Modern Day Interview with Vince Lombardi

I sit alone in a comfortable but plain chair. I’m in his living room that is adequately lit yet fairly bland. Nothing about the room is out of place but nothing is exceptional in appearance or manufacture. The whole scene wreaks of a working class, middle income family room, which strikes me as a little strange given the amount of success he’s had. I arrived early, of course, so as to not keep him waiting. His wife welcomed me in with a genuine smile, directed me to one of two chairs separated and sitting somewhat facing each other – obviously set out for this purpose - and told me "Coach" would be with me in a few moments. I’m sure she’s seen and heard a few of these before . . . she disappears into some other area of the house. I sit quietly, reviewing my questions.

In walks the portly fellow, hand extended and smiling. His plain white shirt and simple necktie, not to mention the modest horn rimmed glasses, are signature. His face clean shaven and his sleeves are rolled up to just below the elbow. I already noticed his overcoat and hat hanging on the hat tree by the door. His spit shined brown shoes look like mirrors despite the obvious age they show. Absent is any exuberant glitz or glamour associated with his appearance. No outlandish tattoos or cologne. No extravagant design or pattern on his pants. Just a coach with a passion for a game he truly loves and, again, a smile. Vince Lombardi himself, in the flesh. I hop out of my chair and reach for his hand. Very firm hand shake.

"How are you, Mr. Jenkins," he says.

"Fine, I retort, very fine. Call me Tyrone."

"Tyrone it is," he answers back. We sit.

I look down toward my notepad, shuffling a few papers and say, "Coach, I just have a few questions for you here today – shouldn’t take us too long to get through this."

"You’re gonna need more than a few minutes with me, son. You know I love football so you very well may have to cut me off at some point," he chuckles. I chuckle too, and then think about the content of his sentence. My goodness. I’m about to sit down and talk at length with Vince Lombardi. I’m sure I might very well be here all night; probably won’t even notice the time. Collecting my thoughts and trying to remain as professional as possible so as to avoid acting like a school girl at a Justin Bieber concert, I begin.

Tyrone Jenkins: Coach, what do you think of the NFL of 2012?

Coach Lombardi: The simple word that comes to mind is evolution. My, have things changed – some for the better and some for the worst. Guys are bigger, stronger, and faster. Hungrier. I like that very much. A few more “prima donnas” though, but that’s too be expected. Heh, heh, heh.

Tyrone: Prima donnas?

Coach: Yeah, I’m not too much for all these guys concerned about contracts and numbers. Guys need to be concerned about winning and less about yards, tackles and pay. Get out there and play. Work hard. Compete. Champions are made in practice – not at the negotiating table. If a player works hard, the money will take care of itself. In my day, there was no such thing as free agency.

Tyrone: I couldn’t agree more, Coach. So, I guess the Right Kind of Guy concept that Jason Garrett is employing works for you.

Coach: It’s actually a concept I implored myself for many years but never really had a name for it. It just always made sense to acquire guys who wanna play ball, that aren’t afraid of a little hard work and that have skill to get the job done. I’ve been preaching that for years – it’s nice to know someone’s listening [another smile from Coach]. It’s actually kinda funny how there IS a name for it and how coaches seem to be getting BACK to doing it.

Tyrone: Trying to find good, solid players is always good in my book.

Coach: You’re trying to find winners. Winners aren’t just born, they’re made. Made with attitude, ethic and execution. That Sean Lee guys is exactly what I’m talking about. Chuck Norris on the football field if you ask me. I could use 52 more of him and go to war.

Tyrone: Ah, so you like Sean Lee, eh?

Coach: Son, Sean Lee is my kinda football player. Not the greatest athlete but one of the best players.

Tyrone: Ok, well while we’re discussing individual players, how bout I throw a couple of names atcha and you just say what comes to mind.

Coach: Fire away. But, I need you to realize something. [His tone a little more serious] This is our 1st interview so it’s probably worth saying that I don’t hold any punches. I’m gonna tell you like I see it – nothing less.

Tyrone: Wouldn’t have it any other way, Coach.

Coach: Ok then, who’s first? [Once again, he smiles widely]

Tyrone: Tony Romo.

Coach: Top 10 QB. Finally elite. It took him a lil while but he’s there now. If he continues to work and play like he’s been, he’ll be fine.

Tyrone: Demarcus Ware.

Coach: One of the best pass rushers ever. Right up there w/ Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White. Great guy. Good work ethic. Not a prima donna. Like him a lot. Come on, Tyrone, these are easy.

Tyrone: Ok, coach. Tim Tebow.

Coach: Ha, ha, now you're talkin. Ok. Tebow is a winner. A winner who lacks the skill to play QB. But definitely a winner. There’d be a place for him on my team – I’m just not so sure it’d be quarterback.

Tyrone: Jerry Jones.

