Who Is A Better Leader – Chip Kelly or Lane Kiffin?

Sam Obitz / November 1st, 2012 / No Comments »

Let’s start with the similarities: both coach top national football programs. Both are known for their offensive mind. Both refuse to talk about player injuries. Both work for athletic directors that did not hire them. Both have big egos. Both have last names that start with the letter K followed by a vowel and two consonants. Both eat food and wear clothes….

Now for the differences: Kiffin was born into a football coaching family and became the youngest head coach in NFL history at the age of 31, and the head coach of two different high level college teams by the time he was 34 years old. Kelly was born into a family where reading and intellect are highly valued, and he coached at several small schools, slowly honing his football acumen.

Kelly is process driven, where everything is fixable and mistakes are opportunities for growth. He has developed a culture in his program based on hard work and accountability. Kiffin demands perfection (what I call fool’s Gold), where things are never good enough and mistakes become disappointments – this stifles growth. He relies on the culture of excellence that already exists at his school.

Kiffin will go to nearly any length to convince a top high school player to come to his university. Kelly looks for players who will fit into his program and want to be at his university, then presents his case and lets the player make up his mind.

Kelly goes to great lengths to limit distractions for his players. Kiffin is a source of distractions for his team. Kiffin has a family with young children, Kelly does not.

One critical trait found in great leaders, is their ability to rely on their actions more than their words. While Kelly got a major test of his mettle in his first game ever as a head coach (and several more in seasons that followed), he showed his character in the face of all those tough circumstances. Kelly turned each incident into a teachable moment for his players which will serve them well in their daily lives.

Kiffin tends to make excuses and talk his way around much less challenging situations. He continually brings heat on himself through his antics, most recently changing a player’s number during a game against lowly Colorado, in what appeared to be a clear attempt to deceive and gain competitive advantage. What lessons do actions like those teach the impressionable young men under his charge?

By now it is clear who I favor in this evaluation and who I would hire if I were looking for a coach. However, despite my pointed analysis here, I really want to like, and more importantly, respect, Lane Kiffin. I have previously written favorable things about him, even while others were criticizing him quite harshly.

I honestly felt he was just another victim of too much, too soon and that he would eventually mature into his current position as the head coach of USC football. Sadly, I have come to the belief that the problem is not one of maturity, which is often overcome simply through aging, but rather one of character.

As Confucius said in regards to character many centuries ago, “To be fond of learning is to be near knowledge. To practice with vigor is to be near magnanimity. To possess the feeling of shame is to be near energy. He who knows these three things, knows how to cultivate his own character. Knowing how to cultivate his own character, he knows how to govern other men.”

Unfortunately, I do not believe cultivating character is even on Kiffin’s radar and rarely does a person’s character change without considerable effort and determination. I will still be rooting for Kiffin, but now I will consider it a surprise if he comes around to being a person of character.

I do have a great deal of respect for Kelly and feel that if he can keep his ego under control, and retain his mindset of constant improvement, the sky will be the limit for him. He will not just be ‘Winning The Day’ as his mantra goes, but also making an impact on his players lives, and positively influencing future generations of coaches at all levels.

Which coach would you want your child to spend his formative college years learning under?


You can follow Sam on Twitter: @SuperTaoInc



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