Author: Francis Petit, Ed.D.

Corresponding Author:
Francis Petit, Ed.D.
Associate Dean for Global Initiatives and Partnerships
Adjunct Associate Professor of Marketing
Fordham University, Gabelli School of Business
113 West 60th Street, Room 616
New York, New York 10023
(212) 636 7429 – work
(646) 256 2991 – mobile

Francis Petit serves as associate dean of global initiatives and partnerships and also serves as an adjunct associate professor of marketing at the Gabelli School of Business where he teaches a Sports Marketing course. Dr. Petit has established executive programs in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Vincent T. Lombardi: Three Key Lessons for Today’s Executive that Go Beyond Football

The purpose of this research was to determine what lessons, if any, professionals can learn from Vincent T. Lombardi, the Hall of Fame coach, that go beyond football. The methods of this research included a historical study of the life and career of Vince Lombardi and a subsequent analysis of his decisions. The results of this study indicate that there are learning takeaways that go beyond football including the lack of balance in his life, his long professional journey before Green Bay and his potential lack of self-awareness. The conclusions of this study illustrate that professionals, beyond football, can learn valuable life lessons from this iconic coach. In addition, this relates to the world of sports in that fans should understand that sports celebrities are human and there are lessons to be learned from their journey that go beyond the playing field.

Keywords: Lombardi, NFL, Packers, Coach, Super Bowl

Vincent T. Lombardi is an American sports icon. His name is synonymous for preparation, performance and overall excellence within the game of football and beyond. His name is also linked to the National Football League (NFL), the world’s most prosperous sports league, which generated $12 billion in revenue in the 2014-2015 season (up 16% from previous year) and is expected to generate $13 billion in 2015-2016 (CNN Money, September 10, 2015). More specifically, the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the NFL’s championship prize, is awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl, a sporting extravaganza that attracts over 114 million viewers worldwide and generates over $330 million in advertising revenue (Super Bowl Statistics and Facts,

The Lombardi brand, which had humble beginnings, is tied to his coaching championship teams for the Green Bay Packers Football Club in the late 1950s and 1960s. It is also about the love and admiration that his players, coaches and fans had for this individual. As the myth and mystique of the Lombardi legend continues to grow, the purpose of this research was to determine what unique lessons all professionals, beyond football, can learn from this Hall of Fame coach who was born in Brooklyn.

The literature on Lombardi can be categorized within two areas. The first is biographical. There are multiple biographies on the life of Vincent T. Lombardi. The most famous are from Maraniss and O’Brien. Both describe, in detail, the life of Lombardi including his early days in Brooklyn, his college years at Fordham, his professional life in coaching and his subsequent death. These works also go into detail on his personal life and familial relationships.

The second area within the literature focuses on Lombardi as a leader. Within this space there are numerous publications. One, written by Lombardi himself with W.C. Heinz, is Run to Daylight (1963), which tracks a typical week of training, preparation and strategizing during the 1962 season. It is in this work that one receives true insight of Lombardi as a strategist and leader.

Another famous work, written by former player Jerry Kramer and Dick Schapp, titled Instant Replay: The Green Bay Packers Diary of Jerry Kramer, provides first hand insight on the “Lombardi Way” as seen from a player’s perspective. There is also a similar work by Paul Horning, another former player (Triumph Books, 2006).

Vince Lombardi Jr., (Lombardi’s only son), has also written many books on the leadership lessons from his father. Some of his works include the importance of vision in building great business teams (Dartnell Corp, 1998), leadership lessons for success in life (McGraw Hill Professional 2004), succeeding in business (McGraw Hill, 2001) and inspired motivational wisdom (Starburst Publishers, 1997). In addition, Vince Lombardi Jr. has also published works on famous Lombardi quotes which further adds to his father’s legacy (McGraw Hill Professional, 2002). There are other similar works by this author.

Furthermore, there are countless additional works that describe Lombardi’s leadership prowess including some from Kannings (2014), Roensch (2002), Flynn (1976), Austin (Jan 1, 2008), and Skrhak (Dec 12, 2010.).

Overall, the literature on Lombardi primarily focuses on the biographical and Lombardi as a leader. With this as a background, this research will take a different approach as it will analyze some of Lombardi’s life decisions and the subsequent lessons, both positive and negative, that all professionals can take away.

