A Lifetime in the Game – Troy Vincent has transitioned from collegiate All-American to All-Pro to player’s association president to top NFL executiveby: John GallupEditor and Publisher
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If you’re a Wisconsin Badger fan, you likely remember him as the 1990 Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year as a defensive back who doubled as an electric, record-setting return man under Barry Alvarez. You probably also recall with pride his selection by the Miami Dolphins in the 1992 NFL Draft as the 7th overall pick.
If you’re a Philadelphia Eagles follower, you saw him at the peak of his 15-year NFL career. His eight years with the team as one of the leagues most dependable cover men included five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.
If you’re one of the hundreds of individuals or families that has received benefits from an organization that he either started or takes an active role in, you know that he is a caring and philanthropic member of the community.
No matter how you know of Troy Vincent, you’ll agree that he’s one of the most outstanding figures in recent football history. Now, as NFL Executive Vice President for Football Operations, he’s one of the most important and powerful figures in the game. Vincent is responsible for overseeing all aspects of NFL football operations including officiating, integrity of the game, on-field discipline, game operations, player personnel, college relations, and High School Player Development.
It’s a big job, but one at which Commissioner Roger Goodell has great confidence that Vincent will excel. “Troy Vincent brings a uniquely well-rounded perspective to this leadership position,” Goodell said. “He knows the game inside out from the locker room to the board room. He has done an exceptional job growing services to our players and former players, and he is ready and eager to lead our football operations group.”
Vincent’s post-football career included four years as president of the NFL Players Association. Most recently, he served as Sr. Vice President of NFL Player Engagement, the group responsible for providing support programs for players and their families. He significantly expanded the scope of services for current, former, and future players by creating and overseeing programs such as NFL Total Wellness, NFL Prep, NFL Life, NFL Next, and NFL Women’s Engagement. He recruited over 200 former NFL Players to serve as “ambassadors” to help implement the Player Engagement programs.
From very early in his life in football, Vincent recognized the importance of giving back to the community. He and his wife Tommi started community organizations in their hometown of Trenton, New Jersey and Troy has participated in many programs and organizations dedicated to helping those in need.
Vincent’s community service has not gone unnoticed. He was named a “Good Guy in Sports” by the Sporting News in 2000 and 2001 and also was named NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2002. By adding the NFLPA’s Byron “Whizzer” White award and Athletes in Action Bart Starr award, he became the only individual to ever be recognized with all four honors.
Many former standout college and NFL players have remained involved with the game after their playing careers ended. But few, if any, have achieved such prominence in such a short time as has Troy Vincent. He’s a football figure that we’ll all be hearing more from in years to come.
AFM recently had the opportunity to ask Vincent about community service, his experience in Player Engagement, the importance of character and leadership in football, and his new role in football operations.
AFM: During your playing days, did you have an idea of what career path you wanted to follow post-retirement?
Vincent: During my playing experience, I always envisioned being associated with developing people and community – either in sports or back home in urban development.
From early in your career, you were very involved in projects and organizations that provided service to the community. Was there a person or an event that led you in the direction of helping others?
Yes, my grandparents, my mother and other civic leaders in the community. They were people of strong values and leadership skills from whom I learned the value of community service.
Of all the community service activities that you’ve undertaken, is there one that holds special meaning for you?
The feeding and the clothing of the homeless is always on my heart.
What would you say to young players about the importance of being involved in the community?
Community service and community involvement is a choice. Each athlete is given a choice to give or to receive. They can be a giver or a taker or a bystander. Serving others not only blesses those you touch in a special way, it also is a blessing to the person doing the serving.
What experiences working with players during your years at the NFLPA helped you in your role as Vice President of Player Engagement for the NFL?
The experiences informed me of the needs of both the club and the player. These included participating in the collective bargaining agreements, learning the legal side of the business, and gaining a sense of how people think and what is most important to them.
What changes did you make and what new programs did you institute to benefit players during your time at Player Engagement?
The first action we took was the rebranding of the department from Player Development to Player Engagement. We wanted our future, current and former players to have a sense of community, of belonging and shared responsibility in the programs and services. From a strategic vantage, we introduced a peer to peer model that wherever possible players would engage with players to bring credibility and acceptance to our efforts.
From there, we introduced several initiatives from our PREP 100 series for high school development to Total Wellness for our current and former players to our Ambassadors and Legends initiatives for former players. We also engaged the player’s chief decision-maker – his mother, wife or significant other – with the Women’s Resource Initiative. These are just a few of the outreach opportunities within Player Engagement.
What has been the reaction to these programs among active and former players?
The results were extraordinary. Participation in our programs and services increased by over 51 percent in a year. We quadrupled the number of men who wanted to serve as Ambassadors in our outreach efforts.
What other programs does Player Engagement conduct to benefit other groups besides NFL Players?
