Regardless of whether you’re a fan of American football, or even of sports at all, you likely have seen various words of football wisdom appear in various business articles or business books. Coaches inspire players with words of encouragement and motivation that often have equally compelling application in corporate boardrooms as they do in team locker rooms.
As football season starts, it’s appropriate to learn from the coaches. Here are a few inspiring quotes from some of those coaches to inspire you today:
“If what you did yesterday seems big, you haven’t done anything today.” –Lou Holtz
Almost anything is ripe for innovation. We’ve all seen startups wipe out the established players. We’ve seen whole industries upended as new technologies create new possibilities.
I love to collect these stories. It’s also fun to collect quotes from the naysayers who laughed at the disrupters, but are later proven wrong.
Aspiring leaders always benefit from studying disruption whether in your own industry or even in a distant field. Because often the principles and lessons are applicable elsewhere.
That’s why I have to share this story with you. It’s the reinvention of American football.
Don’t care about football?
You may learn a few lessons from this story that may inspire you. And even if you don’t, you may find yourself at a cocktail party one day, looking for conversation. Read this and you’ll have another story guaranteed to fascinate everyone.
S.C. Gwynne is a first-rate author. Sam was a finalist for the Pulitzer and worked at Time as bureau chief, national correspondent and senior editor. Mix his superb writing with a compelling story and you have The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football. I recently had the opportunity to ask him about his research into the reinvention of the game.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” –Steve Jobs
Hal Mumme transformed football from a running game to a passing game. Who knew!? Your book tells the untold story of how this transformation happened, and it does it in a compelling way. Would you briefly share how this happened?
In the NFL, the middle 1970s came to be known as the “dead ball era.” Fewer points were scored than at any time since 1942. Fewer passes were thrown than at any time since the 1950s. The game was heading back to its ground-and-pound origins, which is what many players and coaches really wanted anyway: a bloody scrum in the middle of the field featuring halfback dives and snarling middle linebackers. Things got so bad—and so boring (it was just as bad in the college game)—that the NFL made radical changes to its blocking rules in 1978, allowing offensive linemen to use their hands, and limiting how many times a receiver could be bumped.
It was, coincidentally, precisely at that time that the coaches who would change the game arrived on the scene. Bill Walsh was experimenting with what would become the West Coast offense; Don Coryell’s receivers were running routes in new ways; Mouse Davis was setting records at Portland State; LaVell Edwards was starting his long run of offensive dominance at BYU, and a young Hal Mumme was studying the passing tactics of all the above. Fast forward to the present day, where a few quick statistics will illustrate the impact those coaches collectively had on the game. Prior to 1991 (the year Hal arguably changed the game), five NCAA D-1 quarterbacks had passed for 10,000 yards or more in their college careers. Since then, 90 more have done it. Of the 92 quarterbacks to date who have thrown for more than 4,000 yards in a single season, 78 have done it since the year 2000. And so on. The game has changed.
Of these passing innovations, by far the two most extreme were the Run and Shoot—invented by Ohio high school coach Tiger Ellison in the 1970s and brought into the modern age by Mouse Davis at Portland State in the 1970s—and the Air Raid. No one else was even close. As I describe in my book, the Run and Shoot did not really survive the 1990s, while the Air Raid was just starting to take off.
Hal’s approach began with the fact that he simply threw the ball more than anyone else. At Iowa Wesleyan, his quarterback Dustin Dewald once completed 61 of 86 passes, both all-time records. He passed on first down and fourth. Hal also messed with the basic assumptions, goals, objectives, and premises of the game. If most football teams ran 60 offensive plays in a game, he ran 85 to 90 and sometimes 100. If most teams believed that controlling the ball—time of possession—was the most important single statistic of the game (other than the score), Hal’s players behaved as though that number was utterly meaningless. He put five feet of space between his offensive linemen, shifting the basic geometry of the line of scrimmage. In a world of exceedingly complex playbooks and ever-multiplying plays, Hal had no playbook and only a handful of plays. His players saw a dead simple game, while opposing defenses saw what looked like wild complexity. Because Hal usually went for it on fourth down, his teams had four downs to make a first down, while his opponents had three, thus altering the assumptions one might make about what sort of play Hal would call on third and 9. (Hint: in his relativistic universe, he does not have to make 9 yards.) And so on. It was as though Hal’s team was playing an entirely different game.