A historical study of the life and career of Vincent T. Lombardi was conducted. Upon completing this research, key takeaways were developed on what current executives and professionals, spread across all industries and functions, could learn from this American sports icon that go beyond football. The goal from this historical research study was to understand Vincent T. Lombardi from a career and also a personal perspective. In addition, the goal was to see how all executives and professionals, within the sporting industry and beyond, could learn from his journey and decision making.

Lack of Balance
After conducting historical research on the life and career of Vincent T. Lombardi, there was one evident trend that emerged. This can be seen with a lack of general balance within his life. The quote “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” is synonymous to the Coach Lombardi brand. Yet while this mantra has been interpreted in numerous ways over the past fifty years, Lombardi strongly believed it is one’s purpose in life, in whatever field, function or industry, to emerge at the top while following, most importantly, all of the rules. Lombardi believed that winning encompassed more than just victory as it was a philosophy and lifestyle that spoke volumes about attitude, integrity, desire and spirit (Novak, Joy of Sports, p 31).

Yet did such a frame of reference lead to an imbalance that impacted other facets of Lombardi’s life? Lombardi once stated that “six days a week, this traffic light is the one thing that invades my consciousness as I drive to work that consistently interrupts that single purpose of winning next Sunday’s game” (Lombardi and Heinz, 1963). Such an intense focus can have repercussions and in Lombardi’s case it is believed it had. For example, Lombardi’s wife Marie seemed to be affected. She once stated that “I wasn’t married to him a week…when I said to myself, Marie Planitz, you’ve made the greatest mistake of your life” (Maraniss, p. 74). She has further stated that football dominated every aspect of their relationship and life together.

Uncertain of her role in Lombardi’s football life and vocation, Marie turned to drinking. Harold Lombardi, Vince’s brother and Marie’s brother-in-law, once stated “A lot of Marie’s drinking came because she idolized Vin and he was off with his little own group.” (Maraniss, p. 112). Her use of alcohol was further illustrated in the Broadway production of Lombardi which ran from 2010 to 2011 (Lombardi Broadway Play). In addition, Lombardi’s lack of balance and its impact on his spouse can be seen in other ways. Marie once stated:

I can tell what day it was just by his mood. Monday, Tuesday and
Wednesday we didn’t talk. Thursday we said hello. Friday he was civil,
and Saturday he was downright pleasant. Sunday he was relaxed most
of the time (O’Brien, p. 281).

She further stated publicly that “He is easy to live with so long as he is not thinking about football” (Maraniss, 1999) which appeared to have been rare. Overall such a strong professional focus can impact loved ones and in Marie’s case it appeared it had.

Yet Marie was not the only individual who was impacted by Lombardi’s focus on his work. It appeared his children, Vincent and Susan, were also impacted.

For example, Lombardi often preached to his players the importance of simplicity and focus. More specifically, as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, he communicated what should be the three most important pillars of their existence which included religion, family and the Green Bay Packers (in that order). However, according to Marie, Lombardi did not practice what he preached. More specifically, family was not the top priority. “‘First came his religion’, said Marie, ‘ then his football team. I came third. I accepted that. So did his children; they had no choice’ ” (O’Brien, p. 279).

Overall, it appears that Lombardi’s children respected his work ethic and focus but also regretted it at the same time. It appeared that Lombardi never established a true and sincere relationship with his son Vincent which can be seen during Vincent’s adult life. Lombardi’s daughter Susan also once stated “He was there but he really wasn’t there. There were times when I wished he’d been there and that he wasn’t Vince Lombardi – that he was just normal” (Milwaukee Journal, June 5, 1964). Also, it appeared that Lombardi’s attitude and expectations of his players transcended to his personal life. More specifically, he did not and would not tolerate any imperfection from his wife and children (O’Brien, p. 281). Marie even stated that “I always felt Vince was a little too hard on his children” as he expected excellence (O’Brien, p 284). In general, it appeared that Lombardi was overly focused on work and automatically applied his work tenets and expectations as coach to his family.

Overall, some have indicated that Lombardi had failed as a parent and as a husband. His intense focus on his professional life and mantra of “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” had made him remote, neglectful, insensitive and overly harsh as a husband, parent and family man (Wiebusch, p. 20).

While Lombardi achieved legendary status within his professional life, the same cannot be said within his personal life as husband and father. While one’s career and professional success are important, life, in general, is complex. Individuals all have multiple roles within different professional and personal settings. Executives and business professionals must understand these diverse roles and try one’s hardest to deliver in each role. Lombardi was overly consumed by his work and it appeared it negatively impacted his family. Once again, executives should take note.

