Regulation & Legislation
Pat Williams has always been attracted to audacious goals. As the Philadelphia 76ers’ general manager from 1974–1986, he undertook the rebuilding of a notoriously downtrodden NBA franchise. Williams acquired superstar Julius Erving in 1976, traded for a raft of other players and drafted shrewdly. His efforts paid off with four NBA Finals appearances, culminating in a title in 1983.
Next, Williams spearheaded an ownership group that resulted in long-shot city Orlando winning an expansion franchise in 1987. Williams served as the Orlando Magic’s first general manager and eventually senior vice president before retiring in 2019.
As an author, Williams has taken deep dives on legends including Jackie Robinson, Michael Jordan and Walt Disney. He’s penned books on legendary coaches such as John Wooden, Vince Lombardi and Bear Bryant. Williams’ books are permeated with a relentless approach to unearthing life lessons. He often conducts 100 or more interviews for each book, including the subjects themselves whenever possible.
For his latest undertaking, Who Coached the Coaches?, Williams tracked down celebrated figures in football, baseball and basketball to discover who influenced them. He spoke with Quarterly Insights about how the rest of us can incorporate the wisdom of great coaches in our everyday lives.
It was usually a high school coach. Besides setting life-lesson examples, these coaches cared enough to encourage those impressionable young athletes to take the next step in their academic and athletic careers.
Then it was often a coach in college or the pros who planted the seed to specifically go into coaching. For instance, Andy Reid, who just led the Kansas City Chiefs to their second Super Bowl victory, was encouraged by his Hall of Fame college coach, LaVell Edwards. Edwards saw potential in Reid, who hadn’t contemplated a coaching career.
College legends Bobby Bowden, Lou Holtz and Tom Osborne also said they never thought about coaching until a key coach recognized their potential and encouraged them to pursue the profession.
Preparation was a consistent theme. Dan Reeves, who coached two franchises to four Super Bowl appearances, played and coached for the legendary Tom Landry in Dallas. Reeves said Landry believed that preparation was the greatest motivator.
Joe Philbin, a Super Bowl–winning offensive coordinator, said his college coach taught him preparation leads to confidence. That echoes John Wooden’s famous adage, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
Caring was a big theme, too. For example, [renowned University of Alabama coach] Bear Bryant visited his injured player Ray Perkins for 13 consecutive days in the hospital when Perkins developed blood clots on his brain that required surgery. Perkins, who went on to become a head coach in college and the NFL, said he developed so much respect for Bryant “because he made the effort to come visit me.”
Long before he led the Golden State Warriors to multiple championships, Steve Kerr saw leadership up close while playing for 11-time-title coach Phil Jackson. Kerr noted how Jackson made every player on the Chicago Bulls feel important and engaged — not just stars like Michael Jordan but even those who rarely played.
Outside of coaches, of course, the book is very valuable to leaders in all different fields. Parents will also find great value in the book for helping their kids maximize their potential. The central lesson of the book is that young people are watching and studying you, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. No matter what field you’re in — business, sports or the military — your example is leaving a deep, lasting impact on people.
Seek out all the counsel you can get. You never outgrow your need for mentors, sages or life coaches. No matter how long you live, you need those people in your life.
Reid said he talked to Edwards once a week until Edwards’ 2016 passing, and Reid had already been a very successful NFL head coach since 1999. Reid also told me a great piece of advice he got from Edwards early on. Reid was a young assistant coach when Edwards told him to “make sure when you go to the head coach with a problem that you have a well-thought-out answer to that problem. The head coach might not agree with you, but he will know you put some thought into it.”
That advice trickled down to Super Bowl–winning coach Doug Pederson, who played and coached under Reid. Pederson said his former mentor would continue to challenge his assistants to keep getting better at their jobs to help players improve and the team win.
Keep in mind that you, too, can be coached by great coaches you’ve never met. Steve Spurrier read everything he could on, and by, Wooden and Lombardi. Jack Ramsey said he learned how to coach by studying the coaches whose teams made it to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four games, by ordering a free set of those game films offered annually by Scholastic Coach magazine back then.
We call them coaches, but they’re all really leaders. And from Wooden to Lombardi to Mike Krzyzewski, so many of the great ones have said they considered themselves teachers first. So, whether you’re a coach or a leader in some other field, take note that the great coaches focused on teaching.
I’ve always had the three “E’s” — energy, enthusiasm, excitement — for what I’m doing. Our life doesn’t end when we hit a certain age. I’m 82 going on 83. This next decade should be the best decade of my life, the most productive. We’re trying to bring major league baseball to Orlando. I’ve got more books to write, speeches to give and grandchildren to help raise.