December 7, 2000: CEOs Make the Tough Decisions

Today, let us discuss the role of the chief executive officer, commonly referred to as the CEO.

Our class assignment will be to look at the firing of Georgia football coach Jim Donnan and the role played by the University’s CEO, Mike Adams.

The first thing to know about CEO’s is they get paid the big bucks and find their pictures at the top of the organization chart because they are in charge.  They are empowered – yea, required – to make decisions that no one else can or will make.  If they make enough right decisions, they get paid more big bucks; if they don’t, they have to move out of the big office with the plush furniture and find another job.

Having worked for a few CEO’s in my past life, they all have one thing in common.  They are decisive.  You can’t be in charge and not be decisive.  CEO’s are also human.  They should make decisions based on the best advice they can get from people they trust.  Unfortunately, too many surround themselves with loyalists who tell them what they want to hear or wait to be asked.

I must confess that President Adams did not consult with your humble servant before pulling the plug on Jim Donnan.  My theory is that he understands my advice is worth what you pay for it.  Zero.  However, that has never deterred me from freely dispensing it to one and all.

Had he asked, I would have told him he did the right thing for the football program.  Friends who are intimately involved in the athletic program tell me that Donnan had lost control of the kids, both on and off the field.  Another year wasn’t going to change that.

However, I would not have let him do it the way he did.  While CEO’s do have responsibility for the ultimate decision, they should never get themselves – or allow others to get them in a position – where they can’t delegate.  As a result of the news conference, Mike Adams has established clearly that he is going to hire the new football coach.  Therefore, he, not Vince Dooley, has just taken on the responsibility for the success or failure of that hire.  That was a mistake.  There is no crowd more fickle than the football crowd.

One thing that many CEO’s have a hard time understanding is that perception is reality.  Here is another dilemma for the University of Georgia.  Over the past decade, UGA has grown into one of the finest academic institutions in the nation.  We had finally tamed the football gods.  Now, the president fires a guy who was 39-19 overall and 25-15 in the SEC.  That isn’t a bad record at most places but at Georgia, it gets the coach fired.  Again, I support his decision but I would have told him to assure us all, that the university is going to remain balanced between academics and athletics.

The news conference came off awkwardly – to be kind.  Free advice:  Always assume what the questions are going to be.  Work out what the answers will be and who will respond.  Get about three or four message points you want to make and make them over and over.  There is no law that says you have to answer a question the way it is asked.  You answer it like you want to.  I don’t think any of that was discussed prior to the press conference and, if it was, the execution resembled the Bulldogs on third and long — poor.

Vince Dooley looked as though he had been dragged to the table.  He said too many times that he would have brought Donnan back for one more year.  He should have said, “I support the president’s decision.  Our further discussions have convinced me it was the right decision.”  If he couldn’t say that, he should have said, “I quit.”  Mike Adams, whether intentionally or not, made Dooley look bad.  They did not look like a team.  I would have counseled the president that Vince Dooley has more political clout in the state than he does.

There are tough days ahead for my university.  How we fare is going to depend on the leadership of the CEO.  What I saw at the news conference convinced me that Mike Adams is decisive and willing to take the heat.  I just hope he is as willing to take advice.  He is going to need it.