Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Challenge of Following the Leader

UPDATE: As you may know, ESPN is reporting that Mike Davis has resigned as head coach of the IU basketball team, effective at the end of the season. Which, after losing to Penn State, can't come soon enough.

I like Mike Davis, the head coach for Indiana University's men's basketball team. He is a good Christian man who is honest and hardworking. I think he has done as well with a bad situation as can be expected (following Bob Knight as head coach). However, after his comments yesterday, I can't see how he will be back for next season. He has all but said that he should no longer be the coach.

It is intriguing that Davis observed that IU should hire "one of their own." That had to be a reference to Steve Alford, IU basketball legend and current head coach at Iowa (which currently is in first place in the Big Ten). What is especially interesting is to see the polarizing opinions on blogs that discuss IU basketball on whether Alford should or should not be the next head coach.

[In the interest of full disclosure, even before Knight left, I felt that Alford should be the next head coach. He was the reason I started following IU basketball in 1984 when, as a freshman, he led IU over the Michael Jordan-led UNC in the Sweet Sixteen.]

To take this a little further, and into a different realm, it is interesting to me the parallels here between following a long-time, successful (and polarizing) head coach and following a long-time, successful pastor. There is no question in my mind that Davis has been a "sacrifical lamb"--ever since he got the job, he has been compared, scruntized, criticized, denigrated, praised, or upheld compared to the ghost of Bob Knight. In how many of our churches does it happen the same way? A long-time pastor leaves and the new pastor is held to the standard, not of biblical faithfulness or pastoral care or passionate vision, but of the previous pastor and that man's quirks, abilities, or liabilities. The previous leader lingers like a ghost in every conversation and in every decision that a church makes.

While we can try to find reasons for this phenomenon (remaining corruption, law-based standards, unrealistic expectations), I think it is easier simply to observe this as part of the natural human reaction to transitions in leadership (whatever the area) and the instability and anxiety that accompanies it. While Davis (or a new pastor) can do certain things to minimize the anxiety within the "system" through calm and calculated leadership, people will still judge leaders by the ghosts who still remain in the community's memory.

Suffice it to say, that one of the great challenges of leadership is to follow "the leader."


Richard A. Bailey said...

Sean, just finished listening to MD on the Dan Patrick Show. He made it pretty clear that he is not looking beyond this year at IU. Made it very clear that he doesn't really expect to be there beyond this year, though he didn't say if that meant he'd resign or be let go. At least he didn't pull a Quinn. Regardless of the circumstances, I simply don't feel that sets a good example for the guys.

Tom said...

Appreciate your post, Sean. I'm an IU grad and posted a blurb on the same topic earlier this week on Blessings & Other Stuff.