The Z Report

Lance Zierlein: Luhnow is hoping for his own Tyreek Hill ending

Jeff Luhnow is facing a lot of questions over his latest trade. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Well, you wanted a closer to help round out the Houston Astros chances at repeating as a World Series champion. Hell, I wanted a closer too. I wanted one badly! Now we got one. Somehow, this isn’t what I had in mind.

The Astros decided to cash-in their goodwill within the community and trade for a talented, yet troubled closer from the Toronto Blue Jays, Roberto Osuna. Twitter and sports talk radio is full of opinions regarding Osuna and the Astros decision to add him after serving a 75-game suspension for domestic abuse, but where will everyone stand in October?

When the Chiefs drafted Tyreek

All of us have seen how this could end up playing out. We saw it in May of 2016 when the Kansas City Chiefs drafted wideout Tyreek Hill from West Alabama in the fifth round. Hill had been a running back at Oklahoma State but was dismissed from the school after being charged with domestic abuse and later plead guilty to punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend and received three years of probation. Hill eventually landed at West Alabama.

I was on the set of NFL Now’s broadcast of the 2016 NFL Draft and I was visibly dumbfounded that Hill was actually drafted by an NFL team. I simply couldn’t hide it. I didn’t think there was any chance that he would be drafted considering his guilty plea of such heinous charges. Chiefs fans weren’t too crazy about it either. Here is a sampling of some of the things were said on the comment section of Hill’s NFL.com draft profile:

Homework, time and talent

An executive from a separate AFC team told me they loved Hill’s talent and did their homework and believed that Hill might have beat the case, but that financial concerns over legal fees and fear of jail time caused him to plea out. However, pleading guilty to abusing a pregnant woman was just something they were not prepared to defend to their fans and media so they took Hill off the board.

The Chiefs did their own investigating and they believed that Hill was worth taking a chance on. He had elite speed, immense talent and they ultimately believed in the person. Despite the initial anger from fans and scrutiny of media, Kansas City was repaid with a rookie season that included twelve touchdowns combined (6 receiving, 3 rushing, 2  kick returns, 1 punt return) and a first team All-Pro designation.

After two years in the league, Hill is a two-time Pro Bowler and beloved by Chiefs fans. Chants of “Ty-Reek, Ty-Reek, Ty-Reek” rang through the Arrowhead stadium, Hill’s rookie season as the Chiefs clinched their first division title since 2010.

The Astros, like the Chiefs in 2016, are banking on their homework, the talent and time. There is no way the Astros haven’t done their homework on Osuna. Anything negative that comes out beyond this point is going to be extremely damning, but the Astros must believe they can fade it. They are getting a very talented player for a very modest price and history tells us that over time talented players who perform at a high level are shown forgiveness - especially by the local fanbase.

Paradigm shift for Luhnow and Astros?

I’m not here to argue whether or not the Astros decision to trade for Osuna is right or wrong. To be honest, the details of what went down haven’t been made public and the courts haven’t weight in just yet. What I can work off of, however, is that Major League Baseball suspended Osuan for 75 games and there was no appeal. Maintaining an adherence to “innocent until proven guilty” is challenging for all of us with that such a harsh suspension levied against Osuna.

As stated prior, I believe you will see fan anger over Osuna subside if he’s able to get guys out. It will also help his cause if the team starts winning and gets hot going into the playoffs. Is it right that our attitudes are tied to winning? Of course not, but that’s the way it is. Fight it if you want, but you’ll always find that few people show up at your meetings.

Then again, if Osuna struggles to find his form after sitting out for much of this season, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow will find himself in the crosshairs of a portion of the fanbase. This is the kind of move that can help remove the cloak of invincibility that he deserved to wear after building the Astros into a World Series winner.

The national media is going to stay on the Astros for using their ridiculous “zero tolerance” comment at the same time they traded for a player serving a substantial suspension for domestic violence. I still don’t understand why Luhnow would make such a potentially risky move  when there were other arms out there. My guess is that he simply couldn’t pass up on the perceived value.

The Astros have a great clubhouse and appear to love each other like brothers. It will be interesting to see how Osuna fits in with this tightly-knit crew. I guess time will tell whether Osuna is the next Tyreek Hill or if he becomes the player and the trade that caused Astros fans to fall out of love with this general manager.

 

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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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