Two articles received my attention in the June 21, 2015 edition of The New York Times. One article dealt with the declining death rate among cardiac patients, while the other had to do with being nice in the workplace. For example, research shows that when individuals experience intermittent stressors too long or too often their immune systems pay the price with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and ulcers. These intermittent stressors elevate levels of the hormone like cortisol which lead to problems of increased appetite and obesity. A 2012 study tracked women for 10 years and concluded that stressful jobs increased the risk of a cardiovascular issue by 38%.
In these particular studies, they listed a number of rude behaviors by bosses that fell within their definition of uncivility. A few of these characteristics included: 1. Neglects employing or saying please or thank you. 2. Talks down to people. 3. Swears. 4. Puts down others. After reading the article, I instantly thought of Bo Schembechler and his treatment of his University of Michigan football players. More to follow later.
But first, let me tell you the good news. Even though there have been no significantly new medical discoveries; no radical new technologies; and apparently no payment incentives, there has been a 38% decrease in the death rate within the last 10 years. Simply put, researchers looked at those hospitals [per Medicare statistics] that had outstanding times-the time it took to open up patient arteries. What they found were that these hospitals such as the Mayo Clinic, New York Presbyterian Hospital, etc. statistically could in 50 minutes from the time the paramedic who ran an EEG to the time a cardiologist threaded a balloon into the blocked artery that then allowed the flow of blood --a success. By streamlining the hospital and doctor procedures, they got that heart pumping efficiently, thus reducing death and stroke. Some hospitals, previously took over 150 minutes to accomplish the same. With a more streamlined procedure stroke has now fallen to 5 as a major killer.
Back to Bo. On the practice football field from 1969 and for the next 20 years, Bo Schembechler was an authoritarian dictator. Gen. George Patton, Woody Hayes would fit that category as well. Bo had no trouble in ordering his players around. The only time that came close to this was dealing with quarterback Jim Betts. On a previous practice, Bo kicked Betts in the ass and verbally abused him because Betts fumbled the snap from center. Embarrassed, hurt and angry Betts did something about it. The next day before practice, Jim Betts met with Bo Schembechler privately. Jim was clear and precise, and in no uncertain terms directed his coach not to treat him that way again. Then in the afternoon practice, Jim again fumbled the snap from center. This time, coach Schembechler came up to Betts and asked him civilly to run the play again.
Bo Schembechler had no problem berating, putting the player down for making an apparent mistake and even yelling and swearing at the player. One example happened when Bo was having his team work on punting drills since a punt was blocked in the previous game. Cocky Bo told his squad that he would give $10 to any player that blocked a punt during the drills [Bo was not going to pay anyone $10-he was confident]. Then of course, a punt got blocked and coach ran down the playing field after Jim Brandstatter believing that this offensive tackle missed his block and was responsible for the blocked punt. He caught up to this huge offensive tackle, and started yelling, screaming, swearing and hitting Jim. Line position coach Jerry Hanlon ran up to Bo telling him it wasn’t Jim-he made his block. Bo’s response was not “I’m sorry or mistaken” but “he needed it anyway.”
In a series of research studies [it’s not clear what the population was, but certainly it was not a random sample], various researchers found that when giving negative or uncivil feedback, their population performed worse on anagram word puzzles, and were less creative during brainstorming sessions. In fact, even if the group witnessed negative interactions, their cognitive ability was lessened. Just think if any of these subjects had been on the practice field with Coach Bo Schembechler.
Was Bo successful? The University of Michigan from 1969 through 1971, was victorious in 24 of 25 regular-season games. Obviously, Bo was uncivil in his treatment of players on the practice field and it did not interfere with their large motor activity. I don’t know if it interfered with their solving puzzles, but they all graduated. In fact, Jim Brandstatter is moving his Inside Michigan Football radio program to WXYZ on Mondays. Jim Harbaugh will be on the show with Jim Brandstatter. Coach Harbaugh played for Bo and has a similar character structure. Jim Harbaugh has a reputation that suggests that he might not be a good manager in the business world. But I’ll wager, that he’ll get results on the football field. Will Jim ask his players or quarterback “Please run that play again”; “Would you mind catching that ball”; “Thank you for tackling that player” and “Do you think you could run a little faster?” Jim Harbaugh’s father was a head football coach, and Jim learned as early as 10 years of age about how Bo talked to his players. The cliché “an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” fits here.
It’s more probable than not that these professors did not use a “random” sample for their research. The keyword is random, which means that everyone in the universe had an opportunity to be selected for the research. As a result, a random just doesn’t happen. And because of that, we question their ability to generalize with their results. Were there perhaps other variables not dealt with, that might influence the findings? In any event, it’s clear that Bo’s players, including Jim Harbaugh, are mentally tough, could and did take it from their coach. That’s not to say that first they grumbled, incorporated the abuse and finally, during the process wound up loving coach. Could the individuals in these studies take it from Bo Schembechler, probably not? What do you believe?
Let’s be clear, Coach Jim Harbaugh’s going to bring mental and physical toughness to his Michigan Wolverines. Those players that can’t take it will not be starters. I’ll bet on that.
Let me add that Fritz Seyferth, Reggie McKenzie, Frank Gusich, Jim Brandstatter, Tom Curtis, Thom Darden, Mike Keller and Jim Betts all prospered in their other life. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself and join us in Ann Arbor on September 17, 2015 at Sesi Motors from 6- 8 PM for a Bo’s Warriors book signing.