Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Building Teams and Winning at the Highest Level by Michael Lombardi

Summary

  1. Lombardi has been tutored by some of the best and he shares his leadership and culture learnings in this book

Key Takeaways

  1. Amazing Preparation
    1. The Patriots worked on a unique goal line solution for months, the entire off-season and preseason, implementing and perfecting Bill’s ingeniously simple goal-line solution. They didn’t see it all season until the Super Bowl when something “just did not look right.” Instead of calling a time-out, an eerily calm Belichick just stared straight ahead, a predator stalking his prey. Suddenly, he burst into action, becoming the aggressor. Shouting into his headset, Belichick commanded: “Just play the goal line.”…I’ve studied the NFL’s smartest men my whole career, and it’s never anything less than breathtaking when you realize they are operating on a different level than their peers. Believing they had speed and horizontal space on their side, Seattle stacked two receivers on the right. At the snap, though, Butler, a cornerback skilled in man coverage – as opposed to the safety who ordinarily would have been in that spot – expertly read the play. He exploded toward wideout Lockette, beating him to the ball, and securing the most critical interception in Super Bowl history, not to mention yet another Lombardi Trophy for Belichick and the Patriots. 
    2. The only sign we have in the locker room is a quote from The Art of War: “Every battle is own before it is fought.” – Bill Belichick 
  2. Culture
    1. The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind. But how to get old ones out. – Dee Hock
    2. If copycatting were a useful shortcut to success, there would be Lagasse-style restaurants in every city and San Francisco 49er clones in every football stadium
    3. It’s not the strength of the individual players; it’s the strength of how they function together. – Bill Belichick 
  3. Qualities of Great Leaders
    1. Command of the room
    2. Command of the message
    3. Command of self
    4. Command of opportunity 
    5. Command of the process 
  4. Card Players vs. Football Players
    1. In practice, John Thornton would glance at the card for his alignment and path, then reenact whatever the card told him to do. Playing off the card, he was incredible and virtually impossible to block. So incredible, in fact, that we activated him off the practice squad. Big mistake. Once the game was live and the chess pieces started moving, Thornton had to think for himself. And when he was forced to rely on instincts and awareness of the scheme, he was far from the force we had hoped for. It was as if he were moving in slow motion, the easiest guy to block on the field. He lasted five games before we released him. But it was worth it, I suppose, because we learned something important about our own biases: card players and football players are two different things.
  5. Hologram in the Head
    1. A big part of Walsh’s genius was his uncanny ability to spot a quarterback in a crowd. Even from a distance and after only a few throws, he could sense immediately if a quarterback could run his offense. Guys like Walsh and Belichick are unusual this way: they can visualize how skill sets fit in their schemes in a way that both maximizes those abilities and fuels the system. Walsh was secretive about that particular gift of his; he never shared what he saw. So he seemed like a railbird at the track who could discern the best horses just by studying their gait around the paddock. It might have been footwork, a kinetically clean throwing motion, the way a quarterback carried himself in the pocket, or, more likely, some mystical balance of several Q qualities floating around in his head – but whatever it was, Walsh knew it when he saw it
    2. When they break the huddle, Belichick “take a Kodak” – a quick mental picture of the Ravens’ formation – to try to predict what they will run. 
  6. What Would Belichick Do?
    1. Take charge and get to work
    2. Belichick never allows himself to get bored, which means he never cuts a corner or underestimates an opponent
    3. When one team has success, another wants to duplicate its path to good fortune. It’s what I call the “Texas snake problem.” Texas is home to two species – the Texas coral snake and the Mexican milk snake – which look very much alike. The Texas coral snake is almost black-mamba-level-dangerous; its venom can kill. The Mexican milk snake can’t hurt you; it’s an impostor. It thrives only as long as it can dupe predators into thinking it is dangerous. Teams try to get away with this kind of lazy copycatting all the time. They try to succeed by hiring a coach who has all the same markings and temperaments as Belichick or Walsh without really understanding what makes both men killers: drive, decision making, and realistic optimism. But mimicking success rarely earns success. Even in New England. Every once in a while a Patriots coach will watch tape on the treadmill because Belichick does or tailor his clothes with a pair of scissors. But when that’s as deep as the imitation goes, the players and the rest of the staff see right through it. A guy like that is inevitably a short-timer. What wouldn’t Belichick do? Fake it.
    4. Simple and powerful ideas
      1. Culture comes first
      2. Press every edge all the time, because any edge may matter anytime
      3. Systems over stars
      4. Leadership is a long-term proposition
      5. You’re never done getting better
  7. Other
    1. The world gets out of the way for people who know where they are going
    2. Practice execution becomes game reality – Bill Belichick
    3. Luck is the residue of design
    4. While the rest of the sports world was still catching its breath the day after the Patriots’ dramatic 28-24 win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, Belichick already had the next year on his mind
    5. The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the nonobvious – Marcus Aurelius
    6. Bill Walsh’s 17 commandments
      1. Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement
      2. Demonstrate respect for each person in the organization
      3. Be deeply committed to learning and teaching
      4. Be fair
      5. Demonstrate character
      6. Honor the direct connection between details and improvement; relentlessly seek the latter
      7. Show self-control, especially under pressure
      8. Demonstrate and prize loyalty
      9. Use positive language and have a positive attitude
      10. Take pride in my effort as an entity separate from the result of that effort
      11. Be willing to go the extra distance for the organization
      12. Deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation
      13. Promote internal communication that is both open and substantive
      14. Seek poise in myself and those I lead
      15. Put the team’s welfare and priorities ahead of my own
      16. Maintain an ongoing level of concentration and focus that is abnormally high
      17. Make sacrifice and commitment the organization’s trademark

What I got out of it

  1. Even if you’re not into football, there’s a lot to learn from Lombardi and his experience with some of the all-time great NFL coaches. Some real life examples of ideas we talk about often – hologram in the head, impostor vs. the real thing, culture, leadership, preparation…