"Should I leave, or should I stay?"*

Posted by jlubans on April 05, 2012

Coach Gail Goestenkoers' surprise resignation from the University of Texas' Women's Basketball team prompts these comments. I spent a season with her 1999/2000 Duke team - at practice and at games. I grew to love the team and, as my chapter ( More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team) conveys in LfM I learned much** from Gail and the players about leadership and followership. That 1999/00 team was not supposed to do well. With five freshmen, it was going to be a "re-building" year. But, instead of a break-even season, the team won - for the first time in 25 years - the conference championship.
Citing fatigue at UT, Coach G, decided to give basketball (and herself) a rest. “My heart’s telling me it’s time to take a break, and that’s what I’m going to do." At her resignation press conference she said: "I feel very much at peace." I admire her decision.You may wonder why. Well, there are times when leaders need to step away, let someone else take charge, maybe even leave the organization. Deciding to leave takes more courage, I think, than staying. Each case is different, I know, but when going to lunch becomes the highlight of the day, as it did in one job I held onto too long, it's time to go. Early in my career I was mentored, in order to advance, to leave jobs every few years. I did some of that, but one job lasted about 20 years, probably about 5-10 years too long. I remember how it started with my coming, as an assistant director, into a tradition-bound organization struggling with change. After a few years and little progress a new leader was brought in. We had a very good five or so years but then things shifted. He left during what would have been his 10th year. I should have followed, but instead rationalized (and, unlike Gail, felt hardly at peace). So, all the more reason why I applaud Coach G! In her insightful story Mechelle Voepel observes: "Her move to Texas didn't work out in terms of basketball victories. But for right now, maybe it's time she sees how big the rest of the world is." Sometimes we get caught up in a job and lose sight of the joy or fun that brought us into a profession. Breaking away from the day to day might help us rediscover that fun and joy.
When I teach about coaching I refer to Gail's mother and the advice she gave her daughter about taking on too much of the blame for losing.
Gail's mother asked her, 'Have you ever had one loss … as a coach that you didn't take responsibility for?' "No, never" responded Gail. Her mom then said, 'Well, do you take responsibility for all the wins?' Gail said, 'No.'
Gail concluded: “(My mother) helped me a lot to see that I wasn't really seeing the big picture.”
Gail's leaving UT opens the door for a new start for the team. “I feel like it’s time for me to step away and bring in some new leadership and help this program really to go where I know it can go.”
I am including a few photos taken for me by Toni Tetterton during that 99/00 season. Unlike her recent years at Texas, Gail was able to make the team a contender for the national championship. These photos display her leadership and connection with the players and coaches, both essential elements in getting a team to realize it need not settle for less, ever.
20120405-Scan 1.jpeg
Caption: An exuberant Gail, at practice, scores a distant basket!
20120405-Scan 3a.jpeg
Caption: Coach G with Freshman Michele Matyasovsky and Coach Joanne Boyle.
20120405-Scan 4a.jpeg
Caption: Coach G, arm around Coach Shonta Tabourn, getting a rise out of players, from left:
Jennifer Forte? Rochelle Parent, Georgia Schweitzer, Olga Gvozdenovic, Missy West, Michele Matyasovsky, Krista Gingrich.
20120405-Scan 6a.jpeg
Caption: Coach G, mid-court, during a group meeting, smiling at remarks by number 40, Lauren Rice, the senior leader on the team. Lauren contributed mightily to the team's play in the conference championship.
*The title of David Charvet's plaintive song.
** My Lessons from A Season on the Hardwood:
Overcome adversity
Commit to feedback
Clarify purpose and role
Value time
Build trust
Have fun
Know there are no magic bullets

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