Vince Lombardi was one of the most successful football coach in the history of the game (American football).
He was the driving force of the Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1967, leading them in the capture of five National Football League championships. In his total 11 seasons as head coach he won 149 games. Lombardi was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1971, the same year that the NFL’s Super Bowl trophy was renamed in his honor.
Vincent Lombardi was born the first of five children in Brooklyn, New York, in 1913. The son of an Italian immigrant, he was raised in a strict religious Catholic atmosphere and studied the priesthood for two years before transferring to St. Francis Preparatory High School. There he became a star fullback on the football team.
In 1933, Lombardi accepted a football scholarship to Fordham University. He was an undersized guard on Fordham’s front line, known as the “Seven Blocks of Granite”. He got his bachelor’s degree from Fordham in June 1937, and in 1939, he took a job at St. Cecilia High School (New Jersey) as an assistant football coach and teacher. In 1942 Lombardi became the head coach at St. Cecilia and left for his alma mater, Fordham, in 1947, to coach the freshman teams in football and basketball. In addition to coaching, Lombardi also taught Latin, chemistry, and physics at Fordham.
In 1949, Lombardi accepted assistant’s job at the United States Military Academy. He served as offensive line coach under legendary head coach Colonel Red Blaik. At West Point Lombardi developed his basic coaching philosophy under influence of Blaik’s concept of keeping football simple (blocking and tackling) and of achieving perfect execution by constant repetition in practice.
In 1954 at age of 41, Lombardi began his career as a professional football coach accepting what would later become known as the offensive coordinator position for the NFL’s New York Giants. The year before, they had lost nine of 12 games and had scored the fewest number of points in the league. Lombardi turned the squad into a championship team in 1956. In the five years that Lombardi was an assistant with the Giants, they never had a losing season.
In 1958 Lombardi accepted a five-year contract as head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers. Having only won one game the previous year, Lombardi’s Packers proceeded to win seven games his first year and thereafter won six divisional titles, five National Football League championships, and two Super Bowls. They had become the stick by which all other teams were measured.
After the 1967 season, Lombardi retired as head coach and stayed on only as general manager of the Packers. But very soon he realized his mistake, and in 1969 he left Green Bay to become head coach of the Washington Redskins. Not a long time had gone before he led them to their first winning season, breaking a string of 14 losing seasons.
In June 1970, just before training camp for his second season in Washington, Vince Lombardi was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. He died ten weeks later on September 3, 1970. Just a week after his death, the NFL’s Super Bowl trophy was renamed the Vince Lombardi Trophy in his honor. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 1971.
In addition to Lombardi’s contributions to the history of professional football, he is a legend for his coaching philosophy and motivational skills. He was not only a great football coach, but he was a leader. The secret of Lombardi’s great performance is that he helped the men he coached succeed to the furthest of their abilities. His leadership code consisted of his ability to motivate people and inspire them, as well as of his incredible will to win. In the Lombardi model, leadership begins with a simple premise: Only by knowing yourself can you become an effective leader. Once you understand yourself, you can start building the crucial attributes of a leader, such as character and integrity. Once these are developed, the building blocks are in place for you to become a successful leader.
Experiencing the leadership role of a professional head coach, Vince changed from a coach who was quite openly friendly with the players to more of an aloof leader whose violent temper soon became his trademark along with his passion for winning. He expected obedience, dedication and 110% effort from each man, but he also made a promise to them – if they obeyed his rules and used his method, they would be a championship team.
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The most remarkable Lombardi’s leadership experience referred to the Green Bay Packers times. Before Vince came, the team had few attractions for players since there was little to do except play and think football. This fit in quite well with Lombardi’s spartan ethos. The team he inherited actually wasn’t as bad as the previous year’s record might show; it had a solid core of talents ready to be developed, and that had become Lombardi’s primary job. With several top draft choices and shrewd trading, Lombardi surrounded himself with players who were willing to take his tongue lashings to go the extra yard in order to become winners. He treated all players the same and never had the racial problems some other teams had at that time. “People who work together will win, whether it is to be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society,” he used to say.