10 NFL Coaching Principles

The NFL has produced some legendary coaches, whose personal and professional principles and messages apply just as much to business organizations as they do to sports teams.

My grandfather, George Halas, was one of the original founders of what is now the National Football League. He played professional football himself for 10 years and coached for 40. My mother had 11 children, enough to field our own team. Today, she is 89, yet very much involved in the management of one of the greatest sports enterprises, the Chicago Bears. My father’s family included educators, musicians, and military men. Growing up in the
McCaskey-Halas family, we got plenty of coaching. Here are five personal principles culled from NFL legends that coaches/trainers should help instill in their “players.”

1. Never go to bed a loser.—George “Papa Bear” Halas

My grandfather succeeded in a fledgling professional football business through The Great Depression and World War II. His Chicago Bears became a premier sports enterprise, and this principle was his way to promote exercise, effort, and fortitude every day. He willed everyone around him to give their best effort every day, so they could sleep well knowing they had done everything possible.

2. Treat everyone with kindness, but never let anyone mistake kindness for weakness.—Art Rooney, Sr.

Rooney was another early NFL pioneer and, like Halas, he was no wilting lily. A boxer, a talented baseball player, and a sports promoter, Rooney established the Pittsburgh Steelers and led a remarkable family that continues to wrap itself around sports, entertainment, and great causes.

3. Love and respect all, but fear no one.—Wellington Mara

Mara built the New York Giants football team, which was founded by his father, Tim, a legal bookmaker. Mara took a personal interest in his players’ needs, and he often is cited as one of the most advanced-thinking owners and a remarkable team-player negotiator.

4. You don’t necessarily have to like your players, but as a leader, you must love them.—Vince Lombardi

Lombardi graduated magna cum laude from Fordham in 1937 and taught high school for 12 years. In the NFL, he was a legendary motivator who focused on basics and preparation. He had an expanded idea of love: “Love is loyalty, love is teamwork, love respects the dignity of the individual. This is the strength of any organization.”

5. Focus on your job—focus on what you do and do it right.—Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick is not just one of the most successful coaches in NFL history, he is one of the most hard-nosed. He runs the tightest of organizations. Belichick’s organization focuses on personal responsibility to the team, not superstar achievement that leads to media glory. Belichick promotes play that leads to organizational excellence. He often can be heard in key situations telling a player, “Just do your job.”

Five NFL Team Principles

The great NFL coaches would tell us to make each day count, respect and treat others with kindness without being taken
advantage of, value the dignity of others, and focus on getting the job done. Here are five NFL principles for coaches/trainers that should help improve any team.

1. Don’t do anything in practice you wouldn’t do in the game.—George Halas

Plan and prepare for what you need to accomplish. Focus on what you need to do every day. Maintain your focus on team objectives. If your team is wasting time, that’s a lot of time to waste and takes away opportunity and energy that needs to be productive. Winning teams use time wisely.

2. Regardless of what happens, a team controls its attitude, approach, and response.—Tony Dungy

Tony Dungy retired after 28 years of coaching and a Super Bowl XLI Championship with the Indianapolis Colts. Dungy currently serves as a sports analyst for NBC’s Sunday Night Football. Dungy’s principle states that a team needs a winning personality that can keep it on track regardless of circumstances. A great team is never defeated for long.

3. When you hire someone, hire someone who can help the team. Each hire should fill a need.—Bill Belichick

Belichick is well-known for drafting excellent role players who contribute unselfishly to his team. Hiring is a form of teambuilding—perhaps the most important. In the NFL, a team’s personnel is critical to its mission and success. In the NFL, “hiring” decisions are made after input from scouts and other talent evaluators, coaches, and player personnel directors. Drafting players, trading players, and new signings most often are done after solid research. The same should be true for every team.

4. Individual commitment to a group effort…makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.—Vince Lombardi

Every team member needs to be committed to the team. For many of the best coaches, the emphasis is on the team and its goals. Regardless of the huge talent and superstars in the market, the best teams play together as a unit.

5. You can learn a line from a win and a book from a defeat.—Paul Brown

Paul Brown was a legendary taskmaster and the only NFL coach to have a team named after him. He was an innovative coach for the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. He was also a noteworthy high school and college coach. In the NFL, tape from each game is studied in great detail. Teams do not gloss over their losses nor do they dwell on them; rather they study them and learn from them. Much can be learned from setbacks and losses.

These principles sound so simple they often are ignored or discounted. But the NFL takes them seriously. The NFL’s greats would say that a winning organization is one that focuses on need, maintains a positive approach, hires to fill needs, attracts employees who are team players, and is courageous enough to study mistakes and learn from them.

Patrick McCaskey is a senior director of the Chicago Bears Football Club. This article is based on research done for a planned book on the “Pillars of the NFL.” McCaskey speaks to business groups about the Chicago Bears, his family, and the notable people he has known in his years of service to the team. For information on his speaking engagements, visit www.cmgbooking.com. For information on his books, “Bear with Me: A Family History of George Halas and the Chicago Bears” and “Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout,” visit http://www.sportingchancepress.com.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.