Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Failed Apprenticeship of Sage Rosenfels

Pretend for just a moment that you're a big-time corporate executive, a CEO or CFO of a major corporation that is looking to make a huge breakthrough in a single fiscal year. Many analysts have been predicting big things for your company. You have assembled a tremendous collection of young, dedicated talent. You have done your due diligence in the scouting department, and it definitely showed in your last quarter when your company did better than expected. In fact, it was because of this impressive showing that expectations have been so high for this fiscal year.

You have brought together a staff of precocious managers with the potential for innovation. And you've hired one project manager to help pick up the slack when others get sidetracked.

Let's focus on this one project manager for a moment because, simply put, he plays an enormous role in your company. He plays almost an apprentice-type role with the company. He's probably good enough, but he needs some adult supervision and the guiding hands of experience when things go awry. And in business, of course, you have to be prepared when things go awry because they will from time to time.

You have to depend on this apprentice, however, because the lead project manager might have to go away for weeks at a time on business trips. He's not going to be in the office, and hell, he might not even be able to be reached if he's flying to and fro from points and destinations unknown. Your apprentice may not be as savvy as the lead, but he has to be capable enough to guide the employees along without rebellion, effectively keep the customers happy, and when situations arise in the office or in business, he has to be worthy of trust and handle such matters in a dignified, respectable manner that all parties find suitable.

He may not be the lead project manager, he may not even be as good as the lead project manager, but considering the fact that the apprentice is being temporarily entrusted with million-dollar accounts and the good faith of your employees and your customers, he'd better be damned well ready for the tasks and responsibilities at hand.

Let's pretend your apprentice finally gets his big opportunity. It seems like he's doing such an excellent job that it's almost effortless. The employees seem to really respect him, the customers are completely enamored with him, and you're watching the whole thing thinking to yourself, "If he keeps this up, he may be getting a promotion in the near future."

Then the apprentice makes a careless mistake against one of your toughest competitors. It was a mistake that, although costly, you can easily forgive because it was a mistake borne of a competitive, almost fearless, nature. You pull him into your office, and tell him how much you appreciate his efforts, but still, you have to remind him that he has to be careful about being too reckless. Too many mistakes like that will result in the company losing not just competitive momentum, but potentially, millions of dollars in the process.

You send your apprentice project manager back out to face your competition and your customers. But that little chat you just had with him seemingly did no good. That effortless charm has been replaced with overt cautiousness. As a result, he makes another huge mistake against that same competitor, but this time the results are much worse. Catastrophic, in fact.

Your toughest competitor has just trumped your apprentice project manager in such a stunning fashion that, as a result, you have just watched your company's stock tailspin out of control. Your customers are incredibly disappointed with your company, and the product that once had promise has devolved, regressed really, to a incompetent laughingstock.

In vain, your apprentice project manager tries to salvage the situation and in a last-ditch effort tries everything possible to seize momentum and money back to your company. He fails miserably again, making an even dumber decision than the previous two dumb decisions.

Certainly, there were a few things here and there that could have prevented such an absolute collapse. But not many. You have limited options at this point. Your lead project manager won't be back for another week, and your apprentice project manager pretty much single-handily destroyed an entire account, lost millions of dollars for the company, alienated all of his employees and is now routinely mocked at the water cooler by pretty much everyone.

Your competitors have zero respect for his business acumen or his ability to handle pressure. And frankly, you don't either.

The decision for you is really quite simple. Given all the damage he did, you are left with no choice but to immediately fire the apprentice project manager. Yes, he still has talent, but that talent can't be cultivated in your company any longer. It goes well beyond just the millions of dollars lost, you think to yourself. It has so much more to with a complete lack of trust that his peers, your peers and the employees have for him. After such a series of inexplicably poor decisions, you simply cannot afford to entrust him again with your employees or your clientele. The trust in his abilities have been irreversibly shattered, and it is best for all parties to move on in a new direction.

Of course, the task of hiring a new apprentice project manager will be challenging. It will unquestionably require much more time than you really were expecting to spend or have during your work week. But hiring on someone else, sorting through resumes, running interviews and all the things that come with the territory are all going to make your company better in the long-term.

Going in a new direction symbolizes to your customers that such failure will not be tolerated and poor decisions cannot be rewarded. Furthermore, your product will be better and although you may see some struggles initially, over time the company will be much better as a result of this clean slate.

