Andrew Luck’s retirement shows that if you don’t protect the talent in your organization, you won’t have it for long.
Andrew Luck announced his retirement Saturday night. Luck, the intriguingly smart and fantastically gifted quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, basically explained that the constant cycle of injury and recovery he has gone through for the past few years had ground him down emotionally and physically.
This is a particularly personal story for me. I am not one who is a big fan of individual football players. It’s a team sport, and I enjoy the team aspect. So, let me just put it this way: Andrew Luck is probably my favorite football player of all time.
Now, there are those who disagree with Luck’s decision. Some claim it’s a silly financial decision–Luck is leaving nine figures of future earnings on the table. Some claim it’s a cowardly thing to do–football players always have to pay the butcher’s bill, and Luck’s “quitting” young speaks to his softness of character.
For those people, I’ll only say this: Let the person who has taken snaps in the NFL with a lacerated kidney and peed blood afterward be the one who judges Luck. I could stand on my soapbox and talk about “playing hurt” with the best of them, but I’ve witnessed Luck’s NFL career, and the guy has earned the right to make whatever decision he wants.
Andrew Luck is a generational talent. Unfortunately, the Indianapolis Colts teams that Andrew Luck led were built to exploit his talents, not to protect them. So, the Colts had this big, strong, fast, smart quarterback who could pull off the most uncanny plays and shake off the most vicious of hits; and they placed him behind an offensive line that for years could at best be referred to as a “patchwork” of journeyman players. The running backs and receivers that Luck has played with were fair at best, and absolute fill-ins at worst.
The Colts took Luck’s greatest strengths–his ability to take hits and still raise the level of everyone around him–for granted. Luck’s toughness and tendency to compliment players for making good hits against him have been well documented in his “mic’d up” segments. And, as it often goes in the NFL, the tougher you are, the more likely you are to be injured. Luck has suffered through a litany of injuries.
Zak Keefer has the most noteworthy tweet on Luck’s injury history today. The physical toll on Luck through 6 seasons reads like someone who has been in a major car accident…not somebody who has actually played the most difficult position in all of sports at the highest level despite and concurrently with these injuries.
Physical toll on Andrew Luck through 6 NFL seasons:
» Torn cartilage in 2 ribs
» partially torn abdomen
» a lacerated kidney that left him peeing blood
» at least 1 concussion
» a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder
» and this mysterious calf/ankle issue that led to this
— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) August 25, 2019
The Colts organization is smarting from the retirement of its young superstar quarterback. Colts fans booed Luck as he left the field for the last time after his retirement was leaked during their preseason game. Still, I’m going to just put it this way:
The Colts organization and leadership is getting EXACTLY what they deserve.
The waste of a generational talent is a sad thing to see, but it was entirely foreseeable. Luck was sacked 41 times in his 2012 rookie year. That kind of pounding is psychologically withering to a quarterback more than almost any other position player because the quarterback has to have the confidence that he can focus on other things without having a sledgehammer swung at his chest on every play. So, what should be the priority for the organization? limit those sacks, right.
Luck was sacked an identical 41 times in 2016. That’s four years later for the mathematically challenged. The result is that Luck has had to come back from an awful set of injuries, with each comeback extracting a little bit of soul.
In Luck’s words, “it’s been unceasing and unrelenting…It’s taken my joy of this game away.”
Which leads me to the point of this post: If you are an organizational leader who is leaning on a few star talents surrounded by a supporting cast of also-rans to “gut it out” on a daily basis, you are playing a very dangerous game.
Because when your top talent has had enough–when you have extracted enough of their soul by asking them to jump on yet another grenade dropped by a poor performing organization–it will be fully justified to go elsewhere.
You will get EXACTLY what you deserve.
And, if you aren’t doing this explicitly, it might be good to take a moment and reflect on whether you are doing this implicitly. Take a look at the team you lead and ask whether you are leaning a bit too heavily on a talented few. Take a look at the organization you lead and ask whether you are counting too much on a few talented teams to carry the rest of the organization.
Do this not because you have the time to do it. Nobody does. Do it because you can’t afford to grind your top talent down to a joyless nub.
Andrew Luck’s retirement is a cautionary tale to those executives who believe a little too much in the power of star talent.
What do you think? How do you protect your star talent?