LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin is coming to town for a couple of events later this week, and while you might think her appearance here would seem to have little application for the work ahead of the new University of Louisville football coach (or its president, or athletics director, for that matter), you’d be wrong.

The title of Goodwin’s new book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, states precisely the quality that Scott Satterfield, who will be introduced as coach at a news conference this afternoon, will be called upon to display immediately.

Goodwin, who has written excellent historical studies of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, steps away from her traditional style of presentation to focus on a single theme of these four men; that is, their preparation for and responses to challenges in crisis leadership.

Without launching into a lengthy discussion, a single truth becomes evident early in her book: While these great leaders shared some common practices, there is no single road to success in the most difficult of circumstances.

Lincoln was raised by a father who would sometimes destroy his books if he found him reading or distracting workers when they were supposed to be toiling in the fields. Theodore Roosevelt’s father, on the other hand, had one of the best libraries in the city and all his son had to do was mention a book and it would appear. FDR was nurtured by a loving mother. LBJ was manic in his pursuits. Lincoln possessed great physical strength. Teddy Roosevelt was a sickly child whose father fashioned a gymnasium in the house to help his son gain strength physically.

The men developed some common traits, especially superior intelligence, unflagging persistence, and the ability to tell a good story and communicate with the people around them and the public, but they came to those strengths in vastly different ways.

From the very first time a leader meets the public, words and steps must be carefully considered. Mistakes will be made, but reacting to them and moving on is critical.

For Satterfield, some may look at his background and wonder if it lends to the kind of leadership that Louisville needs now, and the only answer to that, as my colleague Rick Bozich points out, is that there is no way to know.

Great leadership can come from anywhere. Dan McDonnell was not a household name when he came to U of L from an assistant coaching job at Mississippi State. Now he’s one of the highest coaches in the game and a regular at the College World Series. Nobody was taking a chance on Jeff Walz, a Maryland assistant with a stutter. He has gone to the NCAA championship game twice and the Final Four three times and is probably the best coach with the media on Louisville’s campus – if you ask the media.

Satterfield doesn’t have to be a Lincoln or a Roosevelt. All Louisville athletics director Vince Tyra hopes is that he’ll be a Walz or a McDonnell or an Arthur Albiero or a Ken Lolla.

With those guys, my guess is that Satterfield is a pretty good fit.

As someone who grew up in a small place, I like to see coaches get a chance to take success on a smaller stage to a shot at something bigger. I have watched coaches take the opportunities given to them at Louisville and run with them. Urban Meyer is announcing today that he is stepping down at Ohio State. He spent two seasons finishing third in the MAC at Bowling Green before going to Utah to threaten the big boys.

Sometimes people forget just how good you have to be to win at some of these smaller schools, playing against people with more tradition and resources.

For Satterfield, the work at Louisville will be pretty clear. Build relationships with the players and people involved in the program, and begin to establish relationships with the potential players he wants. Communicate and establish the kind of culture he wants in the program. Engage the public and involve fans in the process he’s trying to put into place. Be himself.

For fans and everyone else, Satterfield is inheriting a difficult situation, and deserves the time necessary to manage and reverse the crisis. Part of succeeding in that is the support that the school and community provide.

With any luck, Louisville has found its next gem. 

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