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Coach Vince Lombardi’s 3 Keys to Leadership

Many consider Coach Vince Lombardi “to be the greatest football coach in history, and he is more significantly recognized as one of the greatest coaches and teachers in the history of any American sport.”

Coach Vince Lombardi was an American football player, one of Fordham’s football team’s “Seven Blocks of Granite”, head coach of the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s leading the team to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years and “winning the first two Super Bowls at the conclusion of the 1966 and 1967 NFL seasons.”

The Lombardi’s were devoted Catholics and attended Mass every Sunday. Vince was the oldest of their five children, an altar boy in their Catholic Church, and his parents expected more from him.

The Lombardi children, outside their neighborhood, were subjected to “ethnic discrimination” against Italian immigrants that was pervasive in the culture at that time.

David Maraniss wrote in When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi. “Harry Lombardi preached his triangle of success to his children-sense of duty, respect for authority and strong mental discipline.”

The Value of Hard work:  At a young age, Vince, began working for his father Harry in the family butcher shop. Vince carried extremely heavy sides of meat and cut up the carcasses. He

did not like doing this. Carrying around the heavy sides of meat shaped his muscles which came in handy for his athletics.

Vince’s father encouraged his interest in football and love of sports. He played in “sandlot football games” at age 12. At the age of 15 in 1928, Vince had decided to become a priest and enrolled at the Cathedral College of Immaculate Conception. At school, Vince played center on the basketball team and outfielder and catcher on the baseball team. He also continued playing football in pick-up games.

He decided two years later not to become a priest and transferred to St. Francis Preparatory School in Brooklyn where he won a scholarship. He starred as fullback on the football team. Vince was “described as aggressive and powerful” playing “every minute of every game”. At school the other students liked him and his coaches and teachers respected him and “helped him win a football scholarship to Fordham University.”

Fordham University “Seven Blocks of Granite”:  After graduating high school, Vince Lombardi attended Fordham University in 1933 on a football scholarship. Vince Lombardi was 5 feet 8, 185 pounds and stocky.

Lombardi and his teammates were on the verge of their best season ever. Their offensive line quickly gained a reputation of being impenetrable, yet they needed a memorable nickname to rival Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen. Someone mentioned that they were solid as “Seven Blocks of Granite” and the name stuck.

The team didn’t win the championship that year, but the nickname of Seven Blocks of Granite ushered that team into college football immortality.

Vince Lombardi graduated Fordham University in 1937 with a business degree, magna cum laude. He then attended law school in the evenings for a semester and worked at a finance company during the day. Then for a year, Vince worked as a chemist. He was uninspired and thought about teaching and coaching. He missed being around young people.

St. Celia High School Teaching & Coaching Vince Lombardi received a phone call and was offered a teaching and assistant football coaching position at St. Celia High School in Englewood, New Jersey. He accepted the position and taught physics, Latin, Chemistry, physical education, coached basketball, and was assistant coach for football. Vince Lombardi later said “these eight years were some of the best years of his life.” In 1940 Vince Lombardi married his sweetheart Marie Planitz and they had two children, Vince, Jr. and Susan.

Coach Lombardi “was a strict disciplinarian”, expecting his rules to be obeyed. He intensely studied each sport he taught to his students, “breaking it down to systematic and logical portions” that his students could understand. Lombardi demanded perfection.

Coach Lombardi’s Rule: “Don’t just work harder than the next guy. Work harder than everybody else.”

Coach Lombardi said, “Football is like life-it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.”

Fordham University Assistant Football Coach : In 1947, Vince Lombardi came back to Fordham University, his alma mater, to join the coaching staff for two years.

Coach Lombardi was a “tireless coach” on the field. His practice sessions were “grueling and demanding”. He expected “absolute dedication from his players”. He would run the same play over and over, ‘barking out’ – “Run it again” whenever a mistake was made. He “expected perfection”.

Coach Lombardi’s Rule: ‘Chase perfection’. “If you settle for nothing less than your best, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in your life.”

West Point Assistant Coach for Coach Red Blaik:   In 1949, he became the assistant coach at the United States Academy at West Point to learn from the legendary coach Colonel Red Blaik. During this time he “identified and developed.. the hallmark of his great teams.. simplicity and execution.”

At West Point Coach Lombardi strictly enforced curfew on the road. It was later called “Lombardi time”. His players had to arrive 10 minutes early. When a player “came in minutes late” he fined them. While traveling his players wore team blazers and ties. Coach said he wanted them to represent the team well.

New York Giants Assistant Coach : Lombardi was then hired for the next 5 years as an assistant coach “in the NFL for the New York Giants”. The Giants with Lombardi’s help won “five winning seasons, culminating with the league championship in 1956.” While with the Giants, Coach Lombardi had to take on a second job to support his family.

Green Bay Packers Head Coach: Coach Lombardi, 45 years old, became the new head coach for the next five years for the Green Bay Packers. The Green Bay Packers were a losing team when new head Coach Lombardi was hired.

