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Life and Accomplishments

Vince Lombardi was born the son of a butcher in Brooklyn on June 11, 1913. After dropping out of a seminary program (which was preparing him to become a Catholic priest), he enrolled in St. Francis Preparatory High School where he excelled in football. In 1933 he was awarded a scholarship to play football at Fordham University. He played guard position on the frontline, being one of Jim Crowley’s unstoppable Seven Blocks of Granite. In 1937 he received his bachelor’s degree from Fordham, and two years later (after playing football semi-professionally), he became an assistant coach for a catholic high school (St.Cecilia) in New Jersey.

This job became a stepping stone to future coaching jobs that would eventually give rise to his explosive career as an NFL coach. Three years later he became the head coach at St. Cecilia, where he remained for five more years. After this, he returned to his old University to coach the football and basketball teams, doing this for two years. He then accepted another job as assistant coach—this time at the United States Military Academy.

The style of command prevalent in this military society had a significant impact on the way he coached, and the things he learned here were to have a bearing on his future coaching and leadership style in the NFL. He also learned much that contributed to his leadership skills from working with Colonel Red Blaik, who influenced him in the area of strategy execution. Next, Lombardi spent five years coaching at West Point, experiencing relative success during his tenure, and after this his NFL career began. Lombardi entered the NFL as an assistant coach for the New York Giants.

His position was as Offensive Coordinator (though it had not yet acquired that title). The Giants’ previous season had been unsuccessful, their record showing nine season losses and only three wins. Within three seasons of being coached by Lombardi and head coach Howell, however, the Giants were completely reformed as they won the championship title in 1956. Three years later, somewhat dissatisfied with being a mere assistant coach, Lombardi left the New York Giants to serve as head coach for the Green Bay Packers (Lombardi, 24). With his new freedom as head coach he was able to fully express his skills and style as a leader.

The Packers’ previous season record was even worse than Lombardi had experienced going into the coaching position with the Giants. The Packers had won only one game the season before. Yet, Lombardi detected promise in the team’s potential and talent, and with major changes in the line-up, exercise regimen and most importantly team leadership, Lombardi was able to turn the team around immediately. Their first season with Lombardi demonstrated the power of his leadership, as the Packers ended with seven wins and only five losses. The next year, under Lombardi’s leadership, the Packers made it to the NFL championship.

During his time as an NFL coach, Lombardi saw many championship games and won five of them. Notably, his team won the first two Super Bowl games. He also “led the Green Bay Packers to six division titles” (Clumpner, 1973). Though the Packers lost the first NFL championship in Lombardi’s first year of coaching them, it was clear to all that his leadership style was outstanding enough to have taken a losing team to the championships in two years. He was offered a position as head coach for the New York Giants after this championship, but he declined the position, choosing instead to remain at Green Bay.

During the following two years, the Packers defeated those Giants at the championship with first a scathing (37-0) and next a decent (16-7). Throughout his time coaching NFL teams, he never suffered a losing season. In addition to this stellar record, he suffered only two post-season losses in his entire career (Clumpner, 1973). His philosophy of coaching made him tough on his players and made his teams indomitable. After leaving the Packers, Lombardi spent a year with in Washington with the Redskins, where he orchestrated a comeback for them that ended a 14-season losing streak (Lombardi, 28). He died of cancer in 1970.

Leadership Style, Behaviors and Attitudes Vince Lombardi’s leadership style played a big part in affording him the successes that his life as coach has brought. According to his son Vince Lombardi, he “ran a tight ship, and he ran it conservatively” (25). It is clear from his ability to turn around losing teams that his skills as coach had a large impact on his teams’ game. A major aspect of his leadership philosophy was his belief in repetition. According to Maraniss, Lombardi believed that the constant repetition of drills and play would allow his players to become instinctive in their actions during the game (78).

He also believed that it would reduce their levels of fear—as their bodies would take over from their minds during critical points in a game. Repetition played a major role in his execution of the T formation, which Lombardi utilized while coaching his high school and university teams (92). At West Point, Lombardi’s leadership style hardened into maturity. This coaching position was taken after his time at the United States Military Academy (USMA), where he had learned much about physical discipline.

This he combined with the spiritual discipline he had gained throughout his years as a Catholic and in his four years preparing for the priesthood. At USMA under the leadership of Red Blaik, Lombardi had learned that “the purpose of the game is to win” (Maraniss, 101). Lombardi took this into his game, inculcating that belief into his players, and was rewarded by an increased willingness in his players to work harder at training as well as during games. Superintendent of the Army Academy, General Douglas McArthur, also inspired Lombardi with his words “there is no substitute for victory” (Maraniss, 102).

Lombardi treated his game strategy as war strategy and his team as a regiment. Likening each game to a battle, it became more than a game and therefore imperative to win. Because of his philosophies, he displayed an uncanny ability to see and extract the best from his players. He mixed intelligence with creativity in his games, and this (coupled with his unrelenting leadership philosophy) led to an exciting and productive NFL career. While coaching the Packers, Lombardi demonstrated great zeal in his ability to match his creativity with his determination.

