NFL Draft Day Decisions
Selecting talent is hard in any profession.
San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Bill Walsh had a plan entering the 1986 draft. He wanted one of three players: Gerald Robinson from Auburn, John L. Williams from Florida or Ronnie Harmon from Iowa.
So with five picks remaining until his selection, he sat in front of a large desk near the end of the makeshift draft room and waited. Robinson went, then Williams, and finally Harmon.
Walsh needed a new plan.
Selecting talent is hard in any profession. Tonight, the NFL showcases its talent search in front of a national television audience. Fans will see 32 teams unveil their hard work in data collection, processing, and formulating the best decisions possible — and many will be forced to abruptly make new plans.
Walsh had to do so over the course of 15 minutes. When his desired players were picked, he showed no emotions, nor did he panic or make a reactionary decision. He instead followed important steps to help redirect the men in the room he was leading.
Walsh didn’t act disappointed. Yes, he lost out on his list, but he created another list with the same enthusiasm. He wanted everyone in the room to understand he was poised, in control and not acting from desperation.
Walsh didn’t demand winning in the short term, going against conventional wisdom. He needed time, to think and replan, so he made a trade with Dallas, then with Buffalo, moving down in the draft that was slightly below market value. This accomplished two things: It gave him more assets in the short term while keeping him in a position to select the next player he wanted: Larry Roberts from Alabama. Walsh was more interested in winning the day, not the hour.
Walsh replanned. He identified his strength and weaknesses of the moment, then formulated a new plan. With more picks than initially thought, Walsh needed more candidates for selection. So in the middle of the draft, with teams selecting, Walsh held a meeting to re-evaluate which players now qualified. Walsh's focus was redirected to the new task.
Walsh correctly evaluated his evaluators. When working on the new plan, he understood opinions would be overflowing and often wrong. Therefore, he knew who offered the best advice.
Walsh maintained the commitment to the new plan with the same enthusiasm as the old. He kept the wind at his back and regained control. His confidence became infectious.
For a day that started poorly, it ended with one of the finest drafts in NFL history. The 49ers obtained eight starters who would go on to help the team win Super Bowls.
Most of the players selected were never discussed in detail or as part of his original plan. But by following these important steps and not falling in love with one plan, Walsh made history on this day.
We have all seen our initial plans fall apart, but how we react and redirect will determine the overall outcome. It’s never about how we start.
It is always about how we finish.