PopupYesterday I blogged about girls basketball and role models. Today I'm going to blog about football coaches and leaders. I guess I've got sports on my brain this weekend (for good reason).

The NY Times has a nice front page article this morning about Rex Ryan, the rookie coach of the NY Jets. Here are a few quotes:

In Ryan’s first season as coach, he changed the Jets’ second-class existence through the sheer force of his bold and brash personality. He spoke loudly and often about the talent that surrounded him, until the players believed every word he said.


Ryan turned one of the N.F.L.’s most clandestine operations in into an open book. The Jets collapsed at the end of 2008 in part because of the tense atmosphere. Ryan changed that, changed a culture, changed the way people felt about coming to work.

Companies are reflections of the people who lead them. Same with football teams. I've watched almost every Jet game this season and last season. The difference in the team is so visible. They play with a brash and bold style this year that was not on display in the Mangini era.

But it's the last line of the second quote that is the biggest deal, he "changed the way people felt about coming to work." That's what great CEOs do. They inspire people to come to work with a bounce in their step and a desire to do great work.

And that is largely about people skills. We all know people who have the special touch with people. They make people laugh, smile, and feel good. Those people make great CEOs, leaders, and football coaches.

But it is not enough to be a cheerleader. You also need to have a plan, you need to be close to the product, you need to know where to lead people. Here's another couple quotes from the Times article:

Instead of operating from a tower like a dictator, Ryan walks the hallways, massaging egos, cooking up defensive plans.


"Beneath it all, he’s super, super intelligent,” Pettine said. “Like the guy in the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ The things that come out of his mouth are not being shot from the hip. There’s a plan behind all of it.”

So there you have it. The recipe for a great leader is:

1) Knows how to connect to the team and make them feel good about their work

2) Someone who walks the halls and works on the product with the team

3) Has the intellect to make the right decisions

4) Has a plan

We'll see how well Rex Ryan and the Jets do today against the Colts. They are big underdogs and rightly so. I'll be rooting hard for them and I'm sure the Jets will give it all today.

But win or lose, Rex Ryan has impressed me very much in his rookie season. I look forward to watching him work the sidelines of Jets games for many years to come.

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#Sports#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Chris Selland

    enjoyed this and hope you’re right (let’s go JETS) – but I am struggling with the memory of Manginius on the Sopranos

    1. fredwilson

      let’s hope we can erase that memory today

  2. zerobeta

    Hopefully tomorrow we aren’t reading about the Fred Wilson cover curse!

    1. fredwilson

      hopefully i’ll be scrambling for a hotel in miami!

  3. Dave Pinsen

    I think 2), 3), and 4) are true of pretty much all NFL coaches, and 1) is highly dependent on winning, so there’s a little circularity to that one. I remember when Tom Coughlin first got to the Giants, there were reports of some players chafing at his management style, but when the started winning the next season, he seemed to get more popular with his players.BTW, check out this Jets cupcake. We stopped by that bakery yesterday and saw it there. As a Giants fan, I didn’t buy it though.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s a very nice cupcake. i reblogged it on fredwilson.vcthanks for the link dave

      1. Dave Pinsen

        No problem, Fred. Glad you like it.

    2. alexismichelle

      My apologies if I am misunderstanding your comment, but I am not sure I agree that “connecting to the team and making them feel good about their work” is dependent on winning. In my experience, it may even be the other way around– that teams who feel connected to company leadership (and one another) and good about their work are more likely to “win.”

      1. Dave Pinsen

        That may be where the analogy between a company and an NFL team breaks down a little. I can’t think of an example of an NFL team that was 1-15 where the sports pages reported that the coach was “connecting to the team and making them feel good about their work”. NFL team owners tend not to have a high patience for losing, so if teams aren’t winning it’s tough for players or coaches to feel good.

        1. alexismichelle

          Point well taken 🙂 I was thinking about it from the company pov, not the NFL one.

    3. kidmercury

      i just wanted to thank the giants and their fans for the way they played this season. if the giants defense wasn’t on a high school level desean jackson might not be going to the pro bowl. on behalf of all eagles fans, sincere thanks.

