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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

LOMBARDI'S FIRST TEAM MEETING

Much has been said and written about Vince Lombardi's first team meeting with the Green Bay Packers, most notably that quarterback Bart Starr left the meeting and called his wife long distance to say, "Honey, we're going to begin to win."  But what was it in that first meeting that excited Starr?
 
In the book "America's Quarterback," writer Keith Dunnavant writes about Starr's recollection of that meeting.  My comments are listed in red italics:
 
After Lombardi walked around the room handing out new playbooks and took up a position near the blackboard, chalk in hand, he said, "We're going to take a giant step backward, gentlemen."

An indicator from Lombardi that he is process-oriented.  He was not going to rush to success.  He knew that he had to break them down and then build them into the team that we wanted.
 
The first milestone in the transformation was a dramatic simplification of the offense.  As he asked the players to empty their sculls full of Scooter McLean's mush, they noticed that the new playbook was less than half size of the old one.  The point was clear: They were going to do a few things and do them well.

The great ones know how to make it and keep it simple.
 
In contrast to McLean's unnecessary verbose wording, which often left his quarterbacks overwhelmed, Lombardi introduced a new play-calling terminology boiled down to two digits: one number for the formation, another for the hole.  The new system transferred the calling of blocking assignments from the quarterback to the offensive lineman and gave the quarterback much greater latitude to react to the defense.

The importance in terminology that a coach/staff utilizes can make a major difference in teaching.
 
"This was such a radical change," said Starr.  "He threw out all the crap.  And you're thinking: Man, does this make sense or what?"

Less is more.
 
As he diagramed several plays, Lombardi was able to manipulate the chalk without losing eye contact with his players, a little detail that impressed Starr.

Great communicators know the importance of eye contact.
 
Then, in what amounted to a verbal mission statement, he clarified the purpose of his Green Bay Packers.
 
"Gentleman," he said, "we are going to relentlessly chase perfection...knowing full well that we won't catch it, because nobody is perfect..."
 
Starr sat on the edge of his seat, soaking up the message like a sponge.
 
"...but we're going to relentlessly chase it because in the process, we will catch excellence."
 
Perfection.
 
Excellence.
 
The words tumbled in Starr's mind as Lombardi paused and moved closer, close enough to see the fire in his eyes.  Starr would always remember the pause, the perfectly timed theatricality of it, the way it heightened the sense of anticipation pervading the room.
 
"I'm not remotely interested in being just good."

And in just a few words, he simply yet eloquently set the standard for his team an organization.