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Viewpoint | No one handles the cruelty of losing better than Kyle Shanahan


There’s something captivating about the way Kyle Shanahan continues to march toward his own Super Bowl execution. You could see him bracing for another loss in the final seconds of overtime, standing there holding his useless play board, occasionally glancing at the giant screen as Patrick Mahomes moved the Kansas City Chiefs downfield. Shanahan looked so radiologically exposed on that crowded, screaming field that you could practically see his bones.

When the smoke of social networks clears and the bright reds of Travis Kelce’s jersey and Taylor Swift’s lipstick have finally disappeared from your corneas, what remains is this simple truth: losing is more educational to watch than winning. Maybe because losing is also more common for all of us. Mahomes’ running opportunism was the fun part. But the most useful takeaway, for ordinary people like you and me, is how these people deal with failure and the public post-match judgments that accompany it. No one handled it better than Shanahan, who twice blew fourth-quarter leads in our biggest game in five years.

“If you want your point of view to be someone else’s, good luck being happy in life,” the San Francisco 49ers coach said a few days before the game. “Or succeeded.”

To win on a very large scale, you must be willing to take defeat – and not just defeat, but also harsh criticism – without losing your own light. That’s the lesson. And that’s the lesson Andy Reid taught when Shanahan was still a coaching intern, long before he was successful enough to be asked about why he chose to receive rather than kick in overtime at the Super Bowl.

Shanahan is exactly where Reid was. His 49ers have played in four NFC title games and two Super Bowls over the past five seasons and lost on most of those occasions. The experience is strikingly similar to Reid’s from 2001 to 2005, when his Philadelphia Eagles made four straight NFC championship games and lost Super Bowl XXXIX to the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. Remember, Reid was considered a big-game screw-up, an interesting and lovable plan-builder, but someone who just couldn’t handle critical moments.

Even the most intelligent and knowledgeable commentators can get caught up in the short-term judgment game. The fabulous Tom Scocca, write in Slate after Reid was fired by the Eagles for his supposed inability to make the right decisions in the biggest games, concluded that Reid “was best understood as a powerful but slow football thinker – a coach with a rare gift for building strong, high-performing teams, but without a matching gift for rapid adjustment and decision-making.

What Reid did right in Kansas City — primarily by allowing his front office to draft and deal him a generational wonder quarterback in Mahomes — is less intriguing to think about than his ability to withstand the verdicts of his critics on his decision-making judgment. Reid was 61 before winning his first Super Bowl, and he now has three rings. What if he had listened to the “he missed everything” story of others?

The truth is that there are “grays” in decision-making at the helm of a complex organization subject to rapidly changing pressures. An NFL decision-maker rarely achieves pure justice or has complete control over his fate, because the competition is protean, it moves, and he relies heavily on the actions of others. As JK Rowling noted: “Talent and intelligence have never yet inoculated anyone against the vagaries of fate. » On Sunday, among the quirks and perplexities Shanahan faced was a punt that bizarrely clipped his own player’s heel for a turnover that gave the Chiefs a touchdown and a rare extra point blocked by kicker Jake Moody who completely changed the calculation, allowing Kansas City to equalize the score on a field goal three seconds from the end.

What constitutes a good decision under pressure? Management expert Henry Mintzberg defined it as the ability to sort through “dynamic and changing factors to make a specific commitment to action.” The vast majority of us make our good or bad decisions quite invisibly, over relatively insignificant issues. But professional coaches make their decisions in public view, with literally 100 million people judging them in their armchairs. And this factor in itself can become enormously complex: the temptation to please others can distort judgments. As Shanahan told his longtime friend Sean McVay during a fascinating conversation on the “Flying Coach” podcast, he’s determined to be sure his vocation “doesn’t go Never be based on: “Yes, it’s probably a little risky to do this; I totally believe it’s right, but I’m not going to do it based on perception and that might get me blamed. »

Most of us are blind to the specifics of football that a Reid or Shanahan has to deal with. What is most worth studying about them is not their technical judgments in these moments, but their broader leadership resilience; they are able to move forward with a composure capable of saving themselves. They ask: “What is an avoidable error and what is a reasonable failure?” Where was the competitor simply better? They reject summary conclusions about which passing plays should have been runs and which runs should have been passes, about timeouts used or lost and directional choices when tossing coins. They have the courage to sort out causal events and accept losing with a consistent personal philosophy.

“The story, good or bad, is just a story. … I just don’t want any regrets,” Shanahan said before Sunday’s game. “I just want to do whatever makes sense to me.”

He always said: “Only one team is happy at the end of the year. » Future winners are those who learn from losses – and do so without excessive self-recrimination.


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