What an Editor Can Learn from a Losing Football Team

Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke was smart enough to hire Bobby Beathard and Joe Gibbs.

Jack Kent Cooke hired Bobby Beathard and Joe Gibbs—they knew things he didn’t know.

The Washington Redskins have been one of the interesting management lessons of the past 30 years—one that applies to editors as well as anyone who’s a manager.

Yesterday the Redskins tied the Cincinnati Bengals 24-24, bringing their 2016 record to 4-3-1. Last year the team went 9-7. Good seasons for a team owned by Dan Snyder, who mostly has been a management disaster since buying the team in 1999.

It’s a tale of two owners.

Jack Kent Cooke, who had made his money in cable television, bought the Redskins in 1974 and ran it until he died in 1997. He was self-centered, loud, sometimes obnoxious. He liked to boast about his team and often was pictured at Redskin practices, looking like the boss.

But Cooke understood something important: He knew what he didn’t know. He knew how to make money, he knew how to promote himself, but he didn’t know how to find good players and coach them.

So in 1978 he hired Bobby Beathard as the Redskins’ general manager. Beathard had been director of player personnel for the Miami Dolphins, a team that had won two Super Bowls.

In 1981 Cooke hired Joe Gibbs as head coach—Gibbs had been offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers under Don Coryell, one of the most successful coaches in college and NFL history.

With Beathard finding the players and Gibbs coaching them, the Redskins became winners. In the 1980s they won 97 games and lost 55. They won three Super Bowls. Cooke found and hired people who knew what he didn’t know.

When Dan Snyder bought the Redskins, he seemed to think he was smart enough to decide who should be on the field. . . .Who needs a Bobby Beathard?. . .I made a lot of money (Snyder started a company that outsourced marketing for big companies.). . .I’m sure I’m smart enough to run a football team, to pick the right players, to build a winner.

From 2000 to 2014, the Redskins under Snyder won 98 games and lost 148, an unpleasant surprise for the fans of a team that had been consistently good.

Last year Snyder finally seemed to see the light: he hired Scot McCloughan as Redskins general manager. McCloughan had been successful at the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. Snyder now seems to be letting him rebuild  a team that looks like it could be a consistent winner.
Editors are managers. You have to see that a lot of different things are done well. You’re dealing with all kinds of writers, with other editors, with publishers, art directors, ad directors, accountants, and lawyers. You have to be connecting with readers while doing a lot of managing.

What do you know? What are you good at?

What don’t you know? What are you not good at at?

Jack Kent Cooke knew he didn’t know how to evaluate professional football players. He needed a Bobby Beathard to do it. Dan Snyder, after 15 years of losing, seems finally to have figured that out.

Hire people who are good at what you’re not good at.




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