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As 'Black Monday' nears, teams must make careful choices

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know I love to read and discuss leadership ideas and concepts. One of my favorite new experts in this field is Daniel Pink, who wrote a great book about the powers of motivation called "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us," and has a new one coming out soon called "To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others." Pink encourages business leaders to embrace change and examine what really motivates people to produce great results. Leaders should look for new and innovative ways to sell their ideas -- as all of us are trying to sell something every day of our lives.

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What does Pink have to do with football? A great deal.

The day after the regular season ends has become known as "Black Monday" in the NFL. While 12 NFL teams will be getting ready for the playoffs and a possible Super Bowl run, the other 20 will have to make decisions about the future. Many will start making changes right away -- some of which will be for better, some of which will be for worse. Up to 10 teams might even fire their head coaches. "Black Monday" is a horrible but accurate name for a day that will affect many families. Losing a job is not the best way to start the new year.

The people who run most organizations want their team to become great, to be one of the 12 taking aim at the Super Bowl. But there's more to becoming great than simply wanting it. As Pink points out in "Drive": "Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one's sights and pushing toward the horizon."

To become great, the leaders of these teams must understand how to push toward that new horizon. They must build an organizational infrastructure that is not solely dependent on picking the right coach. However, most teams will continue to be as nearsighted as they were before, believing that simply picking the perfect coach will make all the difference in the world.

In the coming days, we will hear all about coaching candidates like Oregon's Chip Kelly, Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton. But unless the teams eyeing any of these fine coaches are willing to set up the right organizational infrastructure, they'll just be making change for change's sake. Teams must find the right leader for the organization.

For an example of this type of synergy, we can look at what happened five years ago with the Atlanta Falcons. Leaning on his business experience, owner Arthur Blank hired a coach (Mike Smith) and a general manager (Thomas Dimitroff) who meshed in terms of personal character and work ethic. Blank did not want to simply put two friends together; rather, he wanted to blend two talented people who would work well with each other. It was a great move by Blank. Most fans had never heard of Smith before he was hired, but Blank's detailed research showed he was the right coach for his organization. Blank understood that one man alone will never lift an entire team; installing the right infrastructure is necessary for engineering a turnaround.

On Monday, we might see changes made by the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers and other NFL teams. However, unless the leaders of the organizations making these changes correctly identify their needs, it might all be for naught.

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Few candidates will ever turn down a head-coaching job, as it's a more difficult gig to land than a spot in the U.S. Senate. Many prospective head coaches fear they'll never get another shot to lead a team, and end up accepting a position that is not the right fit for their style or talent. They often end up failing. Candidates should closely examine their opportunities; they shouldn't jump at the first offer.

Many incoming coaches also think they can be the ones to save an organization. They think their work ethic, their intelligence will make the difference. But unless the organization is fixed, these coaches aren't likely to succeed, regardless of their talent.

On Monday, pay close attention to what is said by the representatives of teams that fire their coaches. Be wary of talk about schemes and style of play; these are not good signs regarding the likelihood that they'll land the right coach. However, talk of finding the right person to blend into the organization, someone who can lead and inspire, should spark hope for the future.

Change is good, but precise, strategic change is best.

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1) My sense is that the Baltimore Ravens are not going to play their best game on Sunday, and that they'll welcome being the fourth seed in the AFC. Then they'd get to face the Indianapolis Colts and likely the Houston Texans before having to deal with either the New England Patriots or Denver Broncos. Seeding is important; I think the Ravens will know that landing the right seed is better than landing the higher seed.

2) By 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday, the Patriots will know exactly what's at stake for them moving forward. If Baltimore loses -- which I expect to happen -- and the Texans win, then the Pats will get the third seed, rendering their game against the Miami Dolphins meaningless and counterproductive; the Dolphins run the same defense as the Cincinnati Bengals, who would be New England's first-round playoff opponent. However, if Houston loses to the Indianapolis Colts, all bets will be off. With a shot at the second seed, the Patriots will play the game for real.

3) To beat the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings will have to play their best game of the year defensively. They're capable of doing this at home, where they're 6-1 with 19 sacks. The Vikings must pressure Aaron Rodgers with their front seven, and I expect them to have success doing just that. During Minnesota's past two home games -- both wins -- the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears attempted 95 passes combined. If the Packers are forced to throw it more than 40 times, they're in big trouble.

4) The Indianapolis Colts are locked into the fifth seed in the AFC regardless of what happens Sunday against the Texans. However, with coach Chuck Pagano making his return to the sideline, I expect the Colts to play with great passion and enthusiasm. This won't be an easy win for the Texans, who, as of two weeks ago, looked like they would be the team with nothing at stake in Week 17. The Colts need to play hard and they need to compete. They're a young team, and this game gives them an opportunity to stay sharp and prepare for the Ravens. The new practice rules make it almost impossible for playoff teams to rest in the regular-season finale, unless, like the Ravens, they want to secure a lower seed.

5) Sunday's game against the New York Giants might be Michael Vick's last with the Philadelphia Eagles, but it won't be his last as an NFL quarterback. I hear that several teams will actively pursue Vick's talents once the Eagles have finished making all their changes.

6) I hope 75-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau returns for another season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. LeBeau's unit played as well as it could have this year, and he's still one of the best coaches in the game. If you ever want to know about a team's offensive strengths or weaknesses, watch how LeBeau schemes against them; he always tailors his game plans to take away the opposing offense's strengths. LeBeau has taught me more about other teams (via game tape) than almost any other coach.

7) Word out of Arizona is that Cardinals general manager Rod Graves, one of the nicest men in the NFL, might be relieved of his duties -- one of several changes set to happen in the desert. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt's job security is not certain. He could also be on the hot seat.

8) Don't be surprised if first-year coaches Mike Mularkey (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Romeo Crennel (Kansas City Chiefs) are let go. Both men were hired by general managers (Gene Smith and Scott Pioli, respectively) who might not have much job security, either.

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9) I think Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider has done an incredible job working with head coach Pete Carroll and building the team's roster. Schneider has made several moves and has been extremely proactive. He gets my vote for Executive of the Year.

10) The winner-take-all matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins will make for a great way to end the 2012 regular season. My vote goes to the Redskins, only because they're healthier than the Cowboys right now. Dallas' defensive difference maker, DeMarcus Ware, won't be at full strength -- hampered by a bad shoulder. However, the way Tony Romo and Dez Bryant have been playing for the 'Boys, I'm sure this game will come down to the final possession.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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