New Castle News

November 29, 2012

Tim Kolodziej: Three lessons we can learn from Notre Dame, Indiana returning to glory

Tim Kolodziej
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — They're back in the spotlight.

And it seems like old times.

Man, the state of Indiana has a lot to smile about this year.

Notre Dame football and Indiana basketball are once again powers on the national scene. And college sports are better for it.

The Irish are a perfect 12-0 and will meet the winner of Alabama-Georgia for the national title in January. Indiana, meanwhile, is 7-0 and crushed North Carolina on national TV the other night.

Both teams are ranked No. 1 in the polls.

So, how did they return to the top after years of mediocrity? What has led to their resurgence?

We can point to three key factors:

1) Players — We'll start with the obvious. You've got to have them. Whether you're leading a youth league team, a high school squad or a small business, you need talent. There's no way around it. You may overachieve for a period of time, but you can't sustain it.

And both Notre Dame and Indiana have some players. Both teams are deeper and faster than they've been in quite some time.

And it's showing up on the scoreboard.

The Leadership Lesson: Coaches and supervisors, you must put your ego aside. We know you're good, but you can't turn chicken poop into chicken salad. You just can't. Success begins and ends with great talent. Find it, develop it and create ways for it to shine.

2) Culture — Each school’s coach — Brian Kelly of the Irish and Tom Crean of the Hoosiers — have done a fantastic job of cleaning up messes left behind by their predecessors.

Both work notoriously long hours, are legendary for their tough practices and are among the best in terms of X's and O's.

But the secret to their current success is changing the culture of their organizations. And that starts with their recruiting. Both have an eye for quality talent and filling key spots, but they don't necessarily recruit all-stars and try to make them into a team. Instead, they recruit a TEAM of all-stars with an eye on chemistry and character.

The Leadership Lesson: Do whatever it takes to find the best talent, but understand that teamwork and chemistry are hugely important components of success. You're not just filling spots. You're molding a cohesive unit. There's a huge difference.

3) First Followers — As I've written before, coaches are the ULTIMATE leaders of their teams. But they may not be the most IMPORTANT leaders. Teams thrive when their best players serve in that role — in essence, becoming the "first followers." When a team's best players work the hardest and make sure their teammates are following suit, you've got something special.

Cody Zeller of Indiana and Manti Te'o of Notre Dame are true All-Americans and great players. But they may be even better leaders.

The Leadership Lesson: Who are your players really following? The leader? Or the best player? If you can get your stars to be "all-in," their teammates will follow.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying that coaching is overrated. Not at all. But even the greatest coaches will tell you their plays work much better when the talent is at a higher level.

We're seeing a great example of that right now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Has Coach Mike Tomlin suddenly forgotten everything that led his Steelers to a pair of Super Bowls in the past five years? Or does his game plan work a little better when Big Ben is at quarterback, Antonio Brown is at wide receiver, and Troy Polamalu is at safety?

Make no mistake, the Irish and the Hoosiers are back. And based on their recruiting classes for next season, they aren't going away any time soon.

The players, of course, will see to that.

Oh, and the coaches will, too.