Thursday, July 14, 2011


“Winning coaches always remember that there is only one foot difference between a halo and a noose.”
~Bobby Bowden

If you’ve read my “About Me” page, you know that I’ve traveled a circuitous route from my time in the classroom to my current position as an Assistant Principal. Between these two jobs, I took a 7 year detour through the academic side of college athletics.

I spent a year working at Mississippi State, three years at Florida State University, and two and a half years at Louisiana State University. At FSU and LSU, I had the good fortune of working with football and two of the finest coaches in college football, Bobby Bowden and Les Miles.

I will share some of my experiences from that time of my life in future posts, but today I wanted to focus on one of the characteristics that made Bobby Bowden such a successful man and coach.

Working in academic support for student-athletes was probably the most challenging work that I have ever been involved with in my life. At FSU, I basically served as the academic advisor for the offensive football players. This meant that I advised them on classes to take, monitored their progress in the classes, and set up tutors to work with them throughout the semester.

One aspect of monitoring their progress in class involved corresponding with professors. We basically wanted the professors to know who we were and that we would be checking up on the athletes. 99% of the professors were grateful for our involvement and were glad to keep us in the “loop” on class progress.

During football season, one of my favorite activities was hosting guest coaches. Early in the week, we would invite a couple of professors to come to practice on Thursday and be our guest at the game on Saturday. This was meant as a way to expose the professors to the rigors and challenges of what student-athletes actually experience.

On Thursdays, we would give the professors a tour of the academic support facility and then head over to the football position meetings. I would take the professors into the meetings and watch the coaches reviewing film with their players. The professors were universally impressed with the knowledge the athletes had to attain to understand the nomenclature of the sport.

After the team meetings, we would go in and spend about 10-15 minutes with Coach Bowden. This was always the highlight of the guest coaches’ experience and the purpose of this blog.

The greatest lesson that I learned about life from working with Coach Bowden was the power of communication. Besides being a genius coach, Coach Bowden was a master communicator. I do not use this term lightly. He was incredibly genuine, funny, and always charming. I believe this is one of the legacies of his tenure as a football coach.

During these brief meetings with the professors, Coach Bowden nearly always made a personal connection with the professors – the first lesson of communication he taught me. I was amazed at how many times Coach Bowden was able to link mutual friends throughout the process. He would crack jokes and always put the professors at ease.

Another lesson I learned about communication from Coach Bowden was the art of listening. These professors would walk into Coach Bowden’s office a bit unsure of how he would act. Coach Bowden would quickly put the professors at ease by asking them to tell him about themselves. As the professors talked, Coach Bowden connected by being an attentive listener. He would ask questions and show genuine interest in their lives.

Finally, I learned that communication is not about me. The power of the meetings with Coach Bowden and the professors was that Coach Bowden made each visitor feel important. Here was Coach Bowden (at that time the winningest coach in major college football) not talking a bit about himself, but focusing on the other people. This was a very powerful lesson.

When our brief meeting with Coach Bowden was completed, the professors were always deeply grateful for the time he shared with them. These meetings were powerful reminders of the art of communication and why this skill is so important.

As I move through life, I will never forget the communication lessons that I learned from Coach Bowden. I believe we can all be more effective communicators if we focus on connecting, listening, and focusing on the other person.

QUESTION: Who has taught you powerful communications lessons in your life? Please leave comments below.


Ryan Cantrell said...

Excellent insight into a very successful man. Being a speech/communication major, you'd think I learned what I TRULEY needed in the classroom or from professors, but in all actuality - my dad and gospel preachers get most of the credit for teaching what I needed to know to become what I am today.

Jason said...

Ryan, I think we always learn our best lessons from the people we interact with in our lives. Thanks for the comment!

dbcccnyfsu said...

nice piece Jason!!!---enjoyed the read...I met Bobby Bowden for a brief moment, and that is exactly what he did, he asked about my journey to Florida State and I discussed how my parents come from Serbia to pursue the American dream---he ended it by saying 'they sure are proud of you'....a genuine man where life lessons were learned----hope you are doing well---Dusko.

Jason said...

That is a great example of how Coach Bowden made everyone feel important. Thanks for the comment. I hope you are doing well!

Ken said...

My Dad always listened to what I had to say. Made me feel that my thoughts were important.
Very good lesson by Coach Bowden.