  4. stone

    Does anyone think that Barack Obama has been acting like Rex Ryan? Mr. Obama has done a less than impressive job of selling his Health Care plan and an even worse job of articulating a clear strategy for dealing with Wall Street excesses. And, I won’t even get into how bad of shape his party is now in. The dems chose the wrong leader this time around. Hillary would have been better. Mr. Obama is proving to be a BAD leader.

    1. fredwilson

      we will know a lot more after the mid-term electionsRex wasn’t looking too good halfway through this season

      1. kidmercury

        that’s right, it wasn’t until playoff clinches were made and teams stopped playing that ryan started looking good

  5. Bill Jaris

    great piece Fred — especially appreciated by a former Jet season ticket holder from the Shea Stadium days and I have the Joe Namath jersey to prove it

    1. fredwilson

      i wish they still played in queens

  6. RacerRick

    I liked Rex Ryan until he ripped Charles Woodson after the defensive player of the year award.He went over the line there. I bet a certain venture lawyer would agree with me.

    1. fredwilson

      i talked to jay about that. rex was just standing up for Revis

  7. Mark Essel

    On correlation and causation, I’d rather be lucky than good. Good guys can #fail big and repeatedly.Not enough data points can lead us to believe lucky IS good. I can live with that 🙂

  8. reece

    Leading teams is about getting everyone to buy into the system – the plan – and executing at every level. The best coaches, players, CEO’s have ultimate belief in their ability to execute and they make everyone around them better.

  9. Ryan Dawidjan

    Great insight and observation Fred,Those four characteristics remind me of what Dale Carnegie preaches in “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”Enjoy the blog, thanksRyan

  10. kirklove

    As someone that lived through the Buddy Ryan era of Philly and absolutely loved their swagger at the time I’m delighted for Jets fans and their run. Especially since it’s not the Giants. Ha.I will say this about Rex though… He (and the Jets) got lucky. They backed into the playoffs with two gift games. And even Rex himself mistakenly thought they were out of the playoffs prior to those games and said they didn’t deserve to be there. Still, as a passionate leader (the Ryans are never short on passion or rotundness for that matter) he has seized this opportunity and inspired the team to basically over achieve. Despite being underdogs today I’d be surprised if they don’t win. I’d love to see the Jets have something more in their history then just Joe waving his finger as he runs off the field.

    1. fredwilson

      you are so right. they got lucky with the Colts and Cinci and then got to play Cinci again. i think you have to get some lucky breaks in a season or a startup and the Jets sure got there share of them in the end of the season

  11. kidmercury

    IMHO humility is the big one. you can be an arrogant SOB and be great, but to be beyond great, to be epic, humility is needed, i think.and how about rex ryan use those great leadership skills of his to get the jets a new look. ugliest uniforms in the whole league. embarrassing.

  12. ShanaC

    Two things, people like being around people with plans that are happy: It seems to be part of human nature.Second thing is: Most of the time I don’t feel a desire to go get a serious boyfriend. Right now, I do, I have no idea how to understand the football metaphor. No one watched it in my house…

  13. John Pasmore

    Good post — leadership is often lost in the focus on business plans, spreadsheets, and projections — getting to those goals on paper depends on people…Good reminder.

  14. Norbert Mayer-Wittmann

    The essesntial ingredient for any leader is to have followers.Bother leadership and loyalty are overrated.nmw

  15. David Fishman

    Teams win or lose together. Despite Ryans coaching this season Sanchez has yet to demonstrate his real ability … and the test of time will determine his fate. Manning is the best QB of all time and has demonstrated his ability to execute and deliver. No matter how good Ryan is it will take a true leader on the field in the trenches to deliver a Jet’s victory today. May the best team win!

