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Butch Davis, Or Why Management Books Are Not All Horrible

Butch Davis shows the unfortunate relevance of management books yet again by ignoring one simple rule.

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Management books are great reading. Typically this is because they are short, ostensibly because managers are busy, but more realistically because management is the least pleasant thing in the world, and the last thing anyone wants to read about after a day of management is management. This is why management books contain no more than eighty words a page, and generally look like this.

Secrets to BOLD WORDS MEAN PAY ATTENTION! Skim the rest.

  • Set GOALS!
  • GOALS are important.
  • You will get busy and forget THE GOALS 
  • You will take vacation
  • At the end of the fiscal year, PANIC LIKE CRAZY ABOUT THE GOALS
  • Synergy
See the important recap of this page in THE AUDIOBOOK which you will listen to half of in the car before getting bored and putting your iPod back on shuffle. You'll probably listen to more Maroon 5 than you're comfortable admitting in public. It's okay. Everyone does.

Mocking them is easy, but they do try to do something very difficult: teach you how to evaluate and manage people. Please keep in mind that this is an extremely difficult thing to do, mostly because people are extremely undependable, inconsistent, flighty, unevenly talented, and incapable of admitting their own shortcomings. This includes the person doing said management, and that's where a double dose of human error gets especially fun. 

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Now that we've gotten to the half-blind leading the half-blind scenario that is any organization with more than five people in it, let's discuss exactly what happened to Butch Davis at North Carolina. Take it as a given that no one has any clue why Butch Davis, who represented the Tar Heels at ACC Media Days just this past Monday, was fired almost a year after the accusations of mismanagement and lack of oversight at Carolina began to surface. The best possible answer is that the first real consensus reached by a new administration was that Davis had to go. The most amusing is that UNC officials set a Microsoft Outlook reminder to fire him, but just received a "You are one year late for FIRE BUTCH DAVIS. Accept/Dismiss?" notice. (Additional reason: may have been deeply uncomfortable with a grown man who demanded to be called "Butch.")

Read more: The NCAA's UNC Investigation And The Fall Of Butch Davis

It's not like Davis didn't do some good things at Carolina. He greatly upgraded the talent on the Heels' roster, and to bolster this argument go back and watch the last of John Bunting's teams and be astonished at the slows across the board. ("Molasses Lightning": a fantastic name for a dessert, and a horrendous nickname for an offense.) Davis did recruit well, and Carolina was more competitive than they had been since the tenure of Mack Brown in Chapel Hill. That happens to be a very low bar, but this is the nice things part of the discussion.

That said, the corner never turned at UNC, or even came close to turning. Davis' teams never finished above .500 in the league. They never played in the ACC Championship Game, and in three appearances in mid-tier bowls only won one: last year's controversial victory over a mediocre Tennessee Volunteers squad in the Music City Bowl that prompted a change in the rulebook regarding clock rules. Their signature win is ... well, what exactly? The 20-17 victory over Virginia Tech in 2009? Last year's win over Florida State? The Music City Bowl? I'd argue that beating LSU in the 2010 opener despite missing 13 starters and burning countless redshirts in the process was their most heroic game, but that technically isn't a win, and awarding heroism points for self-inflicted roster losses seems beyond wrong. 

UNC got to that point in Atlanta in 2010, the year when Carolina was really and truly supposed to emerge as a power, through gross mismanagement of the Tar Heels' program off the field. If Davis' onfield accomplishments were middling to somewhat improved, the administration of the program grades out at somewhere above atrocity and below bureaucratic horrorshow.  Players were implicated in a plagiarism scandal involving a tutor. This is bad, and it becomes worse when you remember that said tutor once tutored Butch Davis' children.

Players had public contact with agents. This is way bad by the NCAA's rules, and gets much worse when you add the not-insignificant detail that one of the funnels to the agent was John Blake, the recruiting coordinator for the North Carolina Tar Heels who was being paid by said sports agent. The AD staunchly and incoherently defended Davis, a loyal but boneheaded move that has now has them both looking for work not because they're looking to do new and exciting things with their life, but because they have been fired. 

The case study here is doubly fascinating because of Manager A's previous success in turning around a program, i.e. the work Butch Davis did in setting up Miami for two national title game appearances at the turn of the century. In a previous life, Davis had done everything he was supposed to do: set up standards, hired solid subordinates, and made a machine so sturdy it rolled on into a national championship without him at the helm.

Yet at North Carolina, Davis struggled to evaluate the coaching talent that would help him develop and evaluate roster talent. He made the bizarre hire of Blake as recruiting coordinator, a coach with limited football knowledge and a reputation as an unscrupulous and rapacious pitchman. He hired John Shoop from the NFL as his offensive coordinator despite Shoop's subpar record as a coordinator and lack of college experience. He would pay for one on the field in terms of a conservative, unproductive offense that brought the ceiling for North Carolina's potential down. He would pay for the other off the field with his job, and forward the receipt to UNC, who must now face the full brunt of an NCAA investigation for Blake and company's misdeeds under Davis' supervision. 

The Tar Heels rolled Davis' head toward the NCAA--the Tressel Bouquet, if you will--and can now only hope for the court's mercy. Make fun of management books all you like, but one phrase from one of those seems really apt here. It's from one of the most cliched, management-speak classics of all time, Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It's number two on the list: "Begin with the end in mind."

Keep in mind, this is a terrible rule in the existential sense. (See Keynes' answer to this, "In the long run, we are all dead.") However, if Butch Davis had thought about this the minute he considered hiring John Blake, he might have hesitated and reconsidered, and we'd be talking about how Butch Davis was getting fired for being mediocre in 2013, not about how he was thrown to the wolves of the NCAA in 2011 for making bad hiring decisions in 2007.

In the long run, being fired for what's happening on the field is far better than being canned for what's happening off the field. With one, you might get another chance. With the other, you're left reading horrible management books late at night, looking for what went wrong one page and a bunch of nonsensical bullet points at a time.