Compared to the accolades given to Vince Lombardi as a winning football coach, little has been said about the fact that he was one of the greatest overachievers of all time. Not gifted as an athlete, his success as a football player in high school and college was primarily the result of hard work and persistence. These attributes carried over to his coaching career and were passed along and exhibited by his players. Between 1959-1967, he led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL Championships, including two Super Bowls. Prior to his arrival, the team floundered at the bottom of the standings for many years.
Born and reared in Brooklyn, Lombardi was awarded a scholarship to play football at Fordham University in New York City. At Fordham, he gained a measure of fame in 1936 as the smallest member of the fearsome front line that sports writers called the Seven Blocks of Granite.
After college, he began his coaching career at a high school in New Jersey, where he also taught physics, chemistry and Latin. He gained recognition for having the ability to inspire students toward excellence in the classroom and on the football field. His personal attributes as an overachiever were instilled in others.
Emphasizing that he would not accept anyone being content with just “getting by,” Lombardi stressed perfection. In football, this meant intense practices to drill into his team the specific plays that he spent hours developing. Repetitions were performed until team members could run the plays as if they were as much a part of them as breathing and eating. The plays were not difficult, but they were believed in and perfected by those who executed them.
It wasn’t long before Lombardi’s high school team became a regional powerhouse, which led to his being invited back to Fordham as an assistant coach, even though he had applied for the head coach position. His work at Fordham accounted for more success than did the lethargic work of the head coach, but he did not receive the promotion he sought and deserved. This led to his accepting an assistant coach’s job under the renowned Colonel Earl “Red” Blaik at West Point. Blaik’s mentor at Army was General Douglas MacArthur, who said, “There is absolutely no substitute for victory.”
After six years of productive work and learning at West Point, Lombardi was hired as an assistant coach by the New York Giants. The Giants had not won a championship in 15 years, but as a result of Lombardi building a well-oiled, precise offense and fellow assistant coach Tom Landry developing a solid defense, the Giants soon rose to the top of the NFL.
Finally, when Lombardi was 45, the lowly Green Bay Packers offered him the NFL head coach job for which he had worked and dreamed. He also became general manager, which allowed him to have more control over the type of players the team acquired. More than anything else, he wanted men who would respond to his demand for excellence and to his personal credo of never giving up, no matter what the situation.
Lombardi’s most famous quote is, “Winning is not everything – it’s the only thing.” But, importantly, he did not believe in winning at any price. Instead, he believed in paying the price to win. Lombardi strongly rejected the idea of cheating, and he showed no interest in winning without the full commitment of heart, brains and good sportsmanship.
Having attended a Christian high school, where he earned an A in an ethics class, Lombardi gained from this class a key lesson about character that affected his thoughts and actions the remainder of his life. As he explained it later, “I learned that character is built by training yourself to use your powers of thought, emotion and action to do good and avoid evil – and to help others pursue the common good instead of following your own selfish desires.”
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His books (including A Strategy For Winning, Winning Thoughts, Anatomy Of A Leader, People of Passion and Are We Communicating Yet?) are available in stores, on www.carlmays.com, Amazon.com, and other Internet locations. You are invited to contact Carl about speaking at your next meeting.
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