Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

How the NFL Develops Leaders – A Case Study

The following is from a Sports Illustrated article written by Jim Trotter in October 6, 2009.

“I’m forever indebted to the Patriots for what they did for me and for what they’ve allowed my family to accomplish in terms of my professional career.” [Josh McDaniels]
It is a career that was aided greatly by New England coach Bill Belichick, who gave McDaniels his first NFL job in 2001. While climbing from personnel assistant to coaching assistant to quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, McDaniels, now 33, absorbed many of the Belichick’s teachings and adopted many of his football principles. You can see it in how the Broncos run practice, evaluate personnel, write scouting reports, and attack opponents on offense and defense with situational football. They’re all so … so … New England-like.

Still, perhaps the most important lessons McDaniels learned came in February 2008, two weeks after the Patriots’ quest for an undefeated season ended with a 17-14 loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLIII. When the coaches returned from a two-week break, Belichick called McDaniels into his office and handed him a five-page, typed report on what it takes to be an effective coach and have a winning organization.

“I had been talking to Bill for a few years about being a head coach, and after I didn’t do any interviews during the bye week in the ’07 playoffs he said, ‘I will help you in any way I can to get you ready for all the other things that go into the job,'” McDaniels said. “Just being around him every day was going to help me from a football standpoint because I could see what he did and how he did it. But he was saying he would help me with some of the things that you won’t really get a chance to witness or understand or become knowledgeable about until you’re in that position.

“I remember when we first came back after our break, that very first day, that very first morning, he brought me into his office and he gave me five pages, typed, of all the topics and things that he felt like I needed to be educated about to become an effective head coach. I’m thinking to myself, here he’s got 10 or 12 days where he can do whatever in the hell he wants to do — we’ve just come off a season where we were 16-0 and lost in the Super Bowl — and the very first day back he gives me this? That was kind of like my bible.”

During the 2008 season, the men met for an hour here, 30 minutes there, until they had addressed every point in the report. From there McDaniels developed 60 to 65 questions of his own that he carried into job interviews with Cleveland and Denver earlier this year.

“When you say where did the questions come from, it was Bill’s background,” McDaniels said. “He had been a head coach in Cleveland and New England, he was a coordinator in a number of different places, and he understands the salary cap, free agency, the draft, contracts, all that stuff. He gave me as much of that information as I could possibly ask for — and then he gave me a whole bunch of information that I never would have asked for. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”

McDaniels had his opportunity to lead the Denver Broncos after this article was written.  He struggled to apply what he had learned and is now once again back with Belichick as the offensive coordinator.  It will be interesting to follow what happens next.

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