Long Journey
Lombardi’s professional journey to the forefront of his industry was not easy. This was apparent when conducting historical research on Lombardi’s career. Vincent T. Lombardi graduated Fordham University on June 16, 1937 with a Bachelor of Science diploma (O’Brien, p. 48). Yet his first two years following graduation, Lombardi apparently struggled trying to successfully secure a professional direction.

This can be seen with the wide ranging employment and activities that Lombardi pursued. For example, he played two seasons of semiprofessional football, one with the Delaware Clippers in Wilmington, Delaware, and the other for the Brooklyn Eagles of the American Football Association. The remuneration ranged from $125 to $150 per game which was considered a somewhat satisfactory salary at the time (Lombardi and Heinz, 1963, p. 112).

In addition, Lombardi, during this two year period, was briefly employed as an assistant manager, within a New York finance company, however he was not stimulated or satisfied with the work. Furthermore, Lombardi was enrolled during the Fall 1938 at Fordham Law School but withdrew in early 1939 after a subpar academic performance (O’Brien, p. 49). Overall, Lombardi was apparently struggling to determine a professional direction. In essence, “Lombardi had been scuffling for two years before he found the little school in Englewood” (Mariness, p. 68).

In August 1939, Lombardi’s career changed. It was during this month that he was contacted by a former Fordham classmate inquiring if Lombardi was interested in a teaching and coaching assignment at St. Cecilia’s High School in Englewood, New Jersey (O’Brien, p. 50). This ignited his career change into coaching.

Yet Lombardi’s ascendance to the top of his profession did not happen quickly and it also did not occur seamlessly. Lombardi served as an assistant coach at St. Cecilia’s from 1939 to 1942 and then served as head coach from 1942 to 1947. He additionally served as a basketball coach while also teaching chemistry, physics and physical education for an initial salary of $1,000 per year (Englewood Press, 1937).

Lombardi’s next coaching stop, from 1947-1948, was at Fordham University where he served as an assistant coach to the Varsity and head coach of the freshman team while also teaching Physical Education courses. Lombardi’s salary for this assignment was $3,500 per year (O’Brien, p. 79).

The next stop in Lombardi’s coaching career was at the United States Military Academy (West Point) where he served as an Assistant Coach under the legendary Head Coach Col. Red Blaik (Mariness, 1999). His salary of $7,000 per year was considered average pay for this type of position within this industry (O’Brien, p. 87).

After West Point, Lombardi transitioned into the professional ranks. More specifically, he served as an assistant coach for the New York Giants Football Club from 1954 to 1958. With the Giants, Lombardi served as offensive coordinator and also worked alongside another future Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry (Maraniss, 1999).

Overall, it was not until January 1959 that Lombardi was offered the head coaching position for the Green Bay Packers Football Club. The initial salary was $36,000 per year plus incentives (Wiebusch, 1971).

When analyzing Lombardi’s professional journey to the point of when he received the initial offer to become the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, a few points come to mind. First, Lombardi was forty five years old when he finally received this opportunity. Mind you, it was just the opportunity and he had not accomplished anything yet as a head coach within the professional ranks. It should also be noted though that he spent twenty years within the function of coaching and building the expertise of his craft. He did not leapfrog from one career to another in search of a larger pay check. He remained focused on his goals and pursued his coaching vocation.

Second, while traveling this journey, Lombardi earned enough to make a living and provide for his family. However, he could have easily earned more income during this period if he pursued other forms of work in outside industries. Again, Lombardi stayed focused and pursued a career that excited him. He made it work.

Third, Lombardi’s initial career goal within coaching was not to be the head coach within the professional ranks but rather to lead and coach the Fordham University football team (Mariniss, 1999). Seeing that this goal, for reasons beyond his control, was not viable any longer, Lombardi adjusted. One could argue that by adjusting his goals, Lombardi was able to achieve a higher level of professional success.

Lastly, it was not always easy for Lombardi. At St. Cecilia’s, he had to teach various subjects and coach basketball in order to have the opportunity to coach football. At West Point, during his tenure, the institution expelled ninety cadets, in one year, for violating the honor code and thirty seven of them were football players (O’Brien, p. 100). It was a dark moment within West Point’s history yet Lombardi was able to work through it and overcome.

