Wolves faced a leadership dilemma over Mick McCarthy: what might the board have done differently?

February 25, 2012

Terry Connor


One of the most difficult dilemmas facing a sporting business occurs if the board decides that a leadership change is necessary. Wolves FC serves as a case study.

The pressures on the board at Wolves FC mounted as the team struggled to escape relegation [Jan 2012]. Mick McCarthy as head coach bore the brunt of the anger from frustrated fans. The board decides to fire McCarthy. After some delay the chairman announces the appointment of Terry Connor, McCarthy’s assistant

The dilemma: terms of engagement

The difficulties facing the board must have been relatively easy to simplify into finding a decisive course of action to kick-start a reversal of fortunes. Firing McCarthy and bringing in a new chief coach would offer the prospects of radical change. On the other hand, firing McCarthy would leave the club with the possibility that any high-calibre manager would be in a strong position to negotiate advantageous terms.

Intended and unintended consequences

The intended consequences of firing McCarthy would be renewed support from the fans and players alike. The unintended consequences included the possibility that no deal could be brokered. Also, as McCarthy argued, he had several exceptional seasons at Wolves working with limited resources. His dismissal would have sent warning signals to prospective managers

The fall-back position

Under such circumstances, a board needs some holding position. Wolves first indicated their intention of finding an experienced replacement for McCarthy. It seems several such candidates were approached. Eventually the club announced an interim appointment. McCarthy’s deputy Terry Connor would be promoted with the possibility of a full-time contract, according to results.

Just like the appointment of Stuart Pearce by the FA?

There appear to be some similarities to the position facing the English FA recently [2012] as the contract with current manager Fabio Capello approaches its termination date. There has been media clamour for appointment of Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp. The FA decided to go for a holding position, appointing Steward Pearce as an interim manager.

When the two cases are compared, it is seem that the FA could (for once) be seen as avoiding a tricky premature decision. Redknapp has shown interest in taking a part-time appointment. And there is some evidence of longer-term planning. Pearce as youth team coach has been seen as being groomed as a possible future England manager. On the other hand, Connor’s interim appointment could have been made immediately as the unfortunate McCarthy was being relieved of his duties. It appeared to follow failed attempts by the board to attract an experienced manager to the club.

Leadership issues

The case raises interesting issues. There is the tricky question of promoting someone who was himself appointed by the manager that had just been fired. There is the issue of the ways in which a change can appear to have been mishandled. This is where students of leadership may find it useful to think themselves in the minds of the board and assess the likely dilemmas they faced.
An additional issue: The appointment of a black manager to Premier League football is surely worthy of comment. The press broadly avoided comment on the story. Which maybe itself is worth a little reflection..


Mick McCarthy sacked: The case examined from a situational leadership perspective

February 14, 2012

Mick McCarthy is dismissed as manager of Wolves football club after a run of poor results, and a crushing defeat to local rivals. LWD examines his case from the perspective of situational leadership

A Guardian report briefly summarised the demise of Mick McCarthy:

Mick McCarthy has paid an almost inevitable price for Wolves’ dismal run of form, with the Midlands club announcing the sacking of their manager on Monday morning [Feb 13th 2012]. Despite earlier support from the boardroom, McCarthy’s position appeared untenable as Wolverhampton Wanderers slumped to a 5-1 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion on Sunday

“Wolves have today announced that manager, Mick McCarthy, has left the club with immediate effect. The board took the difficult decision to terminate Mick’s contract after a run of form which has seen Wolves pick up only 14 points in the last 22 league games, culminating in yesterday’s 5-1 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion. Mick joined Wolves in July 2006 and led the club to the Championship title in the 2008-09 campaign, before keeping the club in the Premier League for the past two seasons. The board would like to place on record their sincere thanks and appreciation to Mick and he leaves with the very best wishes of everyone connected to the club. The club will be issuing a fuller statement in due course.”

