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NFL Lessons For The Cattle Business

I have a 13-year-old son who would love to play in the National Football League someday. He's also a big Tim Tebow fan, both for what he does on the football field and what he represents as a man.

My son is sufficiently astute as a football fan that he also realizes that Peyton Manning, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Thus, the news that Manning is coming to the Denver Broncos, and Tebow is leaving for New York City, is a big deal in our house. It also got me to thinking about how we do things in the cattle industry.

The NFL is all about results – winning on the field and winning on the balance sheet. We hear all the time that professional sports is a business, and we talk a lot in this industry about how we need to adopt a more businesslike approach and not let the traditional and lifestyle aspects of our business shape our decisions.

The Indianapolis Colts decided that cutting Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, was in its best interest. They looked ahead and determined that they were going to have to go in a radically different direction in order to be successful. Whether that turns out to be the right decision will depend upon whether the new quarterback (Andrew Luck) turns out to be the star quarterback of the future or not.

The one thing that is certain is that while it was a bold decision, and a radical departure from the status quo, it wasn’t the easy decision. I know that I – and I would wager that many of you also – have opted from time to time to take the easier route of doing things the same old way – with just minor tweaks – rather than implement major changes.

Of course, timing is always the issue. The Colts knew they eventually would have to make these changes if they were to be successful in the future. They also recognize that the tendency of good teams is to wait too long to embrace the change that's inevitable. Offenses (objectives) and defenses (strategies) have to change and modify with the times. Sometimes, incremental improvement is the key; and, sometimes, it is a radical departure from the status quo that's called for.

Denver too, had to make tough decisions. Would Tebow be able to replicate the success he enjoyed last season at other levels in the NFL? Was he the long-term solution?

By all accounts, both Manning and Tebow are high-class individuals – good people who contributed a lot to their communities and franchises. In the end, however, it came down to what was believed to be the right decision for each franchise.

To those of us who identify with individual players, the NFL can appear excessively harsh because people seemingly become nothing more than lines on a balance sheet. But we probably all need to be reminded, from time to time, that our operations are businesses that will require hard decisions and big changes if we hope to improve or even enjoy the same level of success we currently enjoy.

The right players and coaches today may not be the right coaches and players in the future. In fact, we recognize that they will eventually have to be replaced. There is no getting around that. The same can be said for our business practices and models; we always need to be searching to make things better if we are going to remain competitive.

Of course, this week, the New Orleans Saints also received a whole series of punishments from the NFL for their involvement in “Bounty Gate,” as it's being called. The level of penalties was astounding, but unethical or immoral behavior will always be punished in the marketplace.

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