More lessons from the NFL: Failure & Success


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Following the Super Bowl, and despite the Seahawks mixed record in the current season, Pete Carroll is clearly the NFL’s most successful failure.

And his ability to learn valuable lessons from multiple coaching setbacks offers lessons for all of us, whether we’re in business or professional sports.

After coaching the New York Jets to a 6-10 record in the 1994 season, Carroll was fired. Then, after serving as defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, he got his second NFL chance as coach of the New England Patriots. Despite making the playoffs twice in three years, Carroll was, once again, fired; and he was out of football until USC hired him as head coach in 2001. Within a few years, his success made USC the place to be for recruits, and the story of college football.

The most recent chapter in Carroll’s story began in 2009, when he was hired as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. He took the Seahawks to the playoffs in his first and third seasons; and, as we well know, he won it all in his fourth season as head coach. He was also recently voted the coach that most NFL players would like to play for.

Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win a Heisman Trophy in 2007. Three years later, he was a first round draft pick of the Denver Broncos; and, in 2011, he led the Broncos to their first playoff game since 2005. He was subsequently traded to the New York Jets, and was cut after playing very little. The New England Patriots also cut him before last season began.

Unlike Carroll, who achieved success in the NFL after several failures, Tebow experienced multiple failures in his futile quest to succeed in the NFL.

But, like Carroll, who learned from his mistakes, a wiser Tebow is rising from the professional ashes. That said, Tebow’s success, unlike Carroll’s, probably won’t be in the NFL; indeed, the former quarterback has launched what appears to be an auspicious career as a college football commentator on ESPN. We also laughed out loud when we saw Tebow starring in his comedic “No Contract” T-Mobile commercial before being hired by as a commentator.

What’s key, though, is that both Carroll and Tebow continued to believe in their abilities and stayed true to their core beliefs – no matter how much up and down they experienced on the professional roller coaster.

Both men have also demonstrated an ability to gracefully roll with the punches, maintaining their humility and sense of humor in the face of some very public criticism.

Johnny Manziel

Johnny Manziel knew nothing but success in his early football career. As a quarterback at Texas A&M, he was the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy; and was picked by Vegas odds makers to be the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Still, significant questions surrounded Manziel’s behavior and attitude. He’s been arrested and charged with three misdemeanors (although two of the charges were eventually dismissed); he departed early from the esteemed Manning Passing Academy; and the NCAA noted his “inadvertent violation” of its rules. ¬†Thus far, Manziel’s record has been very different from that of either Carroll or Tebow.

Drafted by the Cleveland Browns, after beginning what looks like a winning season, the Browns seem committed to Manziel’s stylistic opposite, veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer. Manziel has been relegated to being a trick-play runner that serves as a change of pace substitute.

Right now, the Browns seem to think of Manzel as a hopefully unneeded backup and minimually used runner. How is he handling the reversals of life on the football field? ¬†Obviously, with only a few games, it’s too early to tell.

Three Business Lessons

What business lessons can we take away from the failure and success of Carroll and Tebow – and the meteoric rise and subsequent being put on the back burner of Manziel?

102963-3d-glossy-green-orb-icon-alphanumeric-m01-clearThe first lesson is that early success or failure is not the final outcome in a career – or in a company’s lifespan.

In Carroll’s case, perseverance could, and probably will, ultimately, land him a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And, in the world of business, look no further than Apple, which, after numerous false starts and self-inflicted penalties, has become the most valuable company in the US.

102964-3d-glossy-green-orb-icon-alphanumeric-m02-clearThe second lesson is that circumstances play a huge factor in success and failure – whether it’s our career, or a company’s long-term track record.

In Tebow’s case, the fact is that college football and the NFL are fairly different games. They don’t always translate well.

The same is true when you look at a small- or medium-sized business and try to compare it to a large corporation. These are very different enterprises, and the skills needed for success in a smaller company are unlike those needed in a Fortune 500 organization.

102965-3d-glossy-green-orb-icon-alphanumeric-m03-clearThe third lesson is that the super-ego is often the defining factor that leads to success or failure – in business or sports.

There’s always a Richard Branson, a man of towering and creative brilliance, as well as out-sized super-ego, who has more than succeeded with Virgin; and then there are entrepreneurs like Donald Trump, who has become a joke because he is so completely consumed by his own super-ego.

In Manziel’s case, we just don’t know how much his ego has been tempered and what role it will play if he’s given the chance to show what he can do as a pro quarterback.

It’s a key human capital issue in pro football, and in business.