Monday, April 21, 2008

The IT Dude

“Thanks for another great call. I think all of you will find that it really helps to get these things off your chest and share them with the other listeners. That can help give you clarity about your situation. But when sexual harassment is involved, like with the last caller, it’s probably time to speak directly with your Human Resources department, or maybe involve an attorney. Let’s talk to another caller. Hi, I’m Wallace Ramone and you’re next on WJDZ.”
“Hi Wallace my name is Paul and I’m calling because my boss is a complete idiot and he makes it impossible for me to get any work done.”
“Okay, Paul, slow down. You sound really worked up. What’s the problem?”
“He isn’t respectful of my time, has me doing tons of little mundane things that only benefit him personally and thinks that I’m at his beck and call. He has no qualms about phoning me at home, any time of the day or night.”
“What kind of work you do, Paul?”
“I’m the Director of Information Technology for a large…organization. I’d rather not say where I work, is that okay?”
“Sure, most callers to this show don’t.”
“It’s a huge bureaucracy and I’ve been here for about ten years, but only got promoted to this current role about eight months ago.”
“What happened to your predecessor?”
“He left after about a year. His boss, that’s my boss now, was driving him crazy. In fact, they’ve gone through about five IT directors in the last six or seven years.”
“Wow, your boss must be a real tyrant.”
“I guess. The thing is that he has a real stressful job and ordinarily I would respect that there are a lot of demands on him. But the stress never affects him because he delegates all of his work to me and everyone else in the office. He ends up taking a ton of vacation while we clean up after him, so to speak. I expected him to be a bit more techno-savvy too, given his position.”
“Is that a requirement of his job?”
“No, I guess not. But a lot of the stuff he has me do is kind of basic. I mean, there are more than 800 people who work here, and we have multiple millions of dollars of projects and infrastructure that I am supposed to be overseeing. But in reality, I waste most of my week doing totally time-consuming, mundane stuff for my boss.”
“Can you give us an example?”
“The other day he called me into his office and asked if I could separate the music on his iPod so that country and western were two separate genres. And this was right in the middle of me leading a meeting of about fifteen project managers and some consultants who are overseeing our conversion to Linux servers—“
“Let me stop you there before you get too technical on me and our listeners, Paul. Does he do this kind of thing often?”
“Oh yeah. Last summer he had a big meeting in Europe and he made me go with him so that I would be there in case anything went wrong with his PowerPoint presentation. Hell, I don’t even think he created the presentation himself. He had our co-worker Karl do it; it seems like that guy does everything. My boss told me that he doesn’t trust the French version of Windows, so I had to go to Europe, just to press the Next button when he said ‘Next slide.’ He also never remembers his Blackberry password, so he calls to ask me for it about five times a day. I mean how hard is it to remember TX underscore rox?”
“Uh, Paul, I’d recommend changing that to something else tomorrow.”
“I don’t care anymore. I’m at my wit’s end with this guy.”
“One theme I’ve found with a lot of callers is that these CEOs and high-level executives are having their IT staff, even their highly paid IT staff who should be concerned with top-level strategic initiatives, do mundane chores for them like they used to have their personal secretaries do. It’s a real problem today.”
“That’s totally the deal with him. Last fall, he had me come over to his house and set his Tivo to record West Wing and Commander in Chief for him. And then he called me at home one weekend and said I needed to get into the office immediately. He sounded serious, like it was a national emergency or something. I get there and he’s sitting at his desk with his cell phone. It always makes me nervous when he has questions about his cell phone. Anyway, he wanted me to set a special ringtone for this guy named Hugo he doesn’t like who is the head of another, um, organization. So now when Hugo phones, it plays La Cucaracha, because the guy is Hispanic. It makes my boss laugh every time.”
“He sounds like a bit of a simpleton. Makes you wonder how some of these executives get hired in the first place, doesn’t it?”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“Is this a large company? Are they successful?”
“It’s more of a government…agency, actually. He also has me do all this stuff that I think is really inappropriate. Every time he gets into spats with this guy named Tony, he has me remove Tony’s address from his AOL Instant Messenger contacts list, only to change it back a few days later after they make up. And he’ll call me at least once a month with these totally outlandish ideas for startups that are really stupid, and ask my technical opinion on them. One was a site where you could enter your favorite Bible verse and then use that to meet like-minded Christian singles.”
“He sounds like a whack job.”
“Oh yeah, completely. So what should I do?”
“Have you ever told him that these kinds of things aren’t in your job description, and that by wasting your time on these projects, more important things are not getting done?”
“I’ve mentioned it to him a couple times, but he always just repeats some platitude to me, like ‘Paul, we’re fighting a bigger fight here, and it requires sacrifice from all of us. You do love freedom, don’t you Paul?’ I mean, how am I supposed to respond to that?”
“I sympathize with you, Paul. It sounds like he has real delusions of grandeur. Seems like you need to find another job.”
“I’ve thought about looking, but it’s really hard because they’re so suspicious of everyone who works here. When I got hired, I had to undergo an extensive background check that was just a few steps short of an anal probe. They probably snoop on my Internet connection at home. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re monitoring this phone call.”
“Don’t get paranoid on me, Paul. Have you considered—”
“Excuse me, Wallace. I just got a text message from my boss.”
“Really? What does he want now? I’m almost afraid to ask.”
“Boy, this is embarrassing.”
“How bad could it be? Come on, Paul, share it with the listeners. I mean, it’s not like any of us know this guy.”
“Well, maybe not personally. Here’s what his text says. I’m just going to read it verbatim. Man, he’s a bad speller. ‘Paul, is humidity bad for the football with the launch codes in it? Just about to jump in the shower and I usually take it with me all the time and I had left the water in the shower running for a while, so I was worried that maybe all of the extra, ya know, sublimation, in the bathroom might affect the inner circuitry and whatnot. Paul, you there?’ Jesus, I need to get a new job. I’m sorry Wallace, I have to go.”

