Review of "Remember the Titans"
Just posting this because, hey, I had to do it for a leadership course, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film, movie snob that I am! Here goes …
Review of Remember the Titans
In Remember the Titans (2000), Coaches Boone and Yoast represent contrasting styles of leadership, but styles both very much based in a sense of integrity. At the outset both appear determined to do what, to their minds, is the right thing. Boone does not want to take Yoast’s job, a situation he sees as paralleling what had recently happened to him in North Caronlina – where he was denied a job because of his race; Yoast decides to leave Arlington, feeling that the decision to replace him was unfair and, quite clearly, motivated by the racial tensions of the day. Both are quickly faced with the fact that their decisions are not just their own; they are complicated by the needs of their followers. Boone is greeted by a crowd of cheering African-Americans families, happy to see integration happening and a black coach named by the school board; Yoast is confronted by the fact that his all-white squad will refuse to play for Boone, and thus his students will lose a very important opportunity.
Faced by the needs of their followers, both coaches accept the roles that circumstance has given them. It is soon clear, however, that Boone – not only with legitimate power but also a willingness to establish dominance – fully “owns” the leadership role and is highly motivated to both lead and succeed. He describes himself as a “dictator”: indeed, he’s direct, undiplomatic, and results-oriented. He wields coercive power, but with a moral goal: to create a team of young men, bound together by struggled, and blind to race. The situation requires that Boone practice a vision-focused, some might say domineering, form of leadership; he plays this role without faltering, at least in front of his followers (the audience sees more of his anxiety/uncertainty, such as when he’s vomiting behind the locker room prior to the first game). His vision is equality, the importance of team, and accountability. Eventually, his vision becomes that of the team, and leaders – like Gary, Julius, Rev, Blue, Louis, and others – emerge from the player’s ranks to reinforce this vision.
Gary and Julius are the players who exhibit the greatest leadership traits and, eventually, behaviors. Gary, as Defensive Captain, first sees his role only direct in relation to his unit, but, as Julius points out, he is seen as the de facto leader of the white players, and by ignoring Ray’s willful slacking on the offensive line, he is failing to establish his leadership on defense, which has a mix of black and white players, Julius included. “[My] attitude reflects [your] leadership, Captain,” says Julius. It is not until Gary confronts Ray, during the night practice, that all of the defensive players, black and white, accept him as Captain. After Gary’s accident, and the first-half drubbing in the championship, Julius emerges as a leader, almost on cue: it seems as if Boone, with his less-than-inspirational half-time speech, was expecting a leader to rise up within the team to give them the motivational boost they needed to pull out a win.
While Boone’s commanding style works with the majority of the players, Petey, who was a stand-out running back prior to the school desegretation, feels lost: Boone’s criticism only breaks him down. Yoast sees an opportunity to improve his defense – and re-engage Petey – by recruiting Petey; in Yoast’s opinion, he needs to be utilized, not criticized. However, Boone sees Yoast’s behavior as “crippling” – allowing the players, black and white, not to be as tough as they need to be to survive their environment (social and athletic). Eventually, Yoast comes around to this way of thinking in regards to Petey, to a certain extent. While he does finally acquire Petey’s talents on defense in the championship game, he gives the choice to start him to the player he replaced (Alan); he has adapted his behavior to more closely fit Boone’s vision, while at the same time giving the players (Petey and Alan) what they need, psycho-emotionally, to feel validated, without damaging his integrity.
Throughout the film, Yoast is portrayed as introspective; his primary leadership qualities are emotional intelligence and behavioral flexibility, a fact reinforced by his willingness to accept a lesser role because he feels that the young men he has coached for years would, without him, make the wrong decision and refuse to play for Boone. He accepts his role as Defense Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach with a stoic sense of responsibility. Early on, he offers Boone advice, and is refused; later, he tries to caution Boone when the boys are getting sick from lack of water – Boone listens, but without acknowledging Yoast directly. Yoast is people-focused (or at least as much as a football coach can be), and cares for his player’s health and feelings. Boone is results-focused – he is trying to change their minds, shape them to his vision. While Yoast eventually adapts to some of Boone’s tactics (re: his benching of Petey during the championship), he also utilizes his emotional intelligence to greatly benefit the team. He is smart enough to realize that Boone’s “tunnel vision” requires him to ask directly for help – his defense is getting blasted at the state championship, so this is not too much of a sacrifice – before he can expect his voice (the “trick play” that wins the game in the final seconds) to be integrated into Boone’s plans.
In a fitting conclusion to this story of leadership, Boone, the leader himself, grows as a result of the other leaders around him; in the end, he finally learns from and accepts the expertise of Yoast, and earns his respect (and the respect of his young daughter). Boone was, in the words of Yoast, “the right man for the job.” He had the vision and motivation to see his vision through to the end, to make the team into a team first, and focus that team on a goal – “perfection” – so much that it became everyone’s goal. His leadership brought a divided community together in a way that no one could have predicted, and left an inspiring legacy to all would-be leaders.