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The Super Bowl Champion head coach of the New York Giants recently released a new book, Earn the Right to Win. Muscle & Fitness spoke to Coughlin about what earning the right to win really entails.
Muscle & Fitness: Your new book, Earn the Right to Win is not just about success in football, but about success in any field. What made you want to write it?
Tom Coughlin: We [Coughlin and co-writer David Fisher] wanted to write it because we thought we had a strong message with universal appeal. If you have the goal of being the very best that you can be and are willing to sacrifice and pay the price, then this is the book for you. Preparation is the key to success and David Fisher did a nice job of weaving through this entire book, principles that are most important to me. We illustrate them with anecdotes, which speak directly to the message that we want to portray. So, it is a book about discipline. It’s a book about sacrifice. It’s a book about self-denial. It’s a book about organization. It’s a book about paying great attention to detail. It’s a book about structure.
What do you mean by the phrase “earn the right to win”?
We equate this particular phrase to a weekly process in the NFL where we sell our players on a protocol to win and if they follow that protocol, at the end of the week they will have earned the right to win. And, as I said prior to Superbowl XLVI, because we have demonstrated through our practice, our diligence, our focus, our concentration that we have earned the right to win, are we guaranteeing that we win? No. But, we are guaranteeing that will play well.
You’re a big fan of [legendary basketball coach] John Wooden and the Pyramid of Success. How influential was Wooden’s Pyramid when you sat down to write this book?
My favorite book of his is the very first one. It talks about life, makes observations. It relates to a lot of things about life. One particular aspect of the book is about the Pyramid as simply the building blocks to success.
One thing that impacted me more than anything was in John Wooden’s later years, he said that the top of the pyramid—competitive greatness—that love should substitute competitive greatness. I believe sincerely that in great football teams, the players love each other, they respect each other and without that there is a big piece of the puzzle missing. The one thing, regardless of what era you’re talking about, what sport, whether you are talking about the military, whether you are talking about the business world, whether it deals with men or women who are trying to be the best that they can be, in order to be successful, you’ve got to have the opportunity to share the bonds which grow between people who aspire to accomplish something very meaningful and that’s where love comes in.
What other influences can you cite?
I have spent a lifetime trying to grow and learn. I’m a fan of everything that was written about Vince Lombardi. One summer was my Eisenhower summer, I read about George Marshall just this past summer, I’ve read all I can get my hands on about Churchill, FDR, Truman—all of these things. John Wooden said it: “You learn as if you’re gonna live forever.” The moment you stop learning you’re really done. You’re finished.
As a lifelong football coach, how do you translate that to knowledge about success in any field?
The axioms are basically the same—the drive, the determination, the willpower, the skills that go along with it. In a business sense, setting a goal, implementing a plan, creating an organization, creating a structure, following through with that structure, creating rules, creating high expectations. Inciting discipline into everyone who works for you by example, with punctuality, with the ability to deny yourself in order to improve, making sacrifices. They are all the same whether you are talking military, athletics, or business. There are no shortcuts and there is no easy task. We plan on three forms of adversity each year and it’s how you deal with that. You shouldn’t fear adversity. You should look at it as opportunity, a chance for you to improve and to rise above.
You said you plan on three forms of adversity? What are the three forms?
Well, you never know. It’d be great to say in advance if you knew what they were. It could be an issue with a player. It could be an issue if your team is in a tailspin. It could be any number of things.
It could be like what happened with Plaxico Burress.
Could be that, yeah.
To look at it from a football fan’s perspective, how much football will we get to read about?
Those are the anecdotes. Each illustration that I have talked about… there is a football anecdote that speaks directly to that principle because what else do I know? I think everyone will enjoy that part of it and hopefully gain insight not only into professional football or the way in which a coach thinks, but get the ideas that come from studying and researching other people and successful ventures in other industries to help you in yours.
Earn the Right to Win: How Success in Any Field Begins With Superior Preparation is out now in bookstores everywhere.