Let's stop pretending now. You are not a CEO of a major corporation, and apparently nobody in the Houston Texans front office is either. After the epic meltdown that the apprentice, Sage Rosenfels, had in the infamous Indianapolis game, I wrote:

"Although this seems rather harsh, I don't see any alternative for the Texans but to cut him right now. Not really for the team's sake really, but for his. I'd almost think that Rosenfels would probably prefer anonymity at this point anyway, and God knows there are enough places for a journeyman QB to latch onto anyways."

From a business perspective, firing Sage Rosenfels was the only logical option, even if seemed pretty brutal at the time. His salary which the Texans would have had to pay him whether he was on the roster or not was basically a sunk cost. It was money that was down the drain, an unsolvable cost that would just have to be dealt with by the company and the accountants as a loss.

True also that hiring a new quarterback in such a short period of time would be an arduous process to say the very least. That said, however, the new quarterback wouldn't be expected to save the season either because, frankly, due to the actions of Rosenfels that pipe dream has been essentially snuffed. At least for this year, certainly.

But the Texans decided to stay with their embattled apprentice, the backup in turmoil, Sage Rosenfels on Sunday against the Ravens due to Matt Schaub's knee injury. Four interceptions from Rosenfels and a 41-13 thumping have only led to a larger chasm of distrust from the team, his peers, and perhaps most importantly, the paying customers.

Think back to earlier in this column when I mentioned that your company was losing millions of dollars as a result of your apprentice project manager's actions. For the Texans, that's no lie.

Consider the following two points, if you will.

1. The Texans had all but beaten the Colts, and were up by 17 points with about five minutes to go. If they won, they would have gone to 1-3 with an easy stretch of Miami, Detroit and Cincinnati all visiting Houston. Not only could they have been 4-3, but they would have picked up a crucial division win on the Colts.

Gaining a division victory in a brutally tough division like the AFC South was critical for a possible playoff berth. Maybe if the Texans beat the Colts, they still wouldn't have made the playoffs, but Sage Rosenfels' actions in that game without question decided their postseason fate. The fact that Rosenfels potentially cost the Texans, literally, millions of dollars in revenue due to them not making the postseason cannot sit well with any business owner no matter how lacking in business acumen they may be.

2. One of our closest friends at SportsKarma, Brad Hoegler, is a huge sports fan and a Texans season ticket holder. After Sunday's contest I asked him point blank, "Based on what you saw today, would you renew your season tickets for next season?" His answer was unapologetic.

"From what I saw today," Hoegler said. "I'd say no. That was terrible. I don't even want to talk about it."

He kept his word. Normally, Brad will talk to me about sports for hours on end, literally. After Sunday, I got one phone call from Brad of about two minutes. He was too disgusted to talk about the product on the field, and given today's current economic state, I can't say that I would blame him if that was a cost that he decided to forsake in 2009, even if the Texans were 6-3 and not 3-6.

If Rosenfels doesn't throw a single interception, maybe the Texans still lose the game against the Ravens. But his actions dictated an inevitable loss. It is because of those actions that a season-ticket holder is right now seriously giving thought to not renewing next year. That is also a loss, potentially, of millions of dollars in revenue.

Are there other factors besides Rosenfels' performance that signal trouble for the Houston Texans? Undoubtedly yes, but none are more painfully obvious to the casual observer than one man's mistakes that should have never been allowed to happen in the first place.

Recently in sports and life, we've seen great changes take place and we've had a chance to see people given even a glimmer of hope. Knicks fans saw Isiah Thomas purged from the organization. Lions fans saw Matt Millen fired, and although they don't have a win yet, at least the direction of the franchise is better than what it was. Politically, we saw a bumbling, incompetent fool who can barely articulate a sentence, let alone policy, whose ideology was trumped by a young man from the Midwest who has brought great joy and hope for millions of Americans and billions around the globe.

This Sunday against the Colts, I guess Brad and I will just have to hope for better days. As it stands right now we're watching a bumbling, incompetent fool barely able to complete a pass under center.

Worse yet, we don't see a single person in sight with any common business sense to pull the plug on someone not worthy of our money and our time. But perhaps most importantly, Sage Rosenfels isn't worthy of our trust either.