Fair warning, this will be a slightly irrational fan post.
Earlier this month, Louisville football coach Scott Satterfield was named ACC Coach of the Year. It's been one of the feel good stories of the year, and a breath of life for all Louisville fans after the last few years. For those of you wondering, Louisville has looked at football the way the rest of the SEC (except Kentucky) does at basketball. When they're good, cool. When they're not, meh. When they're really bad, the sky is falling. And last year, they were really bad. They finished 2-10, lost their last 9 and should have lost their two wins, and didn't have a pulse after October. Dare I say it, they quit.
So two years removed from a Heisman winner and an outside chance at the playoffs, Louisville was rated the worst major conference team in the country, and had to make the difficult and expensive decision to dismiss the coaching staff (all of this on the heels of the basketball program's collapse and its insane financial cost). To top it off, the guy everyone thought would take the job declined. The second choice, from Appalachian State, was announced December 4, 2018.
During spring and summer practices, it was hard to know what was going to happen. There had been an exodus of transfers and the talent pool was already thin to begin with. But then, bit by bit, things got out that said an entirely different culture was being created. Coaches took time to get to the know players, they had pool parties and cookouts at the Satterfield's house, the athletic department as a whole began to support one another (unheard of if you're familiar with Louisville history), and the word "fun" was being used to describe the atmosphere.
The season wasn't perfect. They got blitzed a few times, they gave away a couple wins, and the end was a bitter loss to Kentucky. But they won 7 games, beat a ranked team on the road, and finished second in their division. After watching a listless team last year, it was a breath of fresh air to see that they may have been outmatched talent wise, they weren't going to lose because they quit trying.
The video above is a perfect picture of what culture can do. I took some screen shots to highlight.
Bad culture leads to bad body language leads to bad habits which leads to a vicious cycle. Look at their faces. This is from the introductory meeting. They don't care. They just had a terrible season and now they're getting coach talk from another guy in a suit. Does he care? Is he going to use them to get paid? Will he bail on them when things get hard or another job calls? Most of all, can we trust him? Bad culture starts with bad leadership. When we lead poorly and don't build a healthy culture, it leads to a vicious cycle of despair and discouragement.
Bad culture becomes the focus, not the big picture. In any environment, if it's not healthy that becomes the focus, not the big picture. It could be griping at the water cooler in an office, a business meeting in a church that descends to chaos, a staff meeting where nothing gets done, or an activity calendar that tries to plug holes on the Titanic. Again, look at this picture. The face says it all. There's not a focus on getting better, on wins, on goals. It's all been about the dysfunction.
Good culture can overcome a lack of talent though. The previous coaching staff led to a number of players leaving the team and transferring. So when Satterfield arrived there were some good players, but not enough of them. Playing against big teams would be tough, especially in the second half. But this season wasn't about competing for a championship, it wasn't even a Year 1. It was Year 0, a rebuild from the ground up. That's why the foundation needed to be laid, one of a healthy culture. The recruits, talent, points, and wins would come later.
Good culture generates momentum by celebrating accomplishments. If we want to lead our churches forward and build a healthy culture, we have to celebrate the good things that happen. Meet budget? Celebrate! Have families come to VBS? Celebrate! Pay off debt? Celebrate! Someone got baptized? Celebrate! Louisville's first win came against Eastern Kentucky, far from a powerhouse. But they celebrated. Why? So they could know what it felt like to win again. Churches who don't celebrate shouldn't be surprised that there's not a good culture.
Good culture deals with setbacks without drama. One of the coolest things about this season was that they didn't lose consecutive games. The tradeoff was they didn't really win many in a row, but this season was never about wins. It was about building. Setbacks will happen. In a church you'll have losses, deaths, people moving away, plans fall through, and events will flop. Bad cultures look to point blame. Good cultures look at setbacks as learning opportunities, deal honestly with what happened, and keep their eyes on the big picture.
Lastly, good culture has fun. One of the things I've tried to tell our staff is that we will always take our work seriously. We're working for God with an eternal mission. It's a big deal, and we shouldn't be flippant about it. But we won't take ourselves seriously. No one looks forward to a bad culture where no one has fun. You've probably been in a job or two like that. It's miserable. But a good culture has fun, and enjoys being together. We're part of God's team, and we should enjoy that.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.