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Irish Wonder

Neil O’Donoghue was a field goal kicker for three National Football League teams in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Over a nine-year NFL career with three teams, O’Donoghue went 112-189 on field goals, which means he averaged 12-for-21 every year for nine years. That’s a success rate of 59 percent. Could you imagine failing on 41 percent of the projects you initiated at work? You wouldn’t last nine days, much less nine years.

By comparison, the league-wide success rate for field goals in 2004 was over 80 percent. In 1983, when O'Donoghue was in his “prime,” it was 72%. How the hell did this guy manage to stay employed for nearly a decade when the average NFL career lasts only three years?

Before you contemplate that question, though, consider the fact that Neil O’Donoghue was not only a painfully inaccurate field goal kicker, but also that he had a true knack for failing in the clutch, in the most miserable ways imaginable.

Take the October, 24, 1983 Monday night game against the Giants, in which O’Donoghue missed three overtime kicks in an eventual 20-20 tie. Shockingly, one of those misses was a 19-yarder, meaning that the line of scrimmage was the two-yard line. So this guy missed a field goal the equivalent length of an extra point in overtime, and his teammates had to go back out there, hoping to get into field goal range again. “That’s okay, Neil. Shake it off. We’ll give you another shot.” Little did they know that, no matter how short the distance, Neil O’ would have missed that night.

And the list goes on. In 1984, he blew a game to the Packers with a missed extra point and a 45-yard field goal that was short. On the last game of that same '84 season, needing a win against Washington to make the playoffs, O'Donoghue missed the game-winning field goal as time expired. It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that O'Donoghue would be just as ineffective in the clutch as he is on the first drive of the game. Why would a kicker with a career percentage under 60% suddenly become a go-to guy with the game on the line?

O'Donoghue did earn a measure of redemption in 1984, however, when he scored 117 points on the season, according to the miraculous website – miraculous because it really exists. That was a Cardinals team record – for all position players, mind you, not just kickers – that stood until just last season (2005) when Neil Rackers racked up 140 points on 40 field goals – the latter a new league record. Apparently the Cardinals’ knack for getting the ball in the end zone extends to the current day.

Luck o’ the Irish

Born in Ireland in 1953, O'Donoghue was a standout hurling and rugby player before attending Auburn University in Alabama as their field goal kicker. He was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1977, and connected on two of six attempts before being cut after five games. Ironically, O'Donoghue had held out for the start of that season until mid-September, hoping to extract a bigger contract out of the Bills. After nearly avoiding deportation back to Ireland due to immigration problems in 1978, O'Donoghue was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a 1976 expansion franchise that had posted a sympathy-inducing 2-26 record in their first two years of existence.

