What A Football Coach Can Teach You About Getting Better

What A Football Coach Can Teach You About Getting Better


Woody Hayes spent 28 seasons as the head football coach at Ohio State University, and then he was fired after a now-infamous incident in the 1978 Gator Bowl.

With time running down in the fourth quarter and the Buckeyes already in a position to try a game-winning field goal, Hayes called a pass play. A Clemson player intercepted the pass and was knocked out of bounds along the Ohio State sideline, securing the victory for the Tigers.

Frustrated by the play and the opponent’s celebration among his troops, Hayes lost his temper and hit the Clemson player. For most Ohio State fans, however, that’s not the legacy of Woody Hayes. Some, naturally, see his legacy in his coaching record – 238 wins, 72 loses, 10 ties, 13 Big Ten titles, and three National Championships. That proved more than enough to land Hayes in college football’s Hall of Fame. The OSU Woody Hayes Athletic Center is also named in his honor.

Others, however, see his legacy in a chair – the Wayne Woodrow Hayes Chair in National Security Studies. In keeping with his wishes, donations made in his honor following his death in 1987 were directed toward academics, which led to the creation of the chair. Hayes, who once grilled Richard Nixon about foreign policy, always took academics as seriously as he did football.

I remember Hayes for all of those things, but I remember him most for something he said during a pep rally when I was a student on the Columbus campus: “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse,” he told the crowd. “Status quo is a myth.”

I used to think that was coach talk, but time and experience taught me the truth in what he meant. In a competitive world, if you stay the same, you get passed by. It highlights the incredible importance of the “innovation imperative”: keep making your value better, because your competition keeps getting better.

Regardless of how good you’ve become, you can’t afford to stay the same because status quo is a myth.

About the Author: Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, is the president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an “idea studio” that seeks to motivate and develop leaders in and outside of business. He’s the best-selling author of books like Fred Factor and The Potential Principle and a noted expert on leadership, team building, customer service and company change. He holds the Certified Speaking Professional designation from the National Speakers Association and is a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame. Check out any of his excellent books, his video series, “Team Building: How to Motivate and Manage People,” or his website, marksanborn.com, to learn more.