Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The following comes from "High Hopes: Taking the Purple to Pasadena" by Gary Barnett with Vahe Gregorian.  It is a book that details Coach Barnett's turnaround at Northwestern in the 1990's.  It's a book that I would recommend to anyone trying to turnaround or rebuild a program:

People think that there’s one or two or three things that you do to make a change or a difference in a negative environment, or that there’s some type of master blueprint you can draw up and use as a guide. Frankly, I don’t think there’s any one thing I can put my finger on. But the closest analogy I have for our situation is a jigsaw puzzle.

When you buy a jigsaw puzzle, the only way you know what that puzzle is supposed to look like is by looking at the picture on the top of the box, the vision of what the puzzle should ultimately be. But when you open the box, the first thing you see is chaos.

What a jigsaw puzzle represents, though, is a system for turning chaos into order. That’s what we set out to do, just like we used to do on our card table at home when I was growing up.

Before we could do anything else, we had to figure our precisely what the cover—our vision—was going to be. At the first staff meeting, I said, “If you can’t see the invisible, you can’t do the impossible.” Invisible and impossible as it might have seemed, what I saw was the Rose Bowl.

At our basketball arena later that night, January 11, 1992, I was introduced to our student body. When I was handed the microphone, I blurted our, “We’re going to take the Purple to Pasadena”—to the Rose Bowl. The student all went nuts, and as I left the court I sort of wished I hadn’t said it. But once I made that statement, which came from a sentiment of former Northwestern player John Yale, it became the top of the jigsaw puzzle. We had committed ourselves to that vision.

When I make a commitment it’s like what Cortez did when he conquered Mexico. He left no way out for his men—he burned the boats. There was no turning back; there was only the rest ot Mexico. Now there was no turning back at Northwestern. When I made that statement, I burned the boats. Every decision from then on was going to be based on whether it would ultimately get us to the Rose Bowl.

We immediately got a Rose Bowl banner and hung it in the entryway to the Nicolet Center. I put a 1949 Rose Bowl ticket on display on one of my desks. I got a Rose Bowl poster from 1949 and put that up. My high school baseball coach, Don Sparks, had sent me a nylon rose that I put in a bowl in my office. We staggered our recruiting mailings with pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that came together with a picture of the Rose Bowl.