DEL OLALEYE

The college football report: A cocktail party and trouble at Ohio State

Things are getting rocky for Urban Meyer. Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The weekly college football report:

Florida vs Georgia means something again

We’re into Week 9 of the college football season and the path to the College Football Playoff has become much clearer for some teams and has been completely shut off for others. Unless you are in the SEC, losing from here on out pretty much means you’re done. Everyone is waiting for Alabama vs. LSU next week in Death Valley but another SEC matchup this week may be just as important to the national title picture. Florida vs. Georgia is once again part of the national conversation. I didn’t remember the last time these two teams had national title hopes at the same time so I had to look it up. It was 2008, both teams were ranked inside the top 10 and Urban Meyer was leading the Gator program at the time. Florida won the 2008 game 49-10 on their way to the program’s third national title. Dan Mullen was the offensive coordinator on that Florida team, which was why he was such a natural fit when Florida started looking for a new head coach after firing Jim McElwain.

Florida fans love offense thanks to Steve Spurrier’s successful run there and Mullen is expected light up the scoreboard eventually. For now the Gators are a defense-first football team. That defense gets its biggest test of the season against a Georgia squad trying to bounce back from a blowout loss at the hands of LSU. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm was awful against LSU which makes sense because he has not been good in true road game starts against defenses who can minimize Georgia's rushing attack. Lucky for Fromm and Georgia this game is at a neutral site. Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs bounced back from a similar defeat at Auburn last year and almost won the national title. Their road back to the title game begins in Jacksonville this Saturday against the hated Gators.

Things are less than ideal in Columbus

Urban Meyer’s run in Gainesville ended with him losing control of the program and begging out due to illness. We’re not hearing the same kind of stories about Buckeyes players that we heard about Florida players, but the talk of his current health status sounds similar. Amazing what a blowout loss on the road at Purdue will do to get pundits talking. Former Buckeyes player and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit says Meyer isn’t the same on the sidelines. The Buckeyes head coach is apparently dealing with headaches and the tension between him and the Buckeyes administration hasn’t exactly subsided since Meyer’s three-game suspension ended for his part in the Zach Smith scandal.

I imagine Ohio State fans aren’t thrilled about getting blown out by a middling Big Ten team for the second year in a row either. Iowa took Ohio State’s soul last year too. Winning solves all ills though. Michigan comes to Columbus to end the year; potentially a top 5 Wolverines team. If Urban Meyer beats another Michigan team that has hopes for a national title like he did in 2016 all of this will be forgotten. Ohio State could very well be 11-1 with the win and on its way to the Big Ten title game. Nothing matters more in Columbus than winning. They’ve proven that time and again.

Hate Watch Game of the Week

It is pretty simple. Gators fans have dreams of winning the SEC. I want those dreams to end. Bulldogs by ruthlessness in the Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is the play. To be honest my hope is that the SEC cannibalizes itself and none of their teams make the College Football Playoff. This is just one step of many in a very unlikely dream of mine.  I can dream, can’t I?


 

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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