Could You Fire Johnny Football?


“Can you fit a helmet in that box?”

For Texas A&M, it had been much too long residing outside of the football elite. Making matters worse, in 2012, A&M prepared to enter the SouthEastern Conference, home of the big boys. Aggie-haters rubbed their hands waiting to witness the weekly sacrifice to LSU, Alabama, Georgia, et al. But then……………….Johnny Football happened.

In 2012, Texas A&M unearthed a living, breathing football savant. In a sport that can feature 90+ players on a squad, ONE kid carried an entire football program on his shoulders. Aggie fans and alumni will forever cherish the glorious ride they shared with Johnny in 2012 ~ a Heisman winner, a win over Alabama, and a sign of glorious days to come; “Johnny Football” (coolest nickname ever?) was/is bigger than life, and never had an Aggie been so beloved. And then………..(*sigh*) the football season ended, and the silly season began.

When a person gets drunk, you see the extremities of their true personality without inhibition. For Manziel, the intoxication of fame and a little gold man exposed the warts caused from a lifetime of privilege, arrogance, and entitlement. In short, we found out that Johnny Football is kind of an a-hole. But man, that a-hole can ball.

When you have one performer who is so clearly responsible for the success of your operation, how much slack in the line do they deserve? And at what point do you pull the plug & make the highly dubious decision to remove a “star” from the team?

This is the dilemma of Kevin Sumlin, head coach at Texas A&M. He seems to be a man of principle (slowly becoming an extinct quality in college athletics), and he seems to be a man who has had his limits stretched to a point of breach. But how in the hell can you fire Johnny Football? For that matter, could you even make that decision, or would boosters and other muckety-mucks make that impossible? This kid, warts and all, is the bell cow – his Heisman run alone has been valued at $30M+ for the university. That puts a few bricks in the building, as they say.

Have you ever had this discussion with upper management? Could you have that discussion? A bonafide all-star performer with the ability to make or destroy an entire program. There’s no better example right now – Manziel is a gifted athlete and competitor looking for a fight with the world…eventually, he’ll lose that fight, but how long do you ride his wave of success?

It seems to be a matter of “when,” not “if” Johnny self-destructs – as he continues his frustrating combination of buffoonery and brilliance, his loyalists will begin to wane and a good man (Sumlin) may feel tempted  to do what seems utterly impossible – fire Johnny Football.

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John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer)

Talent Acquisition Executive, team-builder, and full-time dreamweaver. Creative Director, Content Designer, Writer, Speaker, Entrepreneur, terrible golfer, lover of The Art of War & Texas Hold 'Em.

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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • 09/05/2013, 8:45 am

    In a perfect world, yes. In this world, unlikely. But I’d have the conversation both with Johnny Football and the upper management. It will become some other coach’s sad and sorry responsibility. Or we could be optimistic and believe that he’s young enough to learn from experience. He learned his arrogance from experience maybe he can learn humility from this one.

    • hrhardball
      09/05/2013, 9:28 am

      The sad truth is, Johnny will stay “employed” as long as the wins keep coming. But the bell will toll eventually – see Young, Vince and Leinart, Matt

  • Modd
    09/05/2013, 8:53 am

    Tough, tough, tough question. Part of me says “meh, kids a kid. let him ball and enjoy the entertainment” (pantomiming autographing). However, with my HR goggles on I see a star performer disrupting the culture of an organization and that is unacceptable. In business I’d have the Big Lebowski counseling session with him “OVER THE LINE”. As a college football fan – I love the kid and hope to see him dominate and continue to succeed. #heisman

    • hrhardball
      09/05/2013, 9:30 am

      He’s a beast on the field, too bad A&M can’t sequester him the other 6 days of the week. Realize that I AM an Aggie, so it pains me to see this situation taint what should be our renaissance as a program.

  • 09/05/2013, 9:17 am

    No question I could fire him. It’s all about replacement cost of the talent you are firing, and to me, this is most equivalent to firing a great sales person. You’ve got a position/territory, and you need someone that can be 90% as effective with 10% of the headaches – because you’ve got the rest of the org to deal with.

    First game against Rice – backup QB throws for 180 yards in the first half. Check please! I’d make the move.

    PS – to watch Sumlin in the press conferences is painful. He’s better than that.

    • hrhardball
      09/05/2013, 9:35 am

      KD, you know better than that – Joeckel is a nice kid, serviceable in an emergency, but he’s 20% of JFF. Manziel still hasn’t lost his teammates, so they think he’s the Chosen One. His “customers,” the fans, still love his work, so he can salvage this with a lobotomy and some sort of modified shock therapy.
      I feel for Sumlin – you’re right, he is better than that, and I’m sure he wants to smack JFF on the back of the head about 50 times a day.

  • 09/05/2013, 11:20 am

    I’d be prepping for the comeuppance of the next JF. Once in place, then JF gets scrutiny > warning > ousting.

    • hrhardball
      09/05/2013, 11:47 am

      Indeed…pride cometh before the fall. Makes for a great “dude” hypothetical ~ if you could win the Heisman trophy, but it meant the next year you would become vilified, investigated, questioned, and publicly condemned, would you do it?

  • Pedro
    09/05/2013, 2:11 pm

    I know people in organizations that act the same way and are allowed to stay on because they ” deliver” meanwhile people continue to leave due to the supported values and behaviors that are not in line with the corporate v&b s placed on walls and in people’s annual performance standards. Go figure

    • hrhardball
      09/05/2013, 2:23 pm

      Very true – it will be interesting to see how he is tolerated if he stops “delivering;” As for enabling this behavior, look no further than the program in Florida under Urban Meyer, Penn State, Ohio State, etc., etc, etc.

  • Marc Effron
    09/07/2013, 3:51 pm

    Your premise is confused. If someone acts like an a*hole within your organization, then some discipline is needed. Manzel is acting like one (largely) to those outside his organization. Sorry — should he have curtsied to the opposing team? “Nice play, old sport. Boola, Boola”?

    I WANT my corporate teammates to be better than the competition and to let the competition know it. If only there was an opportunity to run a play against the opposing corporation and then wave a finger in their face – “Sold 40 more widgets than you did BE’ATCH!”

    Act like a jerk within the company and you should get some lumps. Show some swagger outside? Well to quote Kid Rock, “it ain’t bragging m**********r if you can back it up!”

    • hrhardball
      09/07/2013, 3:58 pm

      I don’t feel confused 🙂 I know the diff b/t swagger/confidence and narcissism. John McEnroe was my all-time favorite, so I love the attitude & have some of it myself when I’m in a solo role. Not on a team; I’m an A&M grad and love the kid, but he’s got demons that will destroy him and this team if left unchecked, imho.