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The Business of Coaching - Joe Moglia is a prime example of how success in business and coaching go hand-in-hand.by: Dallas Jackson
© April 2014
If you pay attention to the great coaching stories in college football, then you already know about Joe Moglia.
You may recognize him as the former CEO of financial services company TD Ameritrade, where he oversaw the firm’s meteoric growth during his seven years at the helm. Or, you may know him as the current head coach at Coastal Carolina, where, in his first season in 2012, he led the Chanticleers to eight wins en route to being named the Big South Coach of the Year. He followed that up with a 12-3 campaign last season which ended in the third round of the FCS playoffs with a loss to eventual national champion, North Dakota State.
Either way, Moglia is the classic illustration of how the principles of coaching can help businessmen succeed and how the strategies of business leadership can be employed in coaching.
His rise to become both a captain of industry and a successful football coach are woven together. It is the combination that has made him successful in both fields because he entered business with a competitive mindset from his prior coaching experience and then returned to the coaching profession with the understanding of how to run a football program like a CEO.
“You know, I’ve coached for 21 years so this isn’t new to me,” Moglia said. “It was 16 the first time, then I spent 20-something years in business and now I have been back in coaching for five. When I went into the business world having coached for 16 years, I always said I was more effective in business because of my time as a coach.”
Conversely, according to Moglia, the leadership qualities he developed in the board room have served him well in the locker room. “Having spent 20 years in the business world, most of which was at a pretty senior level, I think I am a better head coach - not necessarily a better position coach or coordinator but a head coach – because of my experience in the business world. It all overlaps.”
He’s guided by a simple principle. “Every important decision a real leader makes has something to do with people. The ability to evaluate, communicate with, or position appropriately, all of those decisions regarding personnel are the same decisions you make in the business world as well the world of coaching.”
Moglia’s passion for coaching began in 1968 when he was an assistant coach at Fordham Prep in New York. He eventually worked his way up to the college ranks as defensive coordinator at Lafayette and Dartmouth. But, without a head coaching position on the horizon and struggling to support his family, he took a job with Merrill Lynch following the 1983 season. Applying many principles of coaching to his new career, he became a superstar at Merrill during his 17 years there, eventually being directly responsible for some of the most important components of their business.
Moglia left Merrill in 2001 to become CEO of Ameritrade, which later became TD Ameritrade after they acquired TD Waterhouse. Under his direction, the company soared. Client assets and market cap grew over tenfold during his tenure. Despite his success, he longed to return to his true passion – coaching. He resigned in 2008 to “pursue other interests” and stated that what really interested him was the possibility of landing a head coaching position with a college program.
There were skeptics. Some doubted whether he could readapt to football after so many years away from the game. Others wondered how devoted he could be to the grind, since he was financially set for life. But, after time as an unpaid assistant at the University of Nebraska and a head coaching position in the short-lived UFL pro league, he was finally given the opportunity, at Coastal Carolina, to fulfill his lifelong dream.
“You stand on your own two feet, you accept responsibility for yourself, and you recognize that you have to live with the consequences of your actions, period,” Moglia said.
“Most people, when they make mistakes – coaches or business people – tend to want to cover their asses. While they may say ‘Oh, that’s my bad’, they don’t believe it. Really they think ‘Oh, that guy isn’t coachable’ or ‘That guy isn’t good enough’ or ‘That guy isn’t paying attention,’ but in all of those cases your responsibility as a coach is to put your player in a position to be successful,” he said. “It is true in football and in the business world. People around you – coaching staff, players, executives, business staff – it doesn’t matter. They all need to know that they are expected to stand on their own two feet, accept responsibility for their actions, and recognize they have to live with those consequences.”
Application of the BAM philosophy at Coastal Carolina has helped achieve more victories but it has also, in a telling statistic, drastically reduced penalties.
“On gameday you want to be sound, well prepared, have a quality gameplan, and execute each play correctly,” Moglia said. “There is still no guarantee that you are going to win but you are increasing the probability that you are maximizing your own potential and giving yourself the best chance to be successful. That normally will allow you to win the games you are supposed to win and allow you the opportunity to win some of the game you are not supposed to win.”
“Too often, mission statements are about yourself – you’re going to win a championship, you’re going to be the best – but I think mission statements need to be about others,” he said. “Our mission statement here isn’t that we want to win a national championship, it is about making everyone involved with this university proud. Of course, winning is a large part of that. But what it means to our players and coaches is that you never, ever, ever, ever, take a snap off. You are always giving it your best because we represent this university and every time we take the field we want everyone associated with this university to know we gave it our best on every play.”
