What Football Coaches Can Teach CEOs

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Here are some things you can add to your company’s playbook, inspired by some of America’s most legendary football coaches of all time.

“Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization…
some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will all be judged on one thing: the result.”––Vince Lombardi

It’s the fourth quarter and the clock is running with 0:58 left —you’re on 4th down and behind 17 to 13 with the ball on the 15 yard line. Do you have the confidence? Do you have the strategy? Did you prepare for all scenarios? And most importantly, do you have a real team? You know what you have to do to win this game!

Coaching a football team is not unlike running a company. You’re balancing the needs of multiple parties from investors and committees to employees and customers. And like a coach, CEOs are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of an organization, there exists that pressure to perform.

Related Article: 5 Things Fantasy Football Can Teach Us About Content Marketing

Here are some some things you can add to your company’s playbook, inspired by some of America’s most legendary football coaches to ever stalk the sidelines.


“The only thing worse than a coach or CEO who doesn't care about his people is one who pretends to care. People can spot a phony every time.”– Jimmy Johnson Tweet this!

Before settling into a life as a TV analyst and Florida Keys fishing enthusiast/restaurateur, Johnson manned three successful transitions, taking over for revered coaches and becoming the first coach to win an NCAA championship and a Super Bowl.

Jimmy’s success can be attibuted to his ability to not just instill passion into the team, but into each individual. Jimmy treated each player differently based on what motivated each individual. What motivates a quarterback can be vastly different from what motivates a tight end. Just as what’s important to a sales associate is different from what’s important to an administrative assistant.

Jimmy took the time to find what inspired each player and used that to pump them up and guarantee their best performance. CEOs can instill passion not by big kumbaya meetings (which can come across as phony), but by taking people aside and learning what motivates them and then using that to instill passion into their jobs. Jimmy knew different things motivated his players, as different things motivate people in the workforce. CEOs would be better suited channeling their passion into their individual reports to get their best performance.


“We haven't been very consistent on offense. We have to get back on track like we did in the preseason. We have to get back to not making mistakes and stopping ourselves. If we can do that, good things will happen.”.” – Mike Shanahan

Mike Shanahan, an offensive mastermind, led the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl wins in late '90s. His success can be attributed to his ability to maintain consistency across his offense and defence throughout every season.

The postseason wasn't treated any differently, so his team didn’t feel the pressure. His mindset was the same whether it was the first game of the year or the Super Bowl. Take that strategy to the business world. Teach your people to handle big presentations just as they would day-to-day business. There should be no difference in how they field questions and present facts. Make sure they are always prepared every day, so when pressed to perform they can operate without hesitation. It will take the pressure off and ring more true for the audience, and for your team.


“We know we’re facing different challenges and our team is evolving differently. It’s all just part of it. Whatever you have to deal with, whatever changes there are, then collectively as a team you manage them.”– Bill Belichick Tweet this!

With a 153-90 record over his career, Bill Belichick has been a force in the NFL for 35 years and is the only head coach to win three Super Bowls in four years.

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Bill’s ability to get the most from his players has helped the Patriots maintain a high level of play year after year without a drop-off, despite their usual late draft position in a salary-cap era. He achieved this by teaching his players all angles of the game. From best case to worst-case scenario, so when necessary his players could quickly adapt. He taught his players not just what other teams were doing but explained why.

Consider approaching your business strategies in such a way. Map it out. Put your people in place and show them numerous potential outcomes and how you would recover or move forward. Having everyone on the same page is not only sound strategy it fosters teamwork and makes everyone feel vested and most importantly gives them the context to react in the best way possible regardless of the situation.


“Whether anyone else will use the Shotgun in the future, I don’t know, but it’s been a good weapon for us and I enjoy it.” –Tom Landry

Tom Landry is ranked as one of the greatest and most innovative coaches in National Football League (NFL) history, introducing more innovations into the game than most coaches in NFL history. Landry installed the Shotgun into the Dallas offense in 1975. Now, every modern NFL team uses it.

Landry also was ahead of his time in his philosophy of building a team. In the days before strength and speed programs, Landry brought in speciality trainers like weight and track and field instructors. Now, every NFL team has specialty coaches. Innovation is an important aspect of maintaining a competitive edge. Encourage an environment that fosters creativity and new ways of thinking and provide the tools to do that.

Now, gear up and get in the game!

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