LMSM 54 | Losing Culture

 

Winning begets more winning and losing begets more losing. Inertia sets in with any team, regardless of how many members are changed out. In this short episode, Frank and Ian lament the trajectory of their favorite football teams and relate their woes to any organization on a losing streak.

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Why Is It So Hard To Change A Losing Culture?

Frankie.

Ian, you son of a bitch.

We are going to talk about something that you and I know a lot about, losing cultures. That is what this short-form episode is going to be about. It is brought upon me because I am still reeling and depressed about my beloved Detroit Lions game. I don’t know how to start, but we had Baltimore beat, who’s one of the best teams in the league and the Lions are an absolutely terrible team.

The Lions have this way of doing this to me. They’d been doing it for years. I start games by saying, “We’re going to get killed. I don’t care anyway. I’ll watch a quarter and then I’ll turn it off.” They hang around and get me to believe until the fourth quarter where something inevitably depressing and horrible happens.

It takes a lot to overcome bad culture. Click To Tweet

In this case, not only did the Lions lose on the last-second field goal. It was a record-breaking 66-yard field goal that hit a crossbar and still found a way to eke its way over the line. This came after Baltimore converted a fourth-and-19 and the referees missed a big penalty. Everything that pretty much could go wrong for the Lions went wrong in the last minute. This isn’t new.

The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. In fact, they have one playoff wins since 1957, which is incredibly depressing. Yet, I’m still a diehard fan. Frank has his Miami Dolphins shirt on. The Dolphins aren’t quite the Lions, but damn they’re close as a losing organization. It’s given Frank a lot of pain over the years rooting for that squad.

I’m going to retort to your terrible Detroit Lions with this. This is the former Miami Dolphin theme song whenever they would score a touchdown. “Miami has the Dolphins, the greatest football team. We take the ball from goal to goal like one’s ever seen. We’re in the air. We’re on the ground. We’re always in control and when you say Miami, you’re talking Super Bowl.”

Losing Culture: The difference between good and bad decisions can be very minimal but if you add those up over years, you get the difference between similar stories.

 

This is the song they’re saying in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and somewhere around 2007, they stopped. They now sing a Jimmy Buffett song, something about living in paradise every time the Dolphins score a touchdown because we’re not going to the fucking Super Bowl. We’re not winning. We’re absolutely terrible. You can no longer alienate your fan base with a song that is not relevant.

That is hilarious. The fans were like, “Stop making us sing a song that says Super Bowl. You’re lying. We’re not even close.”

We haven’t been to the Super Bowl since the 1984 season.

You got hammered in that game, right?

Yeah. Who cares? We were there. We haven’t been back since. To show how futile they have been, at my wedding, my best friend made a toast. He said in the toast because we spent our entire childhood worshipping the Dolphins. He literally cursed and goes, “The Dolphins still haven’t won a fucking Super Bowl.” He literally said that. When you’re talking about futile, the Dolphins have won a playoff game. You said you guys haven’t won since ’91. It’s 2004 or 2005. It’s been decades.

What fascinates me, Frank, for a long time Lion’s fans like me, out of the top twenty most heartbreaking losses that are hilarious for outsiders to see, I think the Lions might have 4 or 5 of them. They’re always in these really big public moments. Aaron Rodgers throws a 70-yard Hail Mary on Monday night.

Also, on a Thursday night.

On a fourth down after there was a penalty to give him one more throw, I was at that game. We beat Atlanta and then they called a touchdown back with Golden Tate and run the clock off. We lose the game. The Lion’s fans are given a win and then it’s taken away at the last second. There are so many of these. Brett Favre did it to us in a wild card game that Neil and I went to.

There are so many of these last second that I can’t even believe that they found a way to lose that game. It’s amazing moments. What blows me away, this team that just lost, 35%, 40% of them weren’t on last year’s team. They were on different teams. The coaching staff knew. The general managers knew, the whole coaching staff. I’m talking top to bottom was replaced.

None of these people were there for all these games that we’ve been tortured by for years and yet, they found a way to lose a game in just as excruciating fashion. The question is, “How do you change a losing culture?” No matter who comes in, the new group finds a way to lose just the way the old group was losing. How do you change it?

I’m going to read you another quote. “Losing is a disease as contagious as polio. Losing is a disease as contagious as syphilis. Losing is a disease as contagious as bubonic plague. Attacking one but infecting all, but curable.”

They need to hire Roy Hobbs. Is that what they need to do?

That is a line from a 1980s movie, The Natural. Roy Hobbs is this wonder story. The Dolphins and the Lions have both had Roy Hobbs. The Dolphins had Dan Marino. The Lions had Barry Sanders and Megatron, two of the greatest players. Both of which retired at 29 because the team was so bad. They just hung it up early.