This is a concept that, he believes, too many coaches fail to grasp. “Most people – and coaches are especially guilty of this - when their players don’t understand something, or the player wasn’t good enough to handle an opponent, they blame it on the player,” he said. “The reality is that it’s the leaders’ responsibility to make sure his people understand what they are saying. It is true in the business world. It’s true in the world of football and it is your responsibility to make sure they understand.
“I do this mostly in the coaching world and it probably would have helped me had I done this in the world of business because I believe there is a real parallel. For example, if a kid knows he is a kinesthetic learner he may say to me, ‘Coach I don’t quite understand but instead of telling me again can you show me that helps everyone. Something I used in the business world was to say ‘Explain why we have a problem and what do you think the solution is and if you can’t explain that to me succinctly and crisply, in a way that I can really understand – same thing in football - then one of two things are possible and maybe both. First, you don’t really understand it as well as you should or second, you might understand it but you can’t explain it to the people that report to you.
“It is true of a football coach and it’s true of a business person,” he said. “With those things, I learn immediately how much a coach – or business person – knows. My ability to ask a simple question and their ability to explain it and solve it in a way that I can understand is extremely important and if they can’t do that it is a major red flag.”
“You have to understand why you have a problem,” Moglia said. “For example, a cornerback has to be able to make a simple play on a receiver but he’s not able to make that play. Maybe the receiver is simply better than the corner but you allowed the corner to be exposed in the open field against a player that is better than he is, so that’s not the player’s fault because you are expecting to do something he is not capable of, so that is a bad coaching decision. If he can make a play and comes up and misses a tackle, well that’s OK. That is poor fundamentals or just not making the play but it can be fixed.
“The bottom line is if you don’t understand why you have a problem then you can’t fix it. So many times coaches will tell players, ‘Oh, you gotta fix this; you gotta fix that’ or ‘Do a better job’. That to me is poor leadership. You need to understand the problem and solve it, otherwise you blame other people. You have to be able to handle yourself under stress. The best leaders are the ones that can handle themselves appropriately when things are not going well. You’ll know if you have the right coach, leader, executive, employee, or player by seeing how they handle themselves under stress.”
Moglia said that once a coach can understand the limitations of his players and identify what the team can’t do, he has the ability to recognize what personnel can do, if not excel at. “You can start with the playbook,” he said. “It’s offense, defense, special teams, sure, but you need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your players. What are they capable of; what are they good at and what are their core competencies.
“I think a lot of coaches will say that they try to adapt the system to the players. But most of the time, they just don’t or won’t. How do you truly adapt your offense, defense, and kicking game to the strengths of your players? You have to adapt and adjust categorically. You have to do the same thing each week with the game plan. Determine your core strengths and decide how to leverage those into a system or a game plan that attacks the oppositions’ weakness to increase our probability of success.”
“Most coaches think that everything is important and every detail matters and you need to be perfect on every little detail. The truth is, every detail doesn’t matter,” Moglia said. “Certain things matter far more than others. I know there is a mindset out there that coaches will take pride in working incredibly long hours, but the truth is that if you are working too many long hours you are sleep deprived. Physiologically, you are not as sharp as you think you are. It’s science.
“A coach may think that he is where he needs to be because he running on adrenaline going into gameday, but the fact is that he is not as sharp as he thinks he is and probably not as sharp as he needs to be and that isn’t the best thing,” said Moglia. “There has to be incredible focus on the things that really matter. Each coach has his set responsibilities, as well as putting out a sound, well-thought-out gameplan that he can deliver to his players and have them execute it. You need to be able to see them execute it in practice, evaluate it with film and make corrections right away and move on so you aren’t compounding errors. We think we have a competitive advantage since our coaches are sharper on gameday because they are rested, have gotten a good night’s sleep, and know they are prepared.”
Moglia added that efficiency deals directly with productivity and that with set hours comes better coaching as his assistants are spending time on what will help increase the probability of success.
In football, upward mobility is a chance to move up the depth chart to earn a role as a starter, gain post-season accolades, and potentially advance to the next level. For a coach, it is similar as the move from position coach to coordinator, to head coach, to higher levels of football.
“Everybody here is on the same page,” he said. “You are not going last here otherwise. We are not going to recruit you, you are not going to last on the team, you’re not going to get hired, and you are not going to stay on the staff here if you don’t understand that this all begins with BAM. Be a Man, stand on your own two feet, accept responsibility for yourself, and we’re going to live with the consequences of our actions so you have to begin with that.
“Having said that, everyone has their own set of responsibilities, but they fit into the overall philosophy of the program. I want my coaches to push the envelope to achieve our goals, but I don’t want them to cheat. I don’t want them to be afraid to make a mistake, but they need to understand when they do make a mistake, why. In the business world, we had three priorities: our clients, our shareholders, and our employees. Moving that to football, it is about our players, our coaches, and our fans and the institution. Realize that you always have to please the fans and the institution and work toward that end.”
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