It’s hard to believe that three years have passed since I published my first article on Victor Santa Cruz, the head football coach of Azusa Pacific University (APU). My working relationship with him stretches back to 2009, and continues to this day. I watched him turn APU into an NAIA success, including back-to-back playoff runs in 2010 and 2011. More recently, I’ve been on hand as he’s guided his team through the more competitive waters of NCAA Division II.
Any fan of football knows that the sport has evolved in the last few decades. With the onslaught of round-the-clock media and fantasy leagues, football has become something of a year-long obsession, and not just the pros. In a way, this correlates with the realities of a football coach’s life. It’s hardly a part-time or seasonal job. For most college and pro coaches, regardless of the season, the job is a 60-to-80 hour a week grind.
All of which is to say, with the NFL draft this week, and with many colleges preparing for spring practices, I’ve been thinking not only about the sport, but about some of the challenges coach Santa Cruz faced during 2012. To say the least, Division II was a new world for him, his program, and the school. Even before the team took the field, he and other personnel were swimming in new bookkeeping, compliance issues, new processes and regulations. Add in some eligibility issues as well as in-season injuries, and coach and his staff found themselves in learning mode every day.
“We probably jumped a couple of steps and didn’t pay attention to certain things,” he says now, thinking back to their inaugural D-II campaign. “We had league championship hopes. We’d built a winning culture, and were convinced we’d continue on that path. What we discovered is that the step up to D-II was larger than our stride, and proved to be bigger than we thought.”
MANY BUSINESSES FACE SIMILAR CHALLENGES
APU’s journey through the 2012 season was similar to what business owners and senior leaders experience when they take big leaps forward, whether entering a new market, offering new services, or changing personnel. It becomes a question of wants vs. realities. During a major transition, we must focus on the realities at hand, no matter how small, in order to achieve our specific and sometimes lofty goals.
Think of Google for a moment. Less than a decade ago, the word “Google” meant “search engine.” Today? The word has evolved to mean smart phones, maps, digital content, ads, wearable mobile devices and much more. That’s because, as the company stood at cusp of global search engine supremacy, they made the bold decision to push beyond what they knew. Has it been a smooth transition for them? Well, when we think of Google today, we rarely think about what they were, and tend to focus on where they’re going.
But I digress. When Azusa Pacific decided to jump from NAIA to NCAA Division II, they did so because they had bigger, better dreams of what their football team, and their school as a whole, could be. Was their transition easy?
LET’S REPLAY THE FILM
Replay and film, tools that many of us would love to use in the business world, are critical in football. Even though the game on the field is all about forward momentum, it’s also about study and review in order to know your strengths, overcome your weaknesses, and prepare for each new challenge.
Thanks to the notes I kept over the past two seasons, along with Coach Santa Cruz’s input and feedback, we’re going to stay in the film room for a little while and review some critical moments from APU’s past two seasons. Our goal: to shine an honest light on the program’s ups and downs in order to help us all prepare for new challenges.
We’ll see how Coach Santa Cruz stayed open to adopting a leadership style that fit the reality of his current situation, something we at Iron Coaching call Keeping HEART: Humility, Empathy, Awareness, Resiliency, and Teachable spirit. His commitment proved to be the difference on a weekly, game-to-game, and even play-by-play basis.
I invite you to join me for this look back into APU’s last two seasons. We’ll see where they were, study how they grew, and even forecast what’s coming up for 2014.