“I couldn’t do it. They betrayed me. I hate football.” The Lions literally made them hate football. Like, “Don’t even train me. I quit.”

What you realize is this. It takes a lot to overcome bad culture. Let’s talk about some bad cultures that turned into a great culture. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Dolphins ruled the world. They were great. They had the only undefeated season. They went to an incredible Super Bowl. They had an incredible coach. They had incredible ownership. They were great. The Patriots were awful. The Patriots were so bad in the ’70s and ’80s that Bob Kraft basically stole them. What he did is he negotiated because he’s a real estate guy. He understood contract law. He bought the stadium and the parking lot.

He forced the team owners to sell to him because they were so poorly run. He literally told the owners in a negotiation, they’re like, “You’re a really hard landlord.” because he owned the stadium and the team owners said that to him. He said, “You should read your lease.” They didn’t read their lease because they were bad business people. What Bob Kraft did because he was smart, he took ownership. He used the Matterhorn technique. He bought the parking lot, the ground, the stadium and he ultimately bought the team. He put smart people in charge.

He went to Bain Capital in Boston. Bain Capital is smart people. All went to Harvard. He took people from Bain Capital who had no business in football that was smart. He put them from the top down and three decades later, they have an amazing run because it was redone. What the Dolphins have done a terrible job at and what the Lions have done a terrible job at is they never had a reset. All these good players and good people from other teams come in. It’s so dysfunctional around there. The Bengals can be lumped into this category. It’s so bad, this inertia carries with them. The Patriots did a hard reset with new leadership and because of that, they went on a different trajectory.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Jaguars deal with it. I agree with you. The Patriots are a really good example of this. I think the Colts are a good example. They got a new owner, a new general manager who was good, a star quarterback, who’s the lead and a new coach with the Dungy. They had all four of those because the Colts were awful for decades since they left Baltimore. I think the organizations that do it well, replaced the owner, the general manager, the head coach and they get a star player, who’s a coach on the field, which is always the quarterback.

It will be really interesting how the Jaguars do because the Jaguar has got a new owner. They brought in a new general manager. They brought in a new coach in Urban Meyer and they drafted the number one pick who was the consensus best quarterback going in college. I haven’t followed ownership for the Dolphins well. What I know about the Lions, through all these coaching changes that I just talked about and all these GMs that came through, the one thing that was always consistent was the Ford family since 1957. The Ford family has been in control of the Lions and they’ve been the worst ownership group in football. It’s not they even care, they’re incompetent. These are the 3rd, 4th, 5th generations of Henry Ford. They’re already terrible at managing the formula.

Let’s stop for a second. They’re not incompetent at everything. If you get into Ford, you can say that they’re not as good as the old man who started it. These people, that own football franchises, like the Washington football team, formerly the Redskins, are owned by a multi-billionaire. These people are not incompetent at everything, but what you realize is skills are not transferable. Dan Snyder, who is the owner of the Washington football team, was brilliant in marketing. It’s hard to believe he’s so good at marketing, he’s killed the golden goose that was the Redskins subscriptions and season ticket holders.

Skills are not transferrable. Click To Tweet

These people are typically good at something and have accomplished something. There was a line from a show where they said, “The way that we knight people in America is we give them sports team franchises.” These people are good at something, but those skills are not transferable or their egos are too big or they’re not current enough or they think, “I’m great at this. I can be great at this.” Those things don’t transfer.

My argument would be William Clay Ford inherited money and did a bad job at the Ford Motor Company. You can see what happened in that company. A bad executive is a bad executive. You switched them over to a different business, no matter how much money they have, if they don’t make good decisions, they don’t make good decisions. Now, it’ll be interesting to see how some of those changes because a lot of those things they’ve gotten right over time. I will not be surprised if Matt Stafford goes and win an MVP. He’s destroying it with the Rams. It looks amazing.

We had the quarterback. I think Campbell’s a good coach. I was excited about that. We’ve had different pieces, as you said, but if ownership, if the top level is incompetent, it is hard for the rest of an organization to change if there’s a losing culture. It gets overlooked in the NFL. What good ownership matters and how involved they are. The things that they do to keep it going. There’s a lot of NFL franchises. Look at the Rooney’s and Pittsburgh. It has been good for years. That’s a solid organization. Top-down but similar to the Fords, they had one owner. We had another and their path went very different than ours.

What I will say is the old man died for Detroit and he wielded it to his wife, who then gave it to her daughter. She has a chance to change it because she’s a little bit different in the way she thinks. A losing culture doesn’t change by switching to people out on the team. That’s hard to ask because what happens is even if you switch out a lot of them, they learn from the other group. They quickly becomes who they are. The Lions have drafted some incredible people from incredible colleges and winning organizations, but I’ve seen how quickly they become disgruntled. How quickly they learn how to lose and how to not give effort. It’s hard to change if you don’t change from the top.

