4 Business Lessons Learned From My NFL Coaches
Fourteen years in the NFL. Fourteen grueling, long but ultimately, satisfying years. A couple championships, a couple invasive surgeries and a mental scrapbook of memories that I’ll have forever.
Memories that - in my new career as a writer, producer and owner of a multimedia company, Outlook -- have turned more into lessons and rules to live by than memories.
As a football player - from Pee Wee to the Pro Bowl -- you have coaches. Old, grizzled dudes who say things that you first laugh at, but eventually see the genius in. And if you’re smart enough to remember them, they’ll help you later in life. Whether it’s coaching a quickstart tennis team running a merchandise program for your Boys Action Franchise.
Here are some favorites that I have never forgotten and use to this day. My wife and kids have heard all of them, and laugh at me when I get all serious and quote my rules. But I think they work in the trenches or in a Skype conference call. Just not at the kitchen table with teenagers, who want to make fun of you.
1. The other guys get paid too.
As a defensive lineman, who was pretty good in his heyday, I had a coach who would protect me from the GM and the higher-ups, who thought I should be dominating every game. As if the NFL was a game of Tecmo Bowl, and there was a turbo button I could push at any time.
And when the turbo button didn’t work, my old coach would say "Hey, the other guys get paid too."
The meaning is: Never underestimate your competition. They’ve worked just as hard. Planned just as well. And want all of the same things you do. They’re just as focused, and at times, you’ll find some of them are better than you. They too belong. So respect them, and learn from them too.
The takeaway is this: If you’ve gone that far and are having that conversation, then it means you are one of a few, and that’s an achievement to be proud of.
2. If you have three quarterbacks, you have no quarterback.
Every football season, we read about the QB competitions in major college programs around the country that are covered like presidential elections. It’s an annual rite of passage at Alabama, where Nick Saban with all of his recruiting prowess and talent, can’t find one decent QB in the football hotbed, that is the southeastern U.S. While Michigan State and Boise have produced several, who currently play or will play in the NFL.
But when it happens in the NFL, where scouts and coaches have every resource to their availability and still wind up with three sorry QBs on their roster, everybody gets fired.
If your business has three VPs, you have no VP. Pick one, and go with them. No need in stacking up. Have a leader. Or be a leader. Lead from the back or front. It doesn’t matter. Just be the only one. The QB.
3. Football is a simple game made complicated by coaching.
An NFL offensive playbook is a study in extremes. First of all, they’re about four inches thick, and the amount of information in it would give most academics a brain cramp. If you thumb through it, and you don’t know what PRO SET, TWINS or TIGER is, you’re screwed. It gets even harder when the team you were just traded to calls it TIGER, LION or something else.
I mean it’s ridiculous.
But when you start to really dive into it, and understand an NFL offense, it’s really the same concepts and plays over and over again with what defensive coordinators call window dressing. Window dressing is formations and shifts designed to confuse you into thinking the play is more than a hand-off, even if it’s called TWINS STRONG, SLOT Z MOTION 39 COUNTER KILL 15 POWER ON ME…
Translation: I’m going to turn around, and hand the ball to you on the right.
There’s literally no need for it. Because in Pee Wee football, that same play is called SPONGEBOB RIGHT. There’s no need for it.
Simplify. Simplify your jargon. Simplify your terms and procedures. There’s no need to try to think of everything because everything is not going to happen. If something you’re not prepared for comes up, then you deal with it and move on. SPONGEBOB RIGHT. SPONGEBOB RIGHT.
4. Punting is winning.
The strong defensive teams in the NFL will always adapt this concept. If the offense is punting, then they’re not turning the ball over or setting up the defense for failure. The 2000 Ravens and the 2015 Broncos adopted that persona.
It’s the same as baseball. Singles are good - great even. Everyone wants the homer or touchdown though. And that’s fine, but if it comes at the expense of good, clean fundamental game planning then more mistakes are bound to arise.
Keep your nose down, and grind the right way with your business. Appreciate the little victories. If on the first day, you're thinking "billion-dollar exit," then you just threw an interception. If on the first day you're thinking "I just want to get to the second day," then you’re punting.
And If you’re punting, you may not be winning, but believe me, you sure as hell aren’t losing. I promise, the big touchdown is coming. Just keep punting until it does.
With my business, I decided that music was no longer going to be a focus for Outlook. That day was the one that changed the course of my company. We became a media company. No more indecisiveness.
And fast forward four years, 13 episodes are coming out of Netflix on Sept. 2 for my Kulipari Franchise.