Update 5/12/2011 Charlie Weis is now the offensive coordinator at Florida. He turned out to be a great recruiter and poor player developer. Brian Kelly (Cincinnati) is now the Notre Dame football coach.
The institution was legendary — even mythic. But her glory had grown faded and tattered. Her CEO of her leading division had just been fired and, in the search for a new CEO, the naysayers spoke:
“The job is too hard. It cannot be done any longer by anyone.”
“They can no longer compete for top talent. The requirements are too high.”
“Her glory days are over.”
Finally, the search committee selected the new CEO. Once again, the naysayers spoke:
“He cannot succeed. He has never been a CEO before.”
“He has no “industry” experience, so he cannot do what is needed.”
Yet this new CEO made the naysayers look foolish. He is now celebrated as the “savior” of this legendary institution. This is the story of who he is and how he did the impossible.
Before taking this job, Mr. Weis had been Offensive Coordinator of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Though a graduate of the University and the owner of four Super Bowl rings, Mr. Weis had never been a head coach at the college or pro level, which is why there were doubts. (He had once been a high school head coach.)
Coach Weis started by assembling his staff. In an approach that would impress Jim Collins, author of one of my all time favorite books, Good to Great, Coach looked far and wide. Notre Dame’s defensive secondary has been abysmal under Ty Willingham. So Mr. Weis asked himself “Which NFL team’s secondary gave my Patriot offense fits?” The answer: the Miami Dolphins. So Mr. Weis picked up the phone and placed a call to Bill Lewis, long time Defensive Secondary Coach of the Dolphins and invited him to join him at Notre Dame. He placed calls to many more experienced and top coaches, including Rob Ianello from Wisconsin, wide receivers coach and one of the top recruiting coordinators in the country, John Latina from Ole Miss, Mike Haywood from Texas, who coached running backs like Cedric Benson and Reuben Mendoza from Ole Miss for strength and conditioning.
Next, Coach Weis reached back and called people like Joe Montana, Rudy, Joe Theisman and Chris Zorich. (Mr. Zorich had been furious with the University for the firing of Tyrone Willingham.)
Today, Notre Dame finished with a remarkable 9-2 record and has one of the top three recruiting classes coming in. They play on January 2nd in the Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State and have received a $14.5 million payday.
Nice story, but what does that have to do with me, CEO of a sofware company?
The answer: Plenty.
Lessons from Charlie Weis
1) Your staff is your most important decision. Hire persons, not resumes. Look at the individual and assess him or her for the future. Look well beyond the obvious.
2) Recruitment of your direct reports ought to be an ongoing job. Invest in it. Read blogs like this one. Network constantly. Look outside your industry (Case in point, Scott Cook, CEO of Intuit, tapped an executive from GE and was advised NOT to look at Silicon Valley “leadership”)
3) Don’t trust conventional wisdom. Just because people think it cannot be done — it can.
4) First Who…then What. Words from Good to Great, but CEO’s must embrace them. Who is the most important decision you will ever make.