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Is There a Young Don Shula in Our Industry?

The recent firing of Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano is related in some respect to one of the club companies in our industry, since Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is the CEO and founder of The Related Companies, the real estate development company that is the parent company of Equinox.

This year, Equinox has enhanced its portfolio with its acquisitions of SoulCycle and four of The Sports Club/LA clubs. Equinox is seen as one of the top companies in our industry.

The Miami Dolphins? No so much, at least in NFL circles. After Miami went 11-5 and won the AFC East in 2008, the first year of Ross' ownership, the Dolphins sputtered to back-to-back 7-9 seasons. This year, they began the season 0-7 and are currently 4-9, leading to Sparano's ouster.

When asked whom he would like to lead his Dolphins next season, Ross told reporters at Monday's press conference, "I'd like to find a young Don Shula if that's possible," referring to the former Dolphins coach and all-time winningest coach in NFL history.

That line struck a nerve with Michael Lombardi, an analyst for the NFL Network. Lombardi, a former executive with the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns, was interviewed Tuesday morning by the "The Border Patrol" on Kansas City sports radio station 810 WHB in the wake of the Kansas City Chiefs firing its head coach, Todd Haley.

"When I hear those comments," Lombardi said, referring to Ross' Don Shula line, "I realize that that organization really doesn't understand what it takes to be successful in the NFL. You're not going to find the next Don Shula."

Lombardi later added: "Stephen Ross is looking for a guy with a magic wand. That's the biggest mistake in football."

In the fitness industry, we hear about "the magic pill" of exercise that could make us all healthier and end the growing obesity epidemic in our country. Experts tell us repeatedly that no magic pill exists, that clubs have to really work at delivering the message that the exercise programs they can provide are the answer to a long and sustainable healthy lifestyle.

Actually, Ross' yearning for the next Don Shula—and Lombardi's critical comments that ensued—bring up some interesting questions: Who is the Don Shula of health clubs? Who are the great club CEOs and leaders that transcend their peers? And who is the next Don Shula in this industry?

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