Amazingly, the bumbling Bucs went 15-17 during the two years that O'Donoghue was their kicker, as he connected on 57 percent of his attempts – albeit with a staggering nine missed extra points. It wasn’t all rainbows and four-leaf clovers for the Irishman, though. In 1978, the team’s center snapped the pigskin over the holder’s head and O'Donoghue tried to kick the ball out of bounds, but whiffed on it. This led to an 80-yard return by the opposing Minnesota Vikings, and later resulted in Bucs’ coach John McKay referring to O’Donoghue as “The Irish Wonder.”

The next year with Tampa, O'Donoghue had four kicks blocked by the Vikings in a single game, including a last-second PAT attempt that would have sent the game into overtime. We should all be willing to give Neil a pass on those four misses, and lay them instead at the feet of his offensive line. Maybe it was their way of getting back at him for the gaffe the previous year.

So How did he Do it?
This long, nearly unbroken run of mediocrity brings us back to our original question: how did O'Donoghue keep getting re-signed? You’d have to think that management could have auditioned someone, anyone, who could kick better than 59%, couldn’t they? You’d think that a local university or junior college kicker could walk on and make a 19-yard field goal, right? A friggin’ extra point!

I believe that the secret to O'Donoghue’s longevity lies in the makeup of the employer where he enjoyed his longest reign of infamy – the St. Louis Cardinals.

Historically, the Cardinals franchise has always been one of the worst teams in NFL history. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. In fact, the Cardinals franchise is the oldest continuously active franchise in professional football, having originated in Chicago in 1920 as one of the league’s charter members. What they lacked in success, they compensated for in endurance.

During the Cardinals franchise’s entire 85-year existence, their aggregate record is 448-638-38, for an underwhelming .399 winning percentage. Just to give them the benefit of the doubt, I didn’t even include their 0-10 record in 1944, when they merged with Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals were nothing if not consistent. Although the Chicago Cardinals won NFL Championships in 1925 and 1947 (the Super Bowl was not initiated until 1965), the Cardinals have only appeared in the playoffs since 1947 four times, including a 1948 NFL hampionship loss, and in 1998, when they squeaked into the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

Longevity Explained

So what’s all this got to do with Neil O'Donoghue? Well, my theory is that during the team’s three-generations-long reign of football ineptitude, one recurring theme appears. The entire Cardinals organization, top to bottom, was rotten. From the owner, down through the front office, the coaching staff, the scouts, the trainers and the players – everyone has been terrible; kickers included. And if the entire organization suffers from the loser’s disease, there’s no reason that the talent evaluators should be immune. So they kept bringing O'Donoghue back. He was just as bad as the rest of his teammates, and therefore didn’t stand out. Just because he was a kicker, it shouldn’t over–ride his inherent Cardinal-ness, right?

Of the 13 NFL Hall of Famers who played for the Cardinals (not counting Jim Thorpe, who played all of one game for the team), six were either coaches or players who gained their reputation while playing for other franchises; only two Hall of Famers played for the Cards as recently as 1975.

Name one great Cardinals player, I dare you. Hall of Famer Dick “Night Train” Lane? He played most of his career with the Rams. Jim Hart? Please…. Dan Dierdorf? His annoying announcing career is his long-lasting legacy. Shortstop Ozzie Smith is the closest you’re going to get, but he plays the wrong sport. Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald displayed true brilliance in the 2005 season, but give them a couple years and they’ll either be pulled back down to earth by the rest of the organization or traded.

I’m suggesting that the football Cardinals management, including its executive team, was entirely aware of the jaw-dropping ineptitude of O'Donoghue and others like him, but were completely powerless to do anything about it. They probably figured that, in the grand scheme of things, the kicker position wasn’t that important, and that as long as he was hitting over 50 percent, he was not that awful. Hell, he had a far higher kicking percentage than the winning percentage of the team during that era. And that explains the long, anxiety-inducing kicking career of the Irish Wonder. He’s probably resting his inaccurate kicking foot now somewhere on the coast of County Kerry, cashing his NFL pension check each month and laughing all the way to the bank.