David Maraniss in his book, “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi” explained when Coach Lombardi “walked into training camp in the summer of 1961. He took nothing for granted. He began a tradition of starting from scratch, assuming that the players were blank slates who carried over no knowledge from the year before… He began with the most elemental statement of all. “Gentleman,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, this is a football.”

Coach Lombardi “started from the very beginning” methodically covering the fundamentals throughout training camp. The Green Bay Packers team “would become the best in the league at the tasks everyone took for granted.” The Green Bay packers, six months later, “beat the New York Giants 37-0 to win the NFL Championship.”

Coach Lombardi fought prejudice his whole life as an Italian and did not tolerate prejudice in his players or in the restaurants or facilities he took his players too. Many times, he was overlooked for a coaching job because he was Italian.

Vince Lombardi, Jr. says, “My father was not only a great football coach; he was also a great leader. It was his leadership-his ability to motivate his players, to inspire them to surpass their own perceived physical and mental capability, and his incredible will to win that brought national renown to the man, his methods and his players.”

Zig Ziglar, motivational expert, retold the following story: It was a hot and steamy day. Practice was not going well for Coach Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. He chose “one of his big guards” to chew out for “failure to “put out”.

Coach Lombardi said, “Son, you are a lousy football player. You’re not blocking, you’re not tackling, you’re not putting out. As a matter of fact, it’s all over for today. Go take a shower.”

Dropping his head, the big guard, “walked into the dressing room” and sat in front of his locker remaining in his uniform for forty-five minutes with his head bowed, quietly sobbing. When Lombardi walked in and saw his football player, he did an about face. Walking over Coach “put his arm around his players’ shoulder” and said, “Son, I told you the truth. You are a lousy football player. You’re not blocking, you’re not tackling, you’re not putting out. However, in all fairness to you. I should have finished the story. Inside of you, Son, there is a great football player and I’m going to stick by your side until the great football player inside of you has a chance to come out and assert himself.”

Coach Lombardi’s words and actions helped Jerry Kramer’s talent to grow and flourish to become a great football player. Coach as promised stuck by Jerry’s side inspiring and motivating him to be a great football player.

Jerry Kramer “went on to become one of the all-time greats in football” and was voted the all-time guard in the first 50 years of professional football.”

Coach Vince Lombardi said to his players, “With every fiber of my body, I’ve got to make you the best football player that I can make you. And you’ve got to give everything that is in you. You’ve got to keep yourself in prime physical condition, because fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Shelby Skrhak said, “Lombardi made men of his players. In doing this, he promised to be relentless.”

Zig Ziglar said that, “Coach Lombardi saw things in his men that they seldom saw in themselves. He had the ability to inspire his men to use the talent they had.” Coach Lombardi lead his Green Bay Packers to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years and they won “the first two Super Bowls at the conclusion of the 1966 and 1967 NFL seasons.”

Coach Vince Lombardi’s Rule On Character: Coach Lombardi believed a person’s character is made up of small, everyday decisions to do the right thing, as well as larger prevailing traits, such as respect, humility and responsibility.

Coach Lombardi told management student at Fordham in 1967 that, “Character is just another word for having a perfectly disciplined and educated will. A person can make his own character by blending these elements with an intense desire to achieve excellence. Everyone is different in what I will call magnitude, but the capacity to achieve character is still the same.”

Lombardi’s Rule: “Write your character. Improvements in moral character are our own responsibility. Bad habits are eliminated not by others, but by ourselves.”

Coach Lombardi developed his players’ character by “teaching them discipline and giving them self-confidence to achieve more than they thought possible.”

Coach Lombardi “knew his players’ psychology. He developed people, not players.”

Washington Redskins Head Coach: When Coach Lombardi became the new head coach of the Washington Redskins he was asked by reporters how he was going to handle Sonny Jurgensen, the talented but undisciplined quarterback?

Lombardi “called Sonny to his side, put his arm around him and said, “Gentlemen, this is the greatest quarterback to ever step on a football field.”

Coach Lombardi gave Sonny Jurgensen something to live up too!

Zig Ziglar said, “Is it any wonder that Jurgensen had his best year ever. Lombardi saw the good in others, treated them like he saw them, and helped develop the “good” that was inside of them.”

Coach Lombardi had a way of looking at his players, seeing their talents, and knew what to do to develop those talents. He believed in the “old fashioned values of discipline, obedience, loyalty, character, and teamwork.”

What are Coach Lombardi’s 3 Keys to leadership?

1.) First develop your people .

2.) Do this by teaching them discipline, and

3.)  by teaching them character

Your first priority as a leader is to  develop your team members by teaching them discipline and teaching them character just like Coach Vince Lombardi did!



Madeline Frank, Ph.D. is an Best Selling Author, speaker, business owner, teacher, conductor, and concert artist. She helps businesses and organizations “Tune Up their Business”. Her observations show you the blue prints necessary to improve and keep your business successful. Her latest book “Leadership On A Shoestring Budget” is available everywhere books are sold. If you need a speaker contact Madeline at:


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