Overall, Lombardi’s journey to the coveted opportunity of becoming head coach of a professional football organization was not easy but he made it happen. Executives, in general, should take note as such lessons can be easily applied to functions beyond coaching and industries beyond football. In hindsight, Lombardi illustrated patience throughout his career however within this study it was apparent that Lombardi was frustrated at times. Keeping focused of one’s goals while understanding the big picture are key takeaways.

Lack of Self Awareness
After nine years as the head coach of the Green Packers and five championships, Lombardi retired from his head coaching position however kept his general manager position for the organization.

There are various theories on why Lombardi retired from coaching at the pinnacle of his career. He noted, at the time, that he believed the general manager position was that of a full time job and he could no longer juggle both positions. He was also concerned on the overall toll of coaching on his physical, mental and emotional health (Green Bay Gazette, January 15 and March 22, 1968).

In terms of his health, Lombardi had been suffering from various ailments including digestive problems, heartburn and traumatic arthritis in his left hip (Maraniss, p. 433). There was also additional speculation that he believed that he took the Packers as far as they could go in terms of success and was looking to get out. Regardless of the reasons, Lombardi, at the press conference announcing his retirement from coaching, indicated his coaching days were finished (O’Brien, p. 309).

Lombardi commenced his retirement in early 1969 in a positive manner. He gave speeches, accepted awards, golfed and relaxed during his free time (O’Brien, p. 311). He also focused his efforts as general manager working on a settlement for the NFL Players Association that concluded when training camp began in July.

Lombardi, who was paid handsomely at the time at approximately $2,000 per speech, was careful and methodical on who he addressed and what products he endorsed (O’Brien, p. 312). He, in addition, played an acting role in the film Second Effort made by the Dartnall Corporation which portrayed sales and sales management effectiveness (O’Brien, p. 313) He was further rumored as a candidate for political office including that of Vice President of the United States (Wiebusch, p. 105). In addition, Lombardi was offered multiple positions in business within the private sector.

However, when training camp began in 1969, it became very apparent to Lombardi that he greatly missed being on the sidelines. His wife Marie indicated that he “needed to be needed.” While realizing that he wanted to get back into coaching again, Lombardi, at this stage, wanted financial equity in an NFL organization. This was something that Green Bay could not offer as it was the NFL’s first and only publicly owned franchise (O’Brien, p. 327). In addition, Lombardi’s wife was suffering from depression, at the time, and had to be hospitalized for combining alcohol and tranquilizer pills (Maraniss, 1999).

Overall, Lombardi was searching for another opportunity and when the Washington Redskins offered him 5% ownership of the franchise at a salary of $110,000 per year, he quickly accepted the offer to coach again and relocate back to the east coast (O’Brien, p. 331). With this as a background, there is one lesson that emerged. First, if Lombardi had a better sense of self, he could have potentially avoided that interim year as general manager. If he understood that coaching was what truly motived him, he could have avoided that year of anxiety and angst when he solely served as a general manager.

Such an understanding requires deep self reflection. Coaching entails more than just developing a playbook. More specifically it is about strategizing, motivating and being in “the trenches” with assistant coaches and players in a highly volatile and stressful environment where “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

Lombardi must have known that he was masterful at this craft. However, he did not apparently realize that life without coaching would be agonizing for him. He did not realize that serving solely as a general manager was not professionally and personally satisfying.

Overall, Lombardi, in hindsight, may have not spent enough time reflecting on his motivator indicators and the activities that energized him. Such knowledge requires deep reflection. Perhaps Lombardi did not devote adequate time to such an activity. In general, executives should take note as knowledge of self is critical when making career choices.

As time passes, the myth of Lombardi and his legendary coaching career has only grown. The purpose of this research was to illustrate what executives and all working professionals could learn from this Hall of Fame Coach that goes beyond Football. As one can see, some takeaways from this research are Lombardi’s lack of balance within his life, his long professional journey before the opportunity at Green Bay and also his potential lack of self-awareness. Such lessons are very important to all working professionals.

Although Vince Lombardi is considered a sports icon he was also human. Society, often times, places its sports heroes on an unrealistic pedestal. Sports fans must understand that there are lessons that can be learned, both positive and negative, from athletes and sports celebrities that go beyond the playing field. Seeking out these lessons will give all a better understanding of our sports heroes.


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