Hal Mumme coaching on the sidelines, Used by Permission
You point out that before Hal Mumme introduced his technique, only five NCAA Quarterbacks had ever thrown for more than 10,000 yards and since then 90 have done it. That’s amazing. When did his technique catch on with others?
Though one can argue—as I do, in my book—that Hal definitively changed the game of football in the Iowa Wesleyan-Northeast Missouri State game on August 31, 1991, the rest of the world did not know that. The football world would not truly understand what he had done until the late 1990s. That was when he took his video game offenses to the game’s motherland—the SEC—when he became head coach at the University of Kentucky and did what everyone said he could not possibly do: in 1997 he beat Alabama. After the Alabama game, American football started making pilgrimages to his doorstep.
The former NFL head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Smith, teamed up with one of my favorite authors, Jon Gordon, to explore seven principles that teams use to reinvigorate and reinvent their future.
I’m not sure how you read, but the more I like a book, the more underlines, highlights, and dog-eared pages appear. Long ago, I developed the habit of doing this because I want the wisdom of the authors to penetrate my thick skull and make an impact. When I read this book, there were so many quotes that stuck with me.
So, instead of an author interview, I wanted to share the top 25 Quotes from this book on team building that stuck with me. I hope you find them helpful as you build a great team of your own. Because, as the title of this book reminds us, winning starts long before you actually take the field.
25 Quotes to Build a Winning Team
“Culture is defined and created from the top down, but it comes to life from the bottom up.” –Mike Smith
How do you take talented individuals and turn them into a winning team?
How do you create a winning culture?
Is it possible to use adversity to your advantage?
What team is the greatest of all time?
I asked Ted Sundquist all of these questions and more.
Ted Sundquist played fullback at the U.S. Air Force Academy, winning the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl and the 1983 Independence Bowl. He later served as a flight commander in Germany before returning to the Academy and coaching. In 1993, the Denver Broncos hired Ted as a talent scout. Ted was named General Manager of the Broncos in 2002. Today, Ted is an analyst for the NFL network, a radio personality, a commentator and a blogger. This year, he added author to that list with the publication of Taking Your Team to the Top.
Ted, you’re known for grabbing talent others passed over. How were you able to see potential where others saw problems?
I think first and foremost you have to identify the talent pool that you’re dealing with. Understand where the best and the brightest come from that can contribute to your industry. In professional football, that’s dealing with the entering college football player pool, as well as players already in the NFL, and those available on the street (free agents).
Leading a team in any capacity is not a right but rather a privilege. -Ted Sundquist
Then you have to have a VERY good understanding of what traits are necessary in these individuals in order to execute the plans & procedures required to pursue your mission. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to football, and I’m sure that’s the case in other arenas as well. We had prioritized our requirements prior to searching for those individuals to fill our positions of need.
You must be as detailed with the back end of your prospect list as you are with the top candidates. Look for those individuals that fulfill your priorities in the Critical Factors, those traits which run “vertical” through the organization and are analogous for every person on the team, regardless of position. Know which factors are most important and which you can “live with.” Then have a thorough breakdown of the Position Specifics, those skills necessary to fulfill a specific task required of the candidate.
Ensure that the positions are evaluated from various angles within the organization and not from a single viewpoint. This eliminates personal bias and provides for a crosscheck of opinions. Mistakes made on the front end of the selection process are difficult to correct once the player is on your team.
Greeting linebacker and team captain Al Wilson after a hard fought win on the road.
If you take the time to do your homework, finding the pool of talent, identifying what’s most important to your team to accomplish the mission (Critical Factors [vertical traits] & Position Specifics [horizontal traits]), and then implementing an evaluation system from multiple angles & crosschecks . . . your chances of making mistakes are minimized and you’re more apt to find the best and the brightest talent to execute your plans towards goal achievement.
“The culture should reflect the mission.” Ted Sundquist