You brought the Steelers, so I’m going to bring something up. Do you know how many coaches the Steelers have had since 1969?

Three.

Correct. Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. Most likely, all three will be Hall of Famers. Noll and Cowher are. Tomlin will probably get there.

For sure, he deserves it.

I think he’s won one Super Bowl. The point is a stable organization, good structure, a place that is always looked up to, but you can’t win every year. This is how things work in salary. I believe he can’t, but they’re always competitive. They’re always well put together. They always have good continuity. They’re looked at and respected. From 1969 to 2021 is 52 years. In a 52-year run, they’ve had three coaches. They’ve had a handful of general managers.

People turn over, people die and things move on but the structure from the top down is great and they are always consistent, unlike all these other teams that don’t have that. Let’s pivot this to business for a second and then we’ll send it. This is a quickie. It’s really important to talk about your top-down management structure. It’s culture, people, expectations, thoughts and good decision-makers.

The difference in good and bad decisions can be very minimal but if you add those up over years, you get the difference between similar stories. The Steelers and the Lions or even the Steelers and the Giants. The Giants are very well run, but they’ve got the wrong coach. I think they have a good culture. They have good ownership, but they’ve had the wrong coach. They’ve had a couple of good quarterbacks in there and they’ve had flashes, but they’re not as consistent over time.

A great organization can have a few bad years. That doesn’t mean that the losing organization. It means they had a couple of bad years. They made a few bad decisions along the way.

Bad hires, bad decisions, bad drafts.

There’s no way to describe the Lions and 60 years of losing aside from top-down. When you’ve got the top-five draft pick every year for years, they’re hiring amazing talent. The lesson for anyone who’s a manager out there or an executive that’s running a business, you can’t fix a losing culture by hiring better workers. “We just got to hire better people. We got to just bring some better people in.”

LMSM 54 | Losing Culture

Losing Culture: A bad executive is a bad executive. No matter how much money they have, if they don’t make good decisions, they don’t make good decisions.

 

They will quickly assimilate to the culture you have if you’re not giving better direction from the top. You said it, top-down matters. The best employees in the world can get recruited away from a competitor, but if they’re brought into an acidic organization, they’re not going to change it. The workers won’t change the culture of an organization. It doesn’t work. It has to start top-down.

I’m going to tell one story and I’m going to be done. Coronavirus, to me, exposed weakness. If you were physically weak, it killed you, but if your business was physically weak, it killed it. Really good restaurants figured out how to be open seven days later. They adapted. They took their menu. They got it narrow. Their staff went way down. They figured out how to have outdoor seating and how to have takeout. They adapted quickly. Bad companies had good people. Bad companies are exposed in the free market and because of that, they go away and there are good people to be hired.

The difference between NFL football and the regular market is these teams are well-ensconced, they’re protected. The Lions’ incompetence is tied to a league that is non-incompetent and they continue to rise and be profitable because they’re not standing on their own. They’re part of a league that’s helped to float a bunch of bad decisions. Because of that, you see these consistently bad performers. If we go sport over sport, you could look at this with basketball. You can look at this with baseball. I don’t know hockey well enough, but there are examples. There are bad organizations that are in a good lead, so they continue to look bad. On the business side, there’s more truth.

I’ll leave it with one story that I think you’ll appreciate. I would say an NFL team within the umbrella of the NFL, in general, is similar to a mortgage company within a large home builder. Think about how long NVR Mortgage dragged along with crappy customer service within the confines of a bigger organization because it was helped along. Part of the reason why the Lions are allowed to keep losing every year and not replace the owner, is they’re entitled.

The way that we knight people in America is by giving them sports team franchises. Click To Tweet

They’re carried by the incredible parent brand. The only way NVR Mortgage changed its service is the CEO decided it was time to change. He went in and he hired a bunch of executives and he started managing the company more directly himself. It’s the only way it changed. Unless the NFL went in and forced an ownership change, I think I’m going to keep wearing these hats and looking like a dumb ass every Sunday and being depressed about my team because I don’t think it’s ever going to completely change.

Orange looks great on me and Honolulu blue looks great on you.

I appreciate it. Subscribe and give us five stars, especially if you’re an NFL fan. Just because we’re fans of Miami and Detroit, we should get a pity five-star review out of you. Maybe give some comments, especially if you’re like a Patriots or a Packers fan.

Miami has the Dolphins. It’s the greatest football team. We moved the ball from goal to goal like no one’s ever seen.

It’s amazing. Cheeseburger and paradise. Let’s talk about cheeseburgers. Let’s talk, Jimmy Buffett. We quit. We’re giving up.