Fire Gene Smith? Scapegoating doesn’t address the underlying issues

OK so more trouble for the Buckeyes and “FireGeneSmith”: is now active.

The “Fire Person X” strategy hasn’t worked out well so far for Ohio State. The theory behind firing someone is that this individual is responsible for all the problems, if we get rid of him/her that will fix the problem. So Ohio State fires the coach and “fires” the most visible player involved with past violations. Surprise, violations are still happening after these people are gone. So lets find some more people to fire, damn it, the rot must be within one of them.

When a problem happens, firing someone is the crudest and least-effective tool;, it is pretty much the hallmark of a bad manager. A good manager will understand the causes of the problem, and then will talk with the employees involved to assess what they have learned from the situation, if they will avoid this problem in the future, if they can still be effective at doing their job (and maybe doing it better now that they have learned what not to do). A good manager will only replace a person if they aren’t learning from the mistake (and thus repeating it), and of course a good manager only replaces someone if the manager believes there is a better solution available.

Ohio State pretty much failed these tests in their firing of Tressel. Was Tressel learning from his mistakes? He seems like someone who takes mistakes to heart. Did Ohio State have a better candidate available? On the field and off the field, the answer is obviously “no” at this point. Did firing Tressel get at the root problem? Obviously not, and now the university, having already fired the “It’s Tressel’s fault” bullet, has to cast around and blame someone else.

And so now it is Gene Smith’s turn on the hotseat. The problems in the football program now are all on him. So should he just be fired? Well, reading above, firing him in kneejerk fashion may not be helpful. However, Gene has made some big mistakes in the past year:

* The kneejerk firing of Tressel. Read above. Gene has done a poor job diagnosing the problems in the program and reacting to them. Does Gene understand this? Would he behave differently? These are conversation points for Gene and his superiors.
* Inability to handle pressure from press and trustees. Did Gene fire Tressel prematurely in the face of pressure from media and from trustees responding to media? This kind of pressure is just part of the job, and if Gene cannot handle it on an ongoing basis, he is not the right guy.
* Inability to get out in front of the compliance issue. The various strategies of denial, containment, NCAA appeasement, back-room dealing, lobbying for cost of attendance increases, etc — they don’t seem to be working out. Does Gene have the ability to navigate these waters? If not, who does?

It is clearly time for heart to heart discussions between Gene and his superiors on all these points. It may be time for him to go. But Gene may also be exactly the best guy for the job right now, if he has learned from the past year of painful decisions.