    1. fredwilson

      sanchez played very well but manning played better

  16. gangrenous belly

    Go Green!Sanchez: You think Coach Ryan has something big up his sleeve for this one?Jones: Ain’t you seen Coach? He’s something big up all his sleeves.Coach Ryan prepares a feast : not safe for workhttp://kissingsuzykolber.up…

    1. David Fishman

      Love it … A RYAN ALWAYS SAUSAGES HIS FROSTED FLAKES! “In ancient times, the Roman army would gather to feast before they went and kicked the shit out of everything in their path.”

  17. paulmunsch

    Fred,Great post…Thanks. You should read Winning The NFL Way by Bob LaMonte if you have not done so already. It’s a great follow up to your post highlighting leadership lessons from top NFL coaches like Holmgren, Grunden, Reid and others. Bob is the agent to many NFL coaches so he provides insight on how these coaches communicate, build trust and use vision to formulate a winning plan.

    1. fredwilson

      thanks for the recommendation. i’ll check it out

    1. awaldstein

      Great clip. One of my favorite inspirational speeches. My top one is Rocky Balboa “It ain’t about how hard you hit….” http://bit.ly/dvoAe

      1. fredwilson

        both of those are great movie moments

      2. Aviah Laor

        yes. it’s not what you worth but how much you are willing to get hit to prove it. great clip.

  18. sigmaalgebra

    Fred,Your four points are fine: 2)-3) are no problem; I’ll try on 1)! Maybe for 1), A) when someone does an especially good piece of work say “Nice!”. So, thus provide acceptance, approval, salve to their ‘social phobia’, position closer to the center of the herd, self-esteem, emotional security. Maybe for something really good, a Chambertin at Le Cirque but decline on the ‘Jurassic Park’ case of scotch!. Maybe otherwise often for lunch in ‘the Board room’ (four sawhorses and two 4 x 8 sheets of plywood) order in a dozen or so boxes of Chinese food. B) Post a graph of rising usage, data base size, and revenue. C) Post links of favorable Internet comments. D) Tell them they’re the greatest hackers who ever put on a jock strap, uh, did a right click. “Gee, you DO understand binary search. Amazing! You figured that out on your own, right?”Yes, I read:Jim Collins, ‘Good to Great’, ISBN 0-06-662099-6, HarperCollins, New York, 2001.Actually, much better, I read some E. Fromm.Mixed. I’ve seen leaders do little or nothing on 1) while their organization did very well and leaders do a lot on 1) while their organization flopped. Of course I’ve seen people doing poorly on 1) while their organization was a miserable failure. There are stories of Pensky taking over a badly failing Detroit Diesel, deliberately keeping ALL the old management, AND making a big success out of it. Okay. Maybe the Jets are another example.Gee, maybe software companies should have cheerleaders, doing high kicks in short skirts? No one would expect objectivity here from a father with daughters!For the NYT version, it’s not pleasant reading for me: Looks like pandering to the readers, like creating vicarious, escapist, fantasy, emotional, experience entertainment to let some readers imagine and believe that, as confirmed by the once highly esteemed, revered, coveted NYT, they, too, can be great leaders.Gee, can I really believe that the writer actually got out, say,T. Parthasarathy and T. E. S. Raghavan, ‘Some Topics in Two-Person Games’, ISBN 0-444-00059-3, American Elsevier, New York.and read about the Nash equilibrium? Hmm …!Hopefully 1) can be more effective and less insulting than the NYT pandering!But, maybe the NYT is on to something! Maybe I can use my copy of Parthasarathy and Raghavan, etc. to get the people really excited to come to work! Ah, mention Banach space or the martingale convergence theorem occasionally!To heck with Nash; go for von Neumann! Let’s see: He gave a nice proof of the Radon-Nikodym theorem. Hmm … For some video clip, Y is what some people interested in X think about it. So, we can estimate the conditional expectation of Y given X, E[Y|X]. But what we need is just the expectation of Y. Hmm …. From R-N, E[Y] = E[E[Y|X]]. How ’bout that! Von Neumann and others have more! Uh, they don’t teach this in ‘computer science’!Maybe print and frame a big version ofhttp://www-history.mcs.st-a…The bill from the print shop and the frame shop might be over? $100. What would the Board think? Hmm?Or, for another such bill, post, from a Disney movie commonly seen by fathers with daughters, “The best prize that life can offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing”. For this to work, can help for the Board to approve the employee stock option plan within the promised “two weeks”.A little more generally, the Little Red Hen in Mother Goose indicates that it can be tough to get anyone excited about anything short of something as good as a warm, fragrant loaf on the counter ready to eat. There the hen saw the possibility then planted, cultivated, harvested, threshed, milled, mixed, kneaded, formed, and baked — actual productive work reaching a good goal, however, somewhere next season.Who got the hen excited to come to work, and especially to see the possibility and ‘invest’ the work in the future?In one case where I was a successful leader, a little red hen who did get people excited and helping, the keys were 2)-4). Then nearly everyone else DID get excited. I blew away the longest sitting CIO in US higher education, beat a world famous ‘super salesman’ and his huge branch office, drained the carpet and drapery budgets, had lots of people show up for a ‘cable pulling’ party, etc.It was also important that the hen was not the only one hungry.What I found in successful leadership is that doing well on 2)-4) does get people excited but also gets some people jealous. Holding down jealousy is a bigger problem than increasing excitement.

