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When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi

When Pride Still Mattered Book cover
Book (with additional video)
David Maraniss
Recommended by: Sarah Steelman, Former Commissioner, Office of Administration
Additional Video
Title: How Vince Lombardi Became a Football Coaching Legend
Date: December 3, 2015

What is your suggestion about?

Most football fans agree that Vince Lombardi is one of the greatest football coaches of all time, if not the best. Lombardi’s coaching skills molded men into highly-skilled football players and his football strategy produced winning records. His career included assistant coach at U.S. Military West Point, offensive coordinator for the New York Giants, head coach for the Green Bay Packers, and head coach for the Washington Redskins. As head coach for the Green Bay Packers, he won five NFL Championship games, including Super Bowls I and II. The book is a biography about the events in his life that shaped his character and those of his teams. 

Why did you choose it?

When Pride Still Mattered is a study of character, coaching, and how to get the best out of a team – so it is not just for football or even sports fans. The author, David Maraniss, vividly captures not only Lombardi’s impact on football but, more importantly, how he affected the lives of those he coached.

I am fascinated by a good football coach’s ability to use discipline and motivation to build an effective team, create a winning strategy, and shape good character in each member of his team. No one did this better than Vince Lombardi. Maraniss describes how Lombardi had to change the mindset of the Green Bay Packers from a losing team into a winner. 

What else do you want to tell us about it?

One of Lombardi’s principles as described by Maraniss was his “trinity of success”: repetition, confidence, and passion. This stuck with me. He used this to drive players to be their best individually and together as a winning team. In 1959, Lombardi led the Packers to their first winning season since 1947 by using these principles. He knew how to balance strict discipline in training, continually pushing for excellence on the field, and cultivating a will to win. He wouldn’t tolerate weakness or sloppiness. 

Lombardi developed a “bread and butter play” – the now famous Green Bay sweep – to perfection. According to Maraniss, Lombardi learned from experience that such perfection came with simplicity: “The theory is to discard the immaterial and refine those few things that one did best.” The Packers practiced their power sweep relentlessly until they could execute confidently and flawlessly regardless of the conditions. They became so good as a team that even when their opponents knew the sweep was coming, the Packers could still deliver.

What is a key takeaway for leaders driving improvement in how we deliver for the citizens of Missouri?

Whether transforming a football team or any organization, the Lombardi approach can work. According to Bart Starr, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame quarterback, in the first session with the team after becoming coach of the Packers in 1959, Lombardi told the team: “We’re going to RELENTLESSLY pursue perfection – even though we know full well that we won't catch it, because nothing is perfect.” Right away, Starr knew things were going to be different. Lombardi transformed the Green Bay Packers into a winning team one individual at a time using his “trinity of success” and discipline. Lombardi knew that repetition and practice builds confidence. He knew that players who were passionate about the game and had confidence would beat an equally skilled opponent who didn't have the same heart. 

We know that improving state government requires a similar commitment. Good coaches and good leaders recognize that it is not enough to expect winning results. A good leader has to help support and develop their team’s individual skillset. A good leader, like Lombardi, values individual members of their team. Lombardi knew that his team had to accept some pain in order to improve, and he helped individuals confront and work through that pain. He helped prepare them for the field of play. A good coach will encourage, inspire, and show their team what winning looks like. 

I like to think that Lombardi shows us the way to transform our government to better serve the citizens of Missouri. As he said: “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” Thanks, Vince. 

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  • Barbara Dismang, Department of Mental Health
  • May 21, 2018 12:18 pm
  • Very interesting, I enjoyed listening to the video. It would be a good book to read.