Our Women’s Resource Initiative reaches out to women who have sons playing football and provides them with information about a wide range of health and safety topics, wellness and other resources. We believe that a sustainable pipeline of players is essential to the long term preservation of the game. Our efforts in schools to promote character, leadership and academics impact all student athletes. The goal is to encourage graduation, because if you don’t graduate you don’t make it to the next level in most of your life’s pursuits.
Player Engagement designed the character development program that is part of every HSPD camp. Why is it important to include character development in the HSPD program and other programs like NFL Prep 100?
We stress character and leadership in every outreach to young athletes. We believe that while talent may get you to a certain place in life, life skills such as character, leadership, and professionalism are the tools to assist on your journey to success.
The National Guard has a powerful partnership with the NFL through their sponsorship of and direct involvement in the HSPD and the Prep 100 programs. How does the Guard’s involvement in these programs make them more meaningful for the participating high school students?
The National Guard inspires our young people with examples and resources to assist them in attaining the highest caliber of character, courage and commitment. The Guard assists our youth in becoming well-rounded athlete-citizens, provides them with resources that lend them the courage to pursue their passions and achieve success, and instills a commitment to educational excellence. These are all attributes that are essential to the value of football and are transferable to life after football.
What are the biggest off-the-field challenges that young athletes face today?
This is the most distracted generation in history. There are so many distractions from social media, to video games, to dangerous pursuits such as gangs. Our challenge is to keep the young athlete focused on his goals, to live out his dream in the best way possible. In keeping the distractions to a minimum, the young athlete can focus on what makes him successful. If he can achieve this focus, he has something he can carry with him the rest of his life.
Our readers are very familiar with the HSPD program, which is now under your supervision. In your opinion, what are the greatest benefits of the program - to the athletes, to the coaches who participate and to the NFL?
HSPD is the anchor to our high school pipeline development efforts. We are starting from the earliest age to set NFL standards and expectations in these young men. In doing so, it is important that we are able to transfer not only skills, but also the ingredients for success. It’s about football. It’s about professionalism. It’s about being football strong and having the tools to make yourself better. Winning ways bring with them success in life.
Through programs like HSPD and NFL Prep 100, the NFL maintains a strong connection to high school football. How does this connection benefit the NFL and high school athletes and coaches?
High School football is where the serious are motivated, shaped, and formed into the future of football. For our young student-athletes and their coaches to have an understanding of the skill and professionalism expectations of the NFL, to have a positive experience with the NFL, to gain some competitive edge individually or collectively assists the NFL in preserving the game, protecting our brand and developing our future. We have the utmost respect for the high school coach. He sets the tone for the athlete as he pursues his dream.
As NFL Executive VP of Football Operations, what is your role in helping to make the game safer?
Our goal is to protect the player from unnecessary risk. We accomplish this through rules, technology and technique. We encourage and support rules that protect the player from unnecessary risk of injury. We promote the use of the best technology in protective gear. We also encourage the teaching of sound technique that reduces risk. By emphasizing player protection, we make the game safer for him to play.
Ensuring player safety is critical at all levels of football. What are the most important things that high school coaches can do to make the game safer?
There are several steps the coach can take. One is a strong strength and conditioning program. A well-conditioned athlete is less prone to injury. Another is proper diet and hydration. The third is teaching sound technique for each position. Repetition on the fundamentals by position train the body to respond properly. These are all components of protecting your players and keeping them healthy.
How does your experience as a player and your time with the NFLPA help with your new responsibilities regarding player discipline?
As a former player, there are few things as frustrating as being fined for something you didn’t realize was a fineable offense, or worse, having to sit out and watch somebody else play your position. If you have a clear understanding of the rules, your chances of staying on the field are higher, and that’s what’s best for you, your team, and the league.
Our goal in football operations is to bring a culture of clarity, consistency and credibility to the game and to keep the players on the field. We, therefore, want to apply a specific strategy to player disciple: research, educate, prevent, and intervene. For example, we research the positions and why players are getting fined. Does the type of defense they are in result in more difficult angles of pursuit, leading to an illegal hit? How can we assist a player in adjusting to the rules while not reducing his effectiveness on the field? We believe if a player understands the rule, and how to adjust to it, he will be less likely to commit an illegal action. For those who do, we will maintain a strong and consistent disciplinary code.
You recently mentioned the possibility of starting a new developmental league. What would be the primary benefits of this?
An uninterrupted and qualified pipeline of coaches, officials, front office personnel, and players is essential to the long-term sustainability of our game. Football development overall, whether it is in the form of an Academy or a development league, or some hybrid, would certainly have a positive impact on our pipeline of qualified personnel.
You also discussed making more video technology available to coaches on the sidelines during games. When do you see this happening and is it something that you would advocate for all levels of the game?
The available technology that could assist in making the game better is being discovered and developed at such a rapid pace. When you settle on something today, tomorrow it could be out of date.
Notwithstanding, there are some sideline technologies that we are testing that will improve sideline visuals, instant replay, official to official communications, coach to coach and coach to player communications. Some of it may be tested in our preseason, but most won’t be available until 2015.