  19. saieva

    Michael Hyatt, who writes the Leading With Purpose blog, recently made a similar point in his post Leadership and the Law of Replication:http://michaelhyatt.com/200…Sal.—Salvatore Saieva

  20. Aviah Laor

    The art is in 2. At 50,000 ft – detached, 5,000 – irritating.

  21. davidbryce

    Good stuff, Fred. Go Jets!

  22. George A.

    hi fred, off-topic, but not sure I see how you reconcile support of net neutrality and your support of commscore’s pay-to-look-better-program.go Vikings

    1. fredwilson

      it’s not pay to look better. not every website will look better in the new methodology.it’s a complicated topic and it is explained in detail herehttp://blog.comscore.com/20…

      1. George A.

        thanks, helpful reading.it must be a heck of a product to try and sell if you tell your customers that there is a chance that it’ll make ’em look worse.

  23. thewalrus

    it was a heck of run for the jets…..guess i didn’t jinx them at the beginning of the year after all :)ryan deserves tons of credit. making people believe in themselves and each other is a beautiful thing. phil jackson is the true zen master. this week, he just gave out his yearly road-trip books handpicked for each player….its a great touch. (this year’s list was tweeted by Jeannie Buss: http://twitter.com/JEANIEBUSS )

    1. fredwilson

      yes, phil jackson is great at this stuff

  24. Harvest Creative

    I guess Peyton proved what happens when the competition has a better product.

    1. fredwilson


  25. andyswan

    Never hurts when the toughest competitor on your schedule takes the day off when it’s your turn to play them and gives you a shot at the playoffs, either.Good post.

  26. Ovi_Jacob

    Fred – Great post. There is one more leadership quality that I look for, especially in entreprenuers, connected to your #3. Intelect to make the right decisions is a certainly neccessary, but what is often lacking is the guts to follow through on those convictions. Ryan has it.Staying with fotball, among the Jets’ greatest rivals, NE Patriot coach Bill Bellicheck (sp?) was tatooed earlier this year for going for it on a short 4th down in the waning minutes of an eventual loss to those same Colts. While his decision gave Peyton Manning a short field and time to score the winning touchdown, he (and I) believe the call was correct. Rather than playing by the book (punting), he played to his team’s strength and took a calculated risk. While the result failed, the process was correct. That takes guts, especially in high pressure scenarios.

  27. Chris Waldron

    I am working in my first web start up. Often in the beginning I felt like I was lacking because I didn’t have experience in everything that goes into an internet company (SEO, UI/UX, product mgnt). But I have been able to learn about those topics by reading great blogs, articles and books. But without bragging, the leadership I bring to our team helps us execute on a great opportunity. So not all business guys are bad in start ups as so many in the space say.

  28. deancollins

    One of my favorite management maxims is”The fish always rots from the head”.Doesn’t go over well with many managers but most of the time its nearly always provable.Cheers,Dean Collinswww.LiveFootballChat.com