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

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.


  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…

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

  1. Ultimate guide to Bill Walsh’s leadership principles. Told by his son through the perspective of 5 key pillars – Joe Montana, John McVay (director of football operations), Mike White (assistant at UC Berkeley and briefly at SF), Bill McPherson, Randy Cross (SF defensive lineman)
Key Takeaways
  1. Do all the right things and the score will take care of itself
  2. Bill wanted to attain perfection and one of his strengths was showing his team it was possible and the road to get there. His technical knowledge and attention to detail are legendary, brought in the best staff possible, taught everyone to hate mistakes
  3. Extremely demanding but quiet about it. Was extremely self assured but not cocky. Bill’s thinking and approach was always ahead of the curve and enlightened
  4. Most big things are simple in the specific, much less so in the general. Bill was a genius in making the complex comprehensible, the comprehensible achievable
  5. Bill was incredibly respectful to everybody on his staff
  6. Bill loved lists and believed it was a roadmap to his success
  7. What he loved more than anything was finding a great talent and teaching him how to reach his full potential
  8. There is no formula for success, no absolutes. But there are many things which can increase the probabilities of success (PIPER)
  9. Failure an integral part of success. Getting through this and knowing how to recover gives mental strength and confidence. Expect defeat, force yourself to move forward, allow yourself time to grieve, know you will stand again, begin planning no matter how small to succeed. No matter what, don’t blame others
  10. His process called the standard of performance. Planning, precision, poise. Do everything at the higher level and the outcome will take care of yourself
  11. An organization is a conscious and organic entity which needs to be consciously cultured. Follows your philosophy – what needs to be done, when and why. Primary focus always on the process and continual improvement
  12. Was a stickler for details and “trivial” details which add up to the overall image and performance. Culture always precedes results
  13. Most valued characteristics – Functional intelligence, talent, character, eagerness to adopt standard of performance, ability to work with others
  14. Winners act like winners before they’re winners
  15. All people want to feel like they’re part of something special
  16. Always be open to serendipitous moments and chance happenings. The best are better at turning lemons into lemonade. The west coast offense came out of a botched play (series of short passes to confuse the defense)
  17. Success doesn’t care how you get there (don’t be rigid and closed to innovation, be bold and remove fear of the unknown, desperation should not drive innovation, be obsessive in looking for the upside in the downside
  18. Few things offer better ROI than praise, giving credit where credit is due
  19. Vital to have plans for both situations when things are going well and poorly. First to script many plays before hand. ask self “what would you do if…”
  20. Leaders must be decisive once they have made up their mind. No good answer as to how to know when have made the wrong decision
  21. Leaders – believe can make a positive difference, Be themselves and the best version of it, committed to excellence, positive, prepared, detail oriented, organized (especially how you spend your time), accountable, able to zoom in while still seeing big picture, fair and ethical, firm on values, flexible to new situations, believe in themselves, be a leader (where you’re going and how to get there)
  22. Good details to fret about – patience, delegating, continuous improvement
  23. Great organizations are self sustaining and self perfecting. This is a prime role of the leader
  24. The leader has expertise and must have a hard edge beneath it all even if it isn’t often shown
  25. Joe Montana was not your typical alpha male leader. Above anything he lead by example and never had a sense of entitlement
  26. Bring out the most in people by treating people like people, seek positive relationships with all, afford everyone equal respect, blend honesty and diplomacy, allow for a wide range of moods, avoid pleading with players, make each person aware their wellbeing a great importance, avoid VIP treatment, speak well of former employees, treat families well, first name basis, don’t let animosity linger
  27. Good communication and lack of boundaries between different ranks is very important
  28. Find incredible mentors who will teach you and encourage you
  29. Mastery a continuous process of remastery. In fact, it is never attainable. A process rather than destination
  30. Argues that having a big ego (pride, self confidence) is necessary but egotism (arrogance) is to be avoided at all costs
  31. The bottom 20% of your team often decides victories (backups, customer service representatives). Make sure they understand they will have a big role to ply at some point and to be ready for it
  32. Few things inspire like hearing “I believe in you”
  33. Leaders must be acutely aware of pushing their team when necessary but also when to let off
  34. Bill had a no enemies policy for himself and the 49ers. One enemy can do more harm than 100 friends
  35. Wanted to create a unique and welcoming environment so disallowed hazing and it was expected that veterans would help train their replacements
  36. Like attracts like. Bill always aimed for character in his coaches and players
  37. Treating people right the core of sustainable success. Treat all fairly, find what a person does best and let them loose, set up most effective environment possible, acknowledge uniqueness of each employee, most talented people often strong minded and must deal with as appropriate, if good of group and individual not aligned must explain why, lay out duties and expectations very clearly, expectations must be high but attainable, interactions must be understood so no territorial feelings get hurt
  38. Those who perform best are those who best remove tension, anxiety and fear. Get in the zone
  39. Don’t underestimate or overuse humor as a pressure valve under serious stress
  40. A pretty package cannot sell a poor product
  41. Tips – don’t isolate yourself, create a network of smart and trusted individuals, delegate abundantly, avoid temptation to equate self worth with winning,
What I got out of it
  1. Awesome read. These books on leadership and coaching have been very influential for me this year (Holtz, Wooden, etc.)

Winning Every Day by Lou Holtz

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

  1. Holtz’s beliefs as a coach for building a successful team / organization
Key Takeaways
  1. WIN – What’s Important Now. Take care of that and one thing and everything else will become easier
  2. Power of attitude – what you attempt to do is determined by your motivation. How well you do something is determined by your attitude
  3. Tackle Adversity
  4. Have a sense of purpose
  5. Make sacrifice your ally – take pride in making sacrifices and having self-discipline
  6. Adapt or die
  7. Chase your dreams
  8. Nurture your self-image – a positive self-image grows out of having strong character
  9. Foster trust – is this the right thing to do?
  10. Commit to excellence
  11. Handle with care
What I got out of it
  1. Good book with some great advice. Can’t go wrong following any of this

The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

  1. Halberstam details the career and life of the New England Patriot’s coach, Bill Belichick. How his background, beliefs, work ethic and process have helped him become one of the most prolific football coaches in history.
Key Takeaways
  1. Bill is extremely anti-media as it creates a me world whereas he pushes for a “we” world. Has no inclination for the spotlight and zero artifice. Looked for players without a propensity for big displays of ego. Bill has a big ego but was about the doing, about the team winning. Not a man of charisma like most coaches, but a man of chalk. To push away fame, he dressed as gray as possible and drives a Volvo station wagon
  2. Coaching was almost an end in itself, preparing his players to the best of his ability. Loved the bigger stage because it was a bigger challenge. His attention to detail is second to none
  3. The Patriots coaches have no trophies or other signs of success in office – don’t want any trappings of the past and complacency
  4. Reading film, ability to adapt and work ethic is why set him apart from everyone else
  5. Constant evaluation of players and adaptation key 
  6. The little things aren’t the little things
  7. The key to success is being organized as being organized lets you save time and focus on what you’re it’s about doing what you’re supposed to do
  8. The Patriots are a team without an ego. All they want to do is win
What I got out of it
  1. Very interesting book on Belichick the man, why he acts the way he does and how he has risen to the highest echelon of the coaching world.