I was fortunate to hear former Denver Bronco, Atlanta Falcons and NY Giants NFL coach Dan Reeves speak to a group of Georgia county officials in Savannah recently. Reeves grew up in Americus, Georgia and was born near there in Andersonville, the site of the historical Civil War prison camp. The theme of the county leadership meeting was Leading with Honor – I now see why they chose him to speak on the topic.
In case you don’t keep up with football, Coach Dan Reeves was a top NFL player in the mid to late 60s and was fortunate (his words) to not only play, but coach, under the famous Tom Landry.
It was easy to spot Coach Reeves at I sat about a third of the way back in the room of about 700 or so….he stood tall among the crowd….in more ways than one. His tall and still muscular frame belied his soft words for moments and people in his life that had a profound impact on him. For nearly an hour he shared stories from his days as a player and coach. He not only kept us riveted with his stories, but also brought tears to our eyes (and his) as he shared personal moments of loss and achievement. Below are some of the stories and quotes I captured as I feverishly took notes…..hope you enjoy them:
Experience: “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want to get.”
Modeling Strength and Character: Coach Reeves shared a number of stories about his former University of South Carolina college football coach, Marvin Bass, who later became a beloved father figure to him. At his funeral in 2010, Coach Bass asked that only his Bible and wedding ring be put in his casket….as Coach Reeves recalled the story of Bass’ life he teared up and had to pause for a bit. It seemed as though remembering the life of a man he loved, who taught him so much, tugged at his heart strings hard. Reeve’s quote regarding his mentor and old friend, Marvin Bass, was this:
…”show me a man whose Bible is tattered and torn up and I’ll show you a man whose life isn’t”…
Tears: As Reeves teared up during the story of Coach Bass, he quipped that for some reason after experiencing open heart surgery, he tended to get more emotional about things than in the past. He joked that it seemed he could even tear up on Saturday morning when Woody Woodpecker couldn’t decide which way to go at a fork in the road! I suspect that his brush with death gave Reeves a reverence and deep appreciation for life.
Set Reasonable Goals: Reeves told the group that when Coach Landry took over the Cowboys they had experienced several losing seasons. So, instead of coming in and promising Super Bowls, Landry set realistic goals….something we all need to do. He said “let’s set a realistic goal of 8-8 for this first season and set an outstanding goal of 9-7”. In 1964 they only won 5 games, tied one and lost 8. The next year, they were 7 and 7 and the next year they 10-3. Sometimes success has to come in small steps.
Support Goals: Reeves reminded the audience to chose good supporting goals (or methods) to help achieve the larger goals. One season Reeves’ team had the worst record in the NFL for points scored (on his team) after fumbles or interceptions. Rather than just set a goal of “not being last” he set about doing small things to get there. For instance, he had his offensive lineman and others on the offense practice tackling for a few minutes each day. As a result of a small effort to practice tackling they moved up significantly in this stat category the next season.
Quality Control: You have to periodically inspect and measure how you are doing against your goals. “Check progress against goals periodically.” Measure small things along the way.
Stay positive through defeats: “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” Opportunities come along you don’t expect….Reves once became depressed due to his low ranking as a player on his team one season. However, he hung in there and out of the blue, because of injuries to others, he ended up playing quite a bit. Things can change in a moment’s notice, so hang in there.
Self Pity: “Don’t feel sorry for yourself, because someone always has it worse than you.” After a career ending knee injury, Reeves started feeling sorry for himself. Soon thereafter he was asked to go overseas and speak to our troops in Vietnam. During that time he saw young men who had lost limbs and who were maimed and scared badly… after seeing those heroic young men, his self pity evaporated.
Excellence: “Demand that people be better than they are, but when they fall short don’t be too hard on them or they’ll stop trying.”
Engaging the Team in the Process: “People tend to resist new things unless they are made a part of the process. Involve others in planning.” After Coach Reeves started getting his players input as to game-day strategy and play list, he noticed players took more ownership and worked extra hard due to their participation in developing the plan.
Learning: “Learn something every day….even us older folks still have a lot to learn.”
Respect: “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Commitment to Goals: “In this world of give and takes there are not enough people who want to give what it takes.”
Landry’s words of advice to Reeves:
- “Be yourself; don’t be a phony; people will see that fast and lose respect for you.”
- “Tell the truth; it’s easier too to not have to keep up with all your lies along the way!”
Coach Reeves’ self-effacing manner, his wit and his down-home charm made the nearly hour talk seem like just 15 minutes. He reflected what is good about people, what is good about Georgia and reminded me that extraordinary things happen by ordinary people all the time.
Philippians 2:15 – That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.