As fans stepped up their displays of dissatisfaction with McCarthy a few months ago, he reacted angrily afterwards. I noted in an earlier post [Oct 28th 2011]:

At the post-match interview, the manager was visibly angry. He chose not to reveal the origins of his anger. This of itself was unusual. He has earned a reputation of the almost stereotyped no-nonsense, blunt-speaking Yorkshire man.

Checking back I found another post recounting a famous confrontation with team captain Roy Keene, when McCarthy was manager of Ireland’s world cup team. These and numerous other reports suggests that Mick McCarthy’s leadership style is seen as uncompromising, committed, and confrontational.

Credit where credit is due

As McCarthy’s fate became discussed, commentators made the reasonable case that McCarthy had succeeded well with the resources at his disposal, including those successes in gaining and securing promotion to the Premiership for his club [2006-2009].

Situational leadership

The case can be studied applying the notions of situational leadership, still a popular form of leadership development courses.
The approach takes participants beyond the idea that there is one best leadership style. It was an advance over a century-long search for traits of effective leaders. Situational leadership suggests that “it all depends” on situational factors including the maturity of the people involved (the football team or squad in this example).

Four basic situational styles

S1 directing
S2 directing and supporting (coaching)
S3 supporting (with lower level of direction)
S4 delegating (reduced leader interventions of support or direction).

At its core, situational leadership courses suggest that as a team develops in maturity, the leader needs to place emphasis on differing combinations of task focus and people focus.

Growing with the team

It seems likely that some leaders can ‘grow with the team’. It may be that McCarthy had considerable talents at directing (style S1) perhaps finding it difficult to work comfortably with complex situations requiring more flexible ‘individualized attention’ of team members.


Mick McCarthy gets mad

October 28, 2011

Mick McCarthy, manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, lost his temper at the behaviour of the club’s fans as his team was fighting back to avoid a fifth consecutive loss

It was a match that Wolves fans must have targeted as one to break a dismal losing streak. The opponents [20th Oct 2011] were Swansea City, newly promoted to the Premier League, and yet to win away from home.

Dreams were dashed

Wolves dreams were dashed within the first half as Swansea out-battled them and cruised into a 2-0 lead. There was little sign of a recovery as the second half developed. The Wolves fans, traditionally passionate and faithful, began to leave. Others began barracking their own team, and above all the manager.

The substitutions and the turn-round

McCarthy changed the pattern of play with two substitutions. The plan seemed to work, and Wolves scored. Then deep into the game they snatched an equalizer.

The post-match interview

At the post-match interview, The manager was visibly angry. He chose not to reveal the origins of his anger. This of itself was unusual. He has earned a reputation of the almost stereotyped no-nonsense, blunt-speaking Yorkshire man.
Later

Later he spoke bitterly of the ‘mindless’ fans who booed him.

“I almost think some turn up hoping it is going to be that way so they can have their whinge and get shot of the manager. They are not going to get shot of the chairman or the players, so it’s a case of, ‘Let’s give it to the gaffer’.

I’ve done a great job here. I came five years ago, there were only 10 players here and just a million quid to spend. Five years on, we are in our third year in the Premier League and building the new stadium – but we are having a tough time. Come on, give the lads a bit of support. Don’t be giving us aggravation. I think they have short memories.”

The burdens of leadership

The burdens of leadership were pinpointed by McCarthy. You get credit if you succeed. You get the blame if things go wrong.
Within days, a former England team manager (Sven-Goran Eriksson) was fired. He had been brought in to rescue an under-performing club, Leicester City. His dismissal was widely judged to have been too soon for him to have put in place the needed changes to the team’s play. This was a clearer example of the image or reputation clouding the judgments of the Board, both in his hiring and his firing.

Postscript

Within a week [Nov 26th 2011] Wolves faced the might on Manchester City who, having beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford 1-6, almost repeated the scoreline 2-5 at Molineaux [historic home stadium of the Wolves], and less emphatically, 3-1 [home, at Eastlands, Nov 29th 2011]. Enough to take my breath away

Take my breath away

U-tube above of Mick McCarthy, lyrics are “Take My Breath Away“, backing by Berlin, Top Gun soundtrack, available from iTunes