Coach: Hahahahaha. [His smile widens even more - didn't know that was possible] You got me on that one. Jerry Jones, eh? Well, he’s not a player. But, I like Jerry. I really do. He’s very enthusiastic and he wants to win. But, the same can be said about any 3rd string safety. Ah, let’s see. Jerry Jones. You want me to be honest?

Tyrone: Brutally.

Coach: Jerry doesn’t really understand how dynasties are formed. He does possess some talent recognition skills but seems to be missing the whole picture. He was fortunate enough early on to have great people working for him – but then it seems he became too involved in the limelight of it all. He wants to be great but doesn’t want to pay the dues to achieve greatness.

Tyrone: Pay the dues? What dues?

Coach: Owners should be results based – not process based. Kinda like Army generals. They say what they want and let others go about achieving the objective. It’s a waste of time and resources to have an Army general charge up a hill with a gun, not to mention too risky and difficult to achieve by himself as there are younger guys better suited for the job. His talents lie elsewhere; in directing the entire force both during the war and preparing for the next one. If a General doesn’t trust the people working for him, he finds new ones who he can trust to do the job. Jerry seems to want to not only be involved with the process, but to be the one who creates it . . . probably to tell everyone that it was his process that was successful. You can’t be the team builder, owner and a coach all at the same time. Waste of time and resources not to mention too risky and difficult to achieve. Results don’t need to be concerned about the process as much because they already understand it from years of experience. Jerry has not paid his dues in that department because he didn’t learn enough when he had good people . . . or he didn’t listen to or believe them. Now it appears he want to skip ahead to looking like he has.

Tyrone: So can Jerry win another championship?

Coach: Another? He didn’t win any of the ones prior. He can be a part of the process but at this point, I don’t feel he has enough skill and experience to be the final decision maker. His best bet is to leave that up to those who do.

Tyrone: Well, sir, some would disagree with you. The team did win 3 Superbowls with him as the owner.

Coach: Then those people are idiots. I bet if you looked a lil closer, you’d realize those wins were not because of Mr. Jones but in spite of Mr. Jones. He was along for the ride. He’s not a coach. He’s not in the locker room devising plays or listening to see how the players get along every day. He may show up on the sidelines for games but he’s away from the day-to-day interactions of people that are so important. Finding good players is more than measuring 40 times and seeing who can jump the highest. Character is just as important and putting the wrong characters on your team, even though they’re studs on the football field, doesn’t always work. His track record this past 15 years has proven my point.

Tyrone: So do you think you could’ve ever been a coach for Mr. Jones.

Coach: Very difficult. I’d have shared my vision of how to build a dynasty with him and let him decide if I would be the right man for the job.

Tyrone: So how DO you build a dynasty, Coach?

Coach: Dynasties are not an achievement anyone can assure. They are a result of doing things the right way and getting lucky. Not even I knew I’d have the success I had. I was the Packers coach from 59 to 66 or was it 67. Yes, it was 67. And during that time, I made it a priority to get guys who loved football, were coachable and who had some talent and athleticism. My luck came in with having Bart Starr. His skill for the position of quarterback was obvious the minute I saw him. But, his ability to lead was what made him special and the team successful. Bart knew how to talk to people. Sometimes, some guys need encouragement. He knew who needed this and how to give it. Other guys need a swift kick in the ass. He could deliver that too. Still others need to be shown how to act and play by example and Bart knew that sometimes he just needed to say nothing and go out there and get the job done no matter how gritty the field was or how big the defense seemed to be. He knew just what to do and when to do it. Every championship team needs a Starr and I was lucky enough to have him. A dynasty occurs when the mentality and attitude of that star becomes the mentality and attitude of the team. That attitude has to be that everyone has a job to do. Every manager, coach, player. Failing to do your job is letting others on the team down. I didn’t want to fail at my job as a coach so I studied long and hard on how to be one. I made my players study. I told my boss who I thought was good and who I didn’t want. And he listened . . . most of the time. [Another big smile] He listened more with the more success we had. Everyone working hard and doing their part – not more than their part and certainly, not less.

Tyrone: Well, Coach, I must say that your formula works. You led your teams to 3 NFL Championships and won the 1st 2 Superbowls in 7 years.

Coach: Thank you.

Tyrone: Do you think the Buffalo Bills of 1990-1993 qualifies as well? That was the time the Bills went to and lost 4 Superbowls in a row.

Coach: Good question. [He ponders the question in silence for a couple of seconds, then reaches in his back pocket, removes a handkerchief and wipes his brow] I would say no – simply based on the fact that they didn’t win. Great teams yes, great coaching as well. But there’s just no substitute for being called a champion. Patriots were recently a dynasty and might still be with Belicheck and Brady. Steelers have been consistenly among the tops of the league. And, you know I still got an eye on my Packers - watch them for the next few years. Let me ask you a question: would you prefer to make it to and lose 5 or even more championships in a row or would you rather win 1 championship game but not make the playoffs for the next 4 years?

Tyrone: Well, no, I think I’d take the championship. Good point.

To be continued…

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