Communications: Lessons learned
Lessons can be learned from the sad end to the legendary football coaching career of Joe Paterno. Long ago, First Sergeant Lee F. Cobble -- one of those characters you never forget, -- taught a then brand-new infantry officer many valuable lessons.
Serving as our rifle company’s executive officer, it was a joy to work closely with 1SGT Cobble who, like our other Korean War-veteran platoon sergeants, took the training of young officers as a serious responsibility.
1SGT Cobble was meticulous about adhering to the chain-of-command. He advised “his” lieutenants to do so as well; however, when sending any kind of written communications to higher headquarters, he always figured out a logical way for someone, in addition to the communication’s main addressee, to be entitled to a copy. At the bottom of the page, he always listed any additional addressees. That way, he reasoned, the chance of your correspondence being lost or ignored by higher headquarters was greatly reduced.
Cobble had another rule that served us well. When he heard a young officer complain about higher headquarters, he would say: “Lieutenant, we have a rule around here that until everything at Charlie Company, 2d Battalion, 47 Infantry, is in perfect order, we do not complain about higher headquarters – no matter how stupid we know them to be.”
He told us hiding bad news does not make it better. He said bad news only gets worse for those who knew about the bad news and did not report it. At Penn State, an assistant coach witnessed a retired assistant coach in the commission of a felony. He reported what he saw to Coach Paterno. Coach Paterno sent him to tell then athletic director, Tim Curley. Now, both Curley and former finance official, Gary Schultz, are charged with failure to report a felony to law enforcement.
No doubt, Nebraska football fans are as appalled by any kind of child abuse as anyone, but do not expect Nebraska fans to be too broken up over the demise of Coach Paterno. Many of them still remember a 1982 game in Penn State’s Beaver Stadium. The game took place before it was possible for rulings on the field to be reversed by review officials armed with “instant replay.”
In the closing seconds, Penn State quarterback, Todd Blackledge, threw a pass to tight-end, Mike McCloskey, who caught the ball so far outside the field of play that even the severely-visually-challenged could see McCloskey was clearly out-of-bounds. The blatant wrong call put Penn State on Nebraska’s two-yard line. Penn State went on to hand Nebraska a 27-24 loss, costing the Cornhuskers a national championship.
Later, Mike McCloskey admitted to the media that he knew he was out-of-bounds when he caught the ball. In fact, the call was so outrageous that Nebraska tee-shirt shops immediately reproduced the Beaver Stadium gridiron on the front of tee-shirts depicting a nine-square-foot extension appended to the Beaver Stadium gridiron at the two-yard line. While one would not expect Coach Paterno to refuse the win (no matter how tainted), some kind of apology would have been nice.
Graham B. Spanier, the Penn State president who was fired along with Paterno, used to be the chancellor at Nebraska. Interestingly, Spanier was the chancellor who fired Bob Devaney, Nebraska’s legendary former football coach and, at the time, was serving as Nebraska’s athlete director. Is there a pattern here?
A military commander is responsible for all his or her unit does or fails to do. Apparently, the president “commander” at Penn State took no action against the felon. Coach Paterno directed his subordinate to report what he saw up the chain-of-command. Apparently, that was not enough.
Nationally syndicated columnist and aviator, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
©2011. William Hamilton.