, was a disappointing start for not only fans, but also Spurrier. It was only two years ago that USC finished with 11 wins and a top 10 ranking for a third straight season. Spurrier, apparently thinking that the team would not rebound to its former greatness with him at the helm, decided to end things where they were and let another coach come in and give it a try.

When asked why he decided to resign prior to season’s end, Coach Spurrier was matter of fact:

“I’ve sort of planned for this day the last several years. The team wasn’t doing very well. At 2 — 4, I really thought it was my fault. If things start going bad, the best thing is to move out, and I’m ready for life after coaching.
There are two scenarios. You can announce I’m finished at the end of the year, but I don’t think you get accountability from your players. Going out now allows an interim head coach to come in there and Sean Elliott brings fire, energy, passion to the team better than I could.
When you feel like your tank is empty in coaching, it’s inevitable, so do it right then.

Looking at Spurrier’s thinking through the prism of leadership and management, the first blush analysis is that the coach well illustrated the point that without passion and drive, there can’t be success. While that’s true, for me, what is more appreciable is Coach Spurrier’s focus on inevitability and its arguable correlation with immediacy.

In Spurrier’s opinion, the team’s prospects weren’t going to get better with him in charge. For the HBC, upon reconciling himself to this thinking, his departure from USC was inevitable. Based on this belief, he made the decision to commence with the changing of the guard.

Many in Columbia and around South Carolina were disappointed-even angry-with the coach’s decision. Many of these folks thought it would be better if Spurrier stuck it out through the end of the season. However, for me, believing that Spurrier’s reasoning that doing something sooner is better rather than later when the outcome appears certain is pure/true (rather than him using it as a pretext to leave before the end of the season when things were really bad), I have respect for the coach’s decision. Moreover, I have a better appreciation for the necessity to act and do so with immediacy when something needs to be done, especially when a particular outcome (often a bad or difficult or unpleasant or expensive one) is inevitable.

Coach Spurrier’s resignation illustrates that it’s better to face the music rather than let things fester. Identify the problem. Determine the solution. And do it. Leaders and managers in all different segments and pursuits can learn from this and do the same.

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