Randy Moss – The Manager’s Dilemma

Randy Moss, one of the most productive and highly paid wide receivers in NFL history, but also one of the most traded potential hall-of-famers in the league, was let go after just four games by Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress. Moss joined the Vikings only a month before his firing in what was viewed as a significant boost to the team’s chances of getting back on a playoff track. The Vikings didn’t get much out of Moss as they went 1-3 in those 4 games, and the firing came after a loss to the  New England Patriots, the team that dealt Moss to the Vikings.

Childress didn’t specify why he fired Moss, but three incidents reportedly led to his release:

1) Each Friday after practice the Vikings have a different local restaurant cater a meal for the team. The Friday before the firing Moss apparently thought the food was beneath his class level and openly referred to it as worse than dog food accompanied by a statement that he used to eat food like that before he made money, both loudly and in front of the caterer.

2) Moss then went on to turn in what appeared to be a half-hearted performance in that Sunday’s game against his former team, and didn’t appear to be making much of an effort in the three prior games either (having watched him play with the Raiders in ’05 and ’06 I empathize with the Vikings fans).

3) After the loss against the Patriots he was openly critical of the Vikings coaching strategy and highly complimentary of the Patriots and their coaching staff.

Professional football is a business, and Childress was faced with a dilemma many managers will face in their careers: when you have an employee with the potential to be an all-star performer but you can’t count on the employee to put in an all-star effort day in and day out, at what point do you cut bait and move on?  If the employee’s spotty effort overall turns out above average results do you keep that employee in place and hope for some big wins every now and then while continuing the search for an employee more like the legendary receiver Jerry Rice who combined a consistent effort with being a great teammate?  Simple math would say that you do, but when you add in the potential negative impact on the team of having a spotty producer who only turns it on when he/she feels like it, you may have to subtract a few points from that performance which may make that person a net negative for your company.

In Moss’s case he made it easier on Childress than most of us will have it by openly airing his disregard for others on the team (whether directly in the case of Moss’s post-game comments about his coaches or indirectly in the case of the Vikings caterer), which will quickly erode the core of what holds teams together – trust, respect and accountability.   I’m looking forward to seeing if Moss’s firing can do what his hiring couldn’t – inspire an underperforming team to get back to winning.


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5 responses to “Randy Moss – The Manager’s Dilemma

  1. Jay

    Interesting article, Dave. I caught an interview on the radio where an interesting distinction was made between professional sports and traditional business.

    In pro sports, the team has a coach who trains, encourages and motivates the players as well as a manager who is more concerned with winning the game and the business bottom line. Players feel more comfortable discussing shortcomings with the coach who will help them improve than they would with the manager who might bench them for the game or let them go.

    In traditional business, these roles are typically shared by the same individual in the manager role, causing a dilemma in the “players” in how much they should share with their manager.

    I haven’t followed the Randy Moss issue, I’m not a football fan. Your article was timely with respect to the radio interview I heard. It sounds as if Moss was way out of line although talented. Would better coaching have been a factor in possibly resolving this more positively? How do you think traditional businesses can address the combined manager/coach role to the benefit of both employee performance and the bottom line?

  2. Cesar

    I think the head coach did the right thing in this case no matter what the outcome of the season. In fact, his success will be based on how he is able to parlay this opportunity into a positive for the rest of the team. His leadership has come into question before on how he has handled his other star player, Brett Favre. I believe the fact that Moss blew this situation up in the press is due to his issues not being addressed directly by the coach behind closed doors. That was probably the first and worst mistake in this situation. It is obvious from the meal incident that this player was unhappy and it should have been addressed earlier; it didn’t happen from one day to the next.

    These situations come up and as a coach/manager there are two challenges:

    1. how you handle the situation with that player/employee
    2. how you translate the handling of that situation to the rest of the team

    Both of these skills take some practice and require some tough people and leadership skills. In my opinion these skills are best acquired by going through it a a few times.

    The challenge with what Jay mentions is that a fine line needs to be walked. Using an upper manager to handle the disciplinary action can undermine a manager’s authority in the view of the employee. Having said that, I think it can be played both ways even in the workplace but the management roles have to be very clear for everyone. Ambiguity kills all authority.

    In the end, a manager in business, as well as sports has to be seen as the person who can lead the employee to a “better future” however that is defined. If the employee feels that the manager has their best interests in mind with everything they do, they will continue to follow. When that view changes to the contrary, that is, if they instead feel like the manager has some other agenda that doesn’t involve the employee’s “better future”, they will lose trust and stop “following”. I think this translates to business, sports and even war.

  3. Interesting article and also a tough question to answer. Do you let an employee go that has amazing natural ability but is not a good team player and can’t follow the rules? It does not seem like you have provided us with an answer in your article, only with more questions 🙂

    Jay – very good point, I think the HR person sometimes can fit that roll of someone in the organization that you can talk to on a more personal level.

    But you are right it is always hard as a manager to walk that fine line of “cool understanding” boss you can talk to and disciplinarian that corrects bad behavior.

  4. More teams/businesses need to be brave enough to do what the Vikings did – Caustic relationship is like bad cancer – you think you might have a grip on it- not knowing the attitude and other negative attributes in a team leader/player has infiltrated the areas of the team/business in a negative “bring me down” way. Cut your losses ASAP – you are doing everyone a favor including the player/individual you had to show the door….

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