Business Lessons from Coach Lombardi


February 02, 2014

Today is Superbowl Sunday. And with that comes memories of one of the influential people in my life and how his lessons can be applied to business and continue to ring clear today.


Vince Lombardi was a great football coach, arguably the best ever. He was so good and left such an incredible impact on the game that the NFL Championship Trophy was named after him, 3 months after his untimely death.


I was just getting into pro football as a child, when I noticed how bad the Green Bay Packers were. I think their record in 1958 was 1-10-1 (the NFL only played 12 games a season then). I think the name intrigued me, and decided that besides my Washington Redskins (also very bad at the time) I would follow, and I became a fan during the great Packer seasons of the 60’s and into the 70’s until life and career forced me to limit my following of football. However, I never forgot many of the lessons I learned from watching, reading about and following Coach Lombardi.


After the 1958 season, the Green Bay Packers hired Vince Lombardi as their Head Coach. His background was as Assistant Coach from the New York Giants, and he had never been a Head Coach of anything but a high school. Coach Lombardi immediately turned the franchise into probably the most storied team in Pro Football history.


He took over a team of talented players (18 of the 1958 team eventually became Hall of Famers and/or Pro Bowl players) and instilled the confidence and RELENTLESS determination in them that turned them into a winner. During his first team meeting he barked something like, “Gentlemen we will RELENTLESSLY pursue perfection, knowing that we will never get to perfection because nothing is perfect, however somewhere along the way we fill find excellence.” Think about that for a moment. How powerful is the word RELENTLESS? What visions does it conjure up?


A few years ago I heard Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, speak about how he was able to handle the 911 attack and recovery, providing the leadership needed to help New York rise from the devastation. He said it was his RELENTLESS preparation for his job every day that enabled him to handle everything thrown at him. And he was confronted with something no one else ever had been and prevailed.


Coach Lombardi instilled confidence in his players though this RELENTLESS pursuit of perfection. In Lombardi’s first season, the Packers had their first winning season in many years. In the second year, they went to the NFL Championship game and fell 9 yards short on the last play of the game. After the game he declared to his team that they would never lose another Championship game. And they never did, winning 5 Championships in the next 7 years.


Illustrating his RELENTLESS pursuit of perfection is his declaring that football is a simple game of blocking and tackling. How true, and how often do business owners lose sight of the basic fundamentals of their business and get caught up trying to grow before they have the foundation (fundamentals) in place, ingrained, to move the organization forward for continuous growth. How many times have you been associated with an organization that’s theme this year is “Back to the Basics”?


John Madden, the famous football coach and television commentator tells the story of going to a class Vince Lombardi was conducting on the Packer Sweep – their signature play. He was a young coach at the time and thought he knew everything about football. He even sat in the back of the class with the attitude of how can this man talk about one play all day. Well, he found out. Coach Lombardi spent 8 hours talking about the famed Packer Sweep and how RELENTLESSLY pursuing the perfection (execution) of the play, ties into your beliefs, values, and life and produced desired results. Coach Madden realized and acknowledged after this seminar, that he, John Madden, knew nothing about football compared to Coach Lombardi. Very high praise indeed.


How often do we RELENTLESSLY prepare for sales meetings, RELENTLESSLY build our marketing plan, RELENTLESSLY analyze our results? I wonder what any of us would create in our lives, our businesses and our industries if we truly RELENTLESSLY pursued perfection. There is no doubt that along the way we would find excellence.