Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Evaluating Leadership In Ultimate: Learning from JFJ's woe


By now, I am sure everyone in Canada knows about the current woes of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the chaotic job status of their General Manager. John Ferguson Jr has fallen on hard times and seems to be a dead man walking as seen here . Let me state the obvious:

  • The situation (replacing their GM) is being handled poorly
  • There are far too many people involved in the leadership structure at Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment (MLSE) with regards to hockey matters
  • People that hate the leafs enjoy this way too much
  • The media has an uncanny ability to press issues
  • I'd like to discuss it a little today and relate it to ultimate.
I have a bit different perspective of the situation than most. Thanks to my excellent advisor at Western, I've met MLSE President and CEO Richard Peddie on multiple occasions. Meeting him one on one and in group situations, it is very apparent that he is an excellent CEO. He makes MLSE A LOT of money. He's confident, he's charismatic (which he has failed to show on camera lately), and he's diligent. I'm met a lot of Canadian sport executives in the past 2 years, and I would venture to say that he is the best read in terms of executive leadership. We're not talking paperback books by Trump, legitimate authors that academics love and respect. Despite all this, he's suffering a lot of bad PR. Blame the media, blame some poorly executed comments, blame
the on ice fate of the team.

Above Peddie comes a Board of Directors representing the many owners of the team. The have varied interests and egos. World domination and return to the shareholder is a common link. Most prominent is Chairman Larry Tanenbaum.

Below both of these titans is John Ferguson Jr. He's been in power for roughly five years. His main job is to ensure the club's on ice performance, and he's failed. He hasn't traded well. He hasn't signed great contracts. His scouting staff is large but he hasn't drafted well. Overall, his biggest failing (in my opinion) has been the ability to develop a vision and stick to it (Youth, Win Now, Team strategy, etc). For most of his tenure, JFJ got the benefit of the doubt. Despite not being a big name, he has NHL pedigree in his family, a law degree and an extensive NHL record working in player development.

The good times are over. Both Peddie and Tanenbaum seem ready to replace him with an older and more experienced men. Why the team in Toronto needs a president over 70 (Cliff Fletcher, Scotty Bowman) boggles my mind.

My questions are this:
  • Why is the same media calling for the head of a GM that they personally lobbied for a contract extension in the summer. Does the media have any long term memory?
  • Why do fans jump to conclusions on their teams in the midst of slumps and streaks?
  • Why would a team with such great leadership be so swayed by a media backlash?
How does this relate to Ultimate?

Ultimate teams and players don't have a lot of media to deal with in tough times. I am thankful I didn't have to face the media after nationals last year (my team had its "wheels fall off"). However, there is a throng of people in the community with their own agendas and their own ideas of leadership and organization evaluation.

This year, I saw a man lose his paid ultimate job ("resigned", as it seems everyone does in the association) because of persistent pressure (and some propaganda) from league members and a board that has very little private sector/sport leadership experience to draw from. Captains of the field yes, captains of industry definitely not.

This man was not perfect. He had failings in his management style. However, he had held his position for over 7 years and was a huge source of tacit knowledge with regards to fields, local politics, youth programs, comp programs and the league itself and oversaw huge growth. However, various groups (some very good people among them) personally came to dislike the man and he went from popular to out of the picture very fast. Didn't like his personality, resented his being paid, and the list went on.

We're not the media and we shouldn't eat our own without valid reason. Taking someone's source of income away from them is a very serious manner, and I resent the mob mentality in ultimate as much as I do when sports media attacks a team on a 5 game losing streak. If someone is doing a poor job by the evaluation goals set out, sack them by all means.

It seems very easy for volunteers and league members to slag online and attack petition online with the previous mentioned mob mentality. However, we should make sure we elect/appoint boards and staffs that do the right thing. True leadership looks at the big picture. It sticks to the vision. It can be counted on in times of crisis. If your association or team doesn't understand that, you're lose valuable people and ultimate loses.
I predict JFJ will be fired and the coach (Paul Maurice) will need a miracle. Peddie will relinquish his President duties and remain the CEO. A more media friendly face will represent the team. The team will still suck. Leaf Nation will still scream for Dougie Gilmour and look at grainy black and white victory parades from 1967.

I love the salary cap!!


higy said...

Your questions

1# Why is the same media calling for the head of a GM that they personally lobbied for a contract extension in the summer. Does the media have any long term memory?

