Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Houston Texans Strategy is Paying Off

Houston Texans NFL football strategy
It probably won't surprise readers of this blog to hear that I like to approach football from a strategic point of view. I avoid being frustrated by our quarterback's latest interception, or our running back's latest fumble by focusing on the bigger picture -- where do we stand compared to our strategic plan?

The Vision: Sustainable Excellence

My vision for the team is what I would call "Sustainable Excellence." By that I mean a team that is consistently among the best in the National Football League (NFL). It's a team that consistently makes it to the playoffs, and sometimes wins the Super Bowl. I firmly believe that is the organization's vision as well. And, I believe we're on the right track.

Clearly, one key to realizing that vision is getting the right people. Let's look at some aspects of the Texans' "people" strategy.

The Strategy: Choirboys, and Anyone from Denver!?

I have often heard discouraged Texans fans say that the Texans' problem is that they only want "choirboys." Fans were equally perplexed by the influx of players, and coaches, from the Denver Broncos. What's so great about Denver they would ask; when is the last time the Broncos won anything? What these fans were missing is an understanding that one of the major challenges facing a new NFL franchise is building a winning culture from scratch.

Winning Organizations & Cultures

If you're hired by the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers or any other perennially successful team, there is already an existing culture in place. New players already have a mental image of what it means to play Chicago Bear football, or Oakland Raider football.

On those teams, you have coaches and players around you who are team icons -- who know what it takes to be successful, who know what it takes to win playoff games and Super Bowls, who know what it takes to be all-pro. If you're an Oakland Raider defensive back, you have Willie Brown and Rod Woodson as coaches -- Raiders who are two of the best to ever play the game. If you're a Green Bay Packer or New York Jet quarterback, you have Bart Starr or Joe Namath as mentors-in-waiting. If you're a Baltimore Raven linebacker, you have a teammate with about 15 years of experience who has been all-pro, played deep into the playoffs, and been the Super Bowl MVP! The Houston Texans had none of that.

Even not-so-successful teams usually have veteran players who at least know the plays. Players spend more time with the other players in their position group than they do with their coaches. The veterans in their position group that know the system are an invaluable resource for the new players. The Texans did not have those veteran players either.

Creating Houston Texans Football

Since the Texans did not have an existing culture, they had to build one. To do so, they brought in coaches steeped in the offense that Coach Kubiak wanted to run, such as Alex Gibbs and Brian Pariani (both former Broncos). They brought in veteran players in virtually every position group who could be a resource on how to execute the offense on the field -- e.g., Chris Myers for the offensive line, Jeb Putzier for the tight ends (more former Broncos).

In addition, the team brought in players that know, and could serve as role models of, what it takes to excel -- e.g., Eric Moulds, a former all-pro receiver. Eugene Wilson, Antonio Smith and Daniel Manning are all players who know what it takes to go deep into the playoffs.

Having players like Jeff Zgonina on the team helped reinforce the message that what we care about is production. Players like that have helped provide role models for how hard the team expects players to prepare and work, and to help them understand that superior skill is only part of what it takes to have a long, successful NFL career.

Acquiring Houston Texan Football Players

Clearly, getting the right kind of players is critical -- especially at the onset. Based upon what I see and read, the Texans are targeting tough, physical, athletic, smart, versatile, competitive, high-character players with a passion for the game. As a new team, they are also targeting leaders; many of the drafted players were captains on their college teams. Obviously, that's a lot to ask for, and they won't get all of that in every player. But, I think that's the kind of team we're starting to see emerge.

Is there too much emphasis on character, and "choirboys"? Perhaps. However, adding a potentially disruptive player to an established team like the Patriots is not likely to have the same effect as adding that same player to a new team like the Texans. So, that emphasis may well lessen once the team's culture is firmly established.

Is there too much emphasis on leaders? Perhaps. On the other hand, here's what Ray Lewis said when asked about the secret of the Ravens' sustained success: there is "a certain mentality and a certain level of leaders that we have always had around here. That once they bring them {new players} in, we do the rest."

Will the Texans Beat the Ravens?

Call me a "homer," but I really like what the Texans are doing. Will the Texans beat the Ravens in the playoffs? I certainly hope so. But, even if they don't, they're still well on their way to becoming an elite NFL team. I would not be surprised if in the not too distant future the Texans are viewed as a model for how to build an NFL franchise from scratch.

Related Posts

Thoughts on the Upcoming Texans - Patriots Playoff Game
My All Ex-Houston Texans Team A not-too-shabby team consisting solely of ex-Texans.
Houston Texans 2012: A Few Words of Caution
A Look at the Houston Texans Draft Record
Fire Kubiak!
A Personal Strategic Planning Example, for more on strategic planning. Note: this post is on personal planning, but follows the same principles as organizational planning.
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