He introduced many offensive plans and adjusted players’ positions and game strategy alike to lead to many winning games. For example, although Paul Hornung had won the Heisman Trophy as quarterback for Notre Dame, Lombardi saw it fit to change his position while he played for the Packers. Under Lombardi’s creative and determined leadership, Hornung played halfback fulltime and immortalized the effective and many-times successful play called the Packer power sweep. This entire idea was based on his considering the one flaw of football to be the fact that the quarterback (only one player) is too important (Maraniss, 349).

His leadership style was also formidable, and he was considered in the public eye “a winning authoritarian coach” (Clumpner, 1973). No one was ever in any doubt who was in full command of his team during the time that Lombardi coached in the NFL. His philosophy was that “the strength of the group is in the will of the leader” (George, 66). Maraniss describes his leadership style as “imperious,” and it is through this form of leadership that he was able to carry out the many anomalous yet effective strategies of his career.

Yet, despite his imperiousness, he was also sensitive to the abilities of his players and the game. Apart from his uncanny ability to find the strengths in his players, he realized that simplicity was what they all needed in order to understand and execute strategies properly (Clumpner, 1973). As a high school teacher, Lombardi had developed a high degree of sensitivity toward those students who were slower to understand concepts, and he took this quality with him into his leadership as a coach. As a coach, he “often used the words ‘teaching’ and ‘coaching’ interchangeably” (The Lombardi Rules, 25).

He made his plays as simple and flexible as possible, and he was never too tired to continue his explanation of the play until all players understood what was to take place (Maraniss, 213). The power sweep again demonstrates this quality, as it is both simple and flexible. The running backs are expected to run not to a specific hole in the defence but to “daylight. ” The concept of the play was based on the idea of “freedom within discipline,” which Lombardi learned during his time with the Jesuits in Catholic school (Maraniss, 224).

This idea leads to his philosophy on discipline, which constituted a major part of his leadership style (Clumpner, 1973). His training sessions were akin to military training camps. He popularized the grass drills know as “up-down. ” When players made mistakes, they were made to run laps in order to reinforce the undesirability of errors as well as to increase their capacity for hard and grueling physical tasks. He also heavily utilized the nutcracker drill, in which tacklers and blockers ran headlong into each other over and over in an order to mimic what happens on the field.

Lombardi also expressed only a minimal amount of empathy toward his players’ injuries. This toughness was likely inspiring of equal toughness on the field, and taught his players to play through pain. As a leader, Lombardi orchestrated simple plans and gave freedom to his players (especially the quarterback) on the field. This describes him as a delegating leader. During Lombardi’s games, the quarterback was in charge of calling the offensive plays, while the defensive coordinator was placed in charge of calling plays for the defense.

For example, while he coached the Redskins, Lombardi taught fewer plays to his team but made them very flexible in the hands of his quarterback Sonny Jurgensen (Maraniss, 471-73). He therefore displayed himself most imposing and dominant during practice sessions, where he training was intense and unforgiving. Then, on the field, he trusted his leading players to orchestrate the best tactics based on the overall strategy he presented them. Flaws in Leadership and Communication Lombardi was apt to communicate very little with the other coaches while in the press box.

His method of communication during the games was represented in his shouting and constant cursing. In this way his method of communication also doubled as a weakness in his leadership abilities. As a leader, he might have shown more consideration for his players’ frailties and injuries, as he communicated very little sympathy to those who were physically or emotionally damaged. Marannis relates the story of a player who burst into tears after being shouted at constantly because of his persistence in making the same mistake.

Perhaps Lombardi was too brutal and might have resorted to a gentler tactic in dealing with players’ mistakes. His wife also cited his temper as one of his failings, as well as his deep obsession with the sport and his “compulsion to tell other people what to do” (Maraniss, 50). This spilled over into the imperious attitude with which he approached his coaching. Yet this might be considered less of a weakness than a strength in light of the many victories it produced. Inspirations and Influences It has been mentioned that Lombardi was influenced by several situations, positions, and persons in his life.

His Catholic upbringing and four years of preparation to become a priest taught him freedom in discipline. In assisting the football coach at the U. S. Military Academy, he was influenced by Red Blaik, who gave a military slant to his coaching skills. He was further influenced by General McArthur, who helped him view leadership as being in command of an army, and taught him to accept nothing less than victory. In addition to these influences, Lombardi himself also became an influence to many other coaches and leaders.

The most notable effect of this influence is the number of awards to which his name has been attached, among these the Vince Lombardi Trophy given to the winning team at the end of every Super Bowl. He influenced persons by having been a spokesman at a national convention on management and leadership and chaired many organizations devoted to charity. He was even considered as a candidate for congress and was more popular than even Richard Nixon, who was a candidate for the presidency during Lombardi’s major Super Bowl years (Clumpner, 1973).

Works Cited

Clumpner, Roy A.“America’s Unknown Leader of the Sixties: Lombardi. ” University of Alberta, 1973. http://www. aafla. org/SportsLibrary/NASSH_Proceedings/NP1973/NP1973z. pdf George, Ed Gary. Winning is a habit: Vince Lombardi on Winning, Success, and the Pursuit of Excellence. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. Lombardi, Vince, Jr. The Lombardi Rules: The McGraw-Hill Professional Education Series. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Lombardi, Vince. What It Takes to be # 1: Vince Lombardi on Leadership. New York: McGraw Hill, 2003. Maraniss, David. When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi. New York: Touchstone, 1999.

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