-Who was lobbying for an extension? I consider myself a somewhat knowledgeable fan and have been waiting for JFJ to get fired since atleast early last season. If there was media influence, I can't remember it.

#2 Why do fans jump to conclusions on their teams in the midst of slumps and streaks?

There are many reasons for this, some psychological, some not so much. But this is not the case right now with the leafs. 4? seasons now of lower finishes than the previous years. Sure it is culminating now with 5/6 losses an 11/13 or something like that, but this is the result of several years of mismanagement.

#3 Why would a team with such great leadership be so swayed by a media backlash?

There are tens if not more full time media sports analysts that have full time jobs to write about sports in TO. Basically it's a case of too many people all writing stories and let's be honest, negative media sells.

With the somewhat recent decade of leafs sub-mediocrity under harold baller, coupled with the abundance of media in Toronto, it's no surprise that the media, fans and even some execs in MLSE are calling for someone's head.

Sport Management Steven said...

-Every media outlet and fan site was full of people advocating a contract extension as of last season. People thought the one year extension MLSE exercised last year wasn't enough. You might not be one of these, but you can't speak for the whole "leaf nation"

-I think fans respond to whatever the media focuses on. One of the biggest flaws of journalism grads (especially from college) is the major narrow focus of their studies. We as fans trust these people a little too much. However, the big picture is also negative, I'll give you that.

-You're grossly underestimated the amount of sports media my friend, let alone hockey media, in Toronto.

-You're still one of my favorite receivers Higy!!!.

Nate said...

I agree that the overall coverage of the leafs is too negative.

That being said: maybe Leafs management isn't really that great? I can't say I know Richard Peddie personally, but if you are the head of an organization that has failed pretty consistently during your term, then some of the blame must fall on you.

Also, let's be honest, it doesn't take a marketing whiz to sell out the A.C.C. A colobus monkey could do that.

Finally, the tipping point for me has to be the way the whole hiring/firing of JFJ was handled. Hiring him was a major mistake in the first place. He was a complete rookie. It was pretty immediately apparent that he was in over his head. The whole fiasco involving his firing has also been conducted in an extremely unprofessional fashion. There are others who deserve some blame, but when you are the CEO, a lot of the blame will, and should, fall on you.

Sport Management Steven said...

Anyone who makes a colobus monkey joke is welcomed on this site. :)

-The leadership hasn't been great when it comes to the leafs on ice product. Anyone could sell the leafs out, but could anyone build the brand, diversify the portfolio and raise profits to that level. No.

-Media is too negative, but its also too positive when the leafs have a good team. Every fall they are supposed to make the playoffs (even this year) and every deadline they want to make the one trade to get them into elite status. Now that is coming to haunt the team.

-The fact that JFJ was a rookie GM doesn't mean he was in over his head. His dad was a GM and NHL player. He worked in the NHL office. He was a lawyer and was one of the best suited to handling a CBA/salary cap. All great GMs need to be a rookie GM at some point, and this guy had all the tools.

-The GM takes the credit/blame for on ice. The President and the CEO makes the money and handles the board. Theoretically at least. :)

Hodge said...

Sure, all great GMs had to be a rookie at some point, but Toronto is probably the toughest market to get your feet wet in. The fans and media want success now and are absolutely obsessed with the team. I remember seeing an interview with Jason Blake early in the season, I recall him looking blown away by the microscope that the team was under by the media. Something far removed from the Islanders. Some people thrive in that environment, and obviously some fail.

I'm with Higy, thinking that he should have been gone long ago or not even given the job in the first place. Anywho, as the Leafs always do, they bring back some old player to appease the fans (Gilmour's name has been thrown around as a replacement for JFJ) for the rest of the year. At least this time it is not on the ice, so they won't be throwing away their future. When they brought Wendel Clark back to the team it cost them a draft pick which ended up being Luongo....sigh

Sport Management Steven said...

I'm sure the presence of Pat Quinn was a big factor in the hiring of JFJ. Quinn was teflon in that town, and hiring a highly touted 'rookie' GM was the best of both worlds. Keep Quinn out of the GM and drafting chair until they had a reason to fire him, and secure a keep young talent who was part of the successful St Louis organization (Asst GM)

If you think hiring a rookie GM in a big market is a mistake, then what say you of Theo Epstein in Boston. He was my age when he got hired in Beantown.

The truth is, real leaders hire people for their talent, not for what they've done. Much like the Jason Blake mistake signing, the team can't hire a GM for past glory. The rules of the GM game are different now.