Jay Cutler: Generation Y in the Huddle

You see, Jay-C and I go way back

Jay Cutler played his college ball here in Nashville at Vanderbilt University, and I had the honor, the privilege, of attending the smaller, lesser known, and lesser recognized Belmont Universtiy, located only a few blocks from VU’s campus. Since we had no football team – Vandy was the next best thing, unfortunately, they sucked (attending and winning their first bowl game since WWII last season – yeah, that bad). The 2006 draft came around, and the Titans had their sights on drafting their QB of the future. Vince Young, Matt Leinart, and Jay Cutler all sat together waiting for their name to be called. Much to my dismay, the Titans, or should I say team owner Bud Adams, who has a hard-on for anything ‘Texas’ related, opted to go with Vince Young. Three years later, VY is on the bench, and Jay Cutler is a 25 year old pro-bowl Quarterback.

Welcome to the 2009 NFL off-season. Here’s where things get interesting A little timeline for you: In Denver, long-time hall of fame head coach Mike Shanahan is let go of his coaching duties after leading the Broncos to two Superbowl championships. Newcomer Josh McDaniels enters stage left and immediately starts rocking the boat. The media begins reporting that McDaniels is interested in bringing in another QB to compete for the starting job – this doesn’t sit well with Cutler, who threw for over 4,500 yards and 25 TDs last season. And thus, all hell breaks loose. As soon as Cutler learned there were talks for bringing someone new in, Cutler was infuriated (perhaps rightfully so) – refusing to even speak with his new head coach. Only days later, Cutler demands to be traded and (to my overwhelming exaltation) he got what he wanted and is now, as of Thursday, a proud member of the Chicago Bears (ehem, I’m a huge Bears fan too – for the record).

Why the ‘tude?

Cutler’s attitude has been analyzed and debated extensively over the past few weeks. Recently, he was referred to as “The biggest crybaby in Denver Broncos franchise history” by ESPN’s Mark Schlereth. As I sat and watched the experts analyze and dismantle the Cutler situation, listening to the pundits argue about his attitude, I thought to myself, “This sounds familiar”. Why? Because it’s the same reputation Generation-Y, as a whole, is being labeled with by the ‘outside world’ – over-entitled, crybaby’s, unwilling to take criticism, and so on.

Why did Cutler get so upset? Was it because the team that drafted (hired) him was questioning his value? Was it because his ego took a hit and he didn’t know how to handle it? Maybe his sense of entitlement compelled him to leave his job for a company who didn’t care about him and look for elsewhere for something more self-fulfilling. Jay Cutler’s situation runs parallel to what many young businessmen and women are going through today.

Generation Y = Generation “Why?”

As a generation, part of the reason we get a bad rep or at least are viewed as ‘difficult’ by old-school employers, is that we want our job to have meaning- we (collectively) are not good at taking orders without asking “why”. We’re not interested in just earning a paycheck – and more and more often we’re seeing young adults opt for lower paying jobs if it means their work is more meaningful and personally fulfilling – a generation that isn’t as tempted by the almighty dollar. Corporations and big-business doesn’t know how to handle this, because they’ve never been tested by an entire generation that is compelling them to provide us with a meaningful workplace.

To many, Generation Y is seen as nothing more than a group of people asking ‘why?’ Why am I doing this? Why can’t I have more time off? Why can’t I express myself the way I want? We don’t fit into the mold, we change the mold, we make the mold. We are seeing a transition from work-life balance to life-work balance - with a growing emphisis on life. In fact, it’s not so much a balance as it is an integration of the two. We want our work to to have meaning, it’s very rarely ‘just business’ when it comes to our generation.

Getting back to my good friend Jay’s situation. Maybe his coach didn’t like him, it’s possible there was some friction there from the beginning, but more than likely, Josh McDaniels saw it as ‘just business’ – he was focused on results, which in this case putting together a winning team – and if that meant bringing someone new in at QB, he was willing to do it, or at least entertain the option. But you see, Cutler was focused on the relationship – he’s thinking “What the hell, I’ve done a damn good job here for the past three years, I carried this offense on my shoulders, my relationship with the team and staff should mean something – at least enough for you not to go behind my back and look for my replacement!” It’s the clear results vs. relationship driven business philosophies clashing together.

Are we entitled to be entitled?

I want to turn this over to you guys. What’s your take on this situation? Was Cutler right to demand a trade, get out of his current situation, and pursue someone who would appreciate him more, finding a job that has more value and meaning? Is he an example of Gen-Y ‘mold’ (he is 25 you know)? And in looking at the big picture, as a generation, are we entitled to be entitled? Should we be so focused on our own needs? What happened to focusing on the customer, doing what’s best for the company, and so on? And where does our sense of entitlement come from?

A lot to think about and I’m sure there are some very strong opinions on both ends of the spectrum. Please leave your comments below – I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and discussion.

About Matt Cheuvront

I empower folks to do the work they want to do and live the life they want to live. I also watch entirely too much Saved by the Bell, run marathons, and drink plenty of craft beer. Check out the work my company is doing at Proof Branding.