Everyone I’ve talked to in the last couple of days has been outraged by the video of the coach physically and verbally abusing his college basketball players. He screamed at them, hit them, and threw basketballs at them. It’s clear to all of us that behavior was unacceptable. The coach was fired this week, although the school became aware of the abuse in December. Why wasn’t he fired immediately? The school’s athletic director said he had hoped to “rehabilitate” the coach. In the athletic director’s resignation letter, he said that he originally wanted to fire the coach, but that after lawyers and HR professionals got involved, the decision was made not to fire him.
As a leader, sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing. We get so concerned about our responsibility to “rehabilitate” people and give them a second chance that we do not take the strong leadership stance that we should. This was clearly not a case of the coach just having a bad day and saying something he immediately regretted. (We’ve all had those days – at least I know I have!) In this case, there was a clear pattern of recurring physical and verbal abuse, which I would think would be a significant violation of the university’s core values.
In my blog posting last week, I talked about how tolerating poor behavior can impact the organization. This situation is a good example of that. What message do you think was sent to the players when they learned that the coach was suspended for three games and fined rather than being fired? What message did that minor slap on the wrist send to others within the organization? Is that an environment in which you would like to work?
What would have happened if the athletic director had immediately fired the coach after investigating the situation? Would he be seen as a strong leader and respected for taking that stance? I believe so. Yes, there was a risk that the coach could have sued him for wrongful termination. Anyone can sue anyone for almost anything these days. What’s important to remember is that you cannot operate from a position of fear. As a leader, you must operate from a position of strength and values. Do the right thing!