07 Sep You Can’t Be Deion Sanders
You can’t be Coach Prime, aka, Deion Sanders.
LinkedIn posts have populated all week around the idea that you’ll win if you become Deion.
Or that your college program should hire the next Deion to be relevant.
The truth is: you can’t – and most likely, they can’t. Ever.
There’s only one PrimeTime.
Only one player has talked for years about being a head coach without going through the traditional ranks that football coaches do.
There’s only one coach in the NCAA or NFL today who is the best EVER to play his position. Mike Ditka and Mike Singletary were both HOF players and coaches but neither was ever considered the all-time best at their position and the coaching success was a mixed bag for Ditka (disaster for Singletary).
Steve Spurrier had success both as a NCAA player and coach (ignore his stint with the NFL’s Washington franchise) but was not even close to the top 5 best ever college QBs.
You can’t be Deion (or expect your leaders to be) because he has two things 99.9% of people don’t:
- Credibility as being the BEST EVER at his job. There is no defensive back that was better than Deion and he was one of only a few athletes ever to play two-way and two-sports at the highest level (NFL, MLB).
- Charisma and the ability to recruit any player to any level. He had the #1 transfer class of any program, bringing in multiple 5-star, 4-star, and 3-star players to a program where, recently, getting a 3-star was a big deal. He also replaced 85 of 100+ players on the Colorado roster with these transfers and new freshmen. That’s impact.
Some people have #2, and only a few in history have #1.
What You Can Do Like Coach Prime.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are key things that Coach Prime does that every leader can (and should) do, but expecting instant results isn’t always one of them.
1. Create a clear, compelling vision for the future.
“All you want is the opportunity to win, to compete, to dominate, to be amongst the elite, to be amongst the best, and darn it, I’m going to give you that….We’re going to out-work them, we’re going to out-recruit them, we’re going to out-scout, we’re going to out-develop, we’re going to get our education, we’re going to graduate these young men. These young men are gonna be on campus, respectful and considerate and kind, open opening doors for you and making sure everything is copacetic. They gonna say ‘yes, sir, no sir; yes, ma’am, no ma’am,’ or they’re going to have to deal with me. That’s just the way I father, that’s the way I parent, that’s the way I coach. I’m old school. Sometimes I may look like an old fool, but I’m just old school.”
From the moment he was hired, Coach Prime set a very clear vision for what is program would look like, sound like, and compete like. He spoke it over and over again, telling each player every time he had the chance.
A lot of organizations think they have a clear vision, but because it hasn’t been clearly and consistently shared, the team doesn’t truly grasp it. It’s imperative for leaders to vividly paint the future and how a team can get there so everyone succeeds in order for everyone to buy into the vision and direction.
2. Call your individual team members upward
It’s one thing to call people out when they make a mistake. It’s entirely different to call them upward when they do.
Both during practices and games, you can find clips of Coach Prime speaking life into his team. He treats them as who they could be – calling them forward – instead of as they are. Just as his vision for his program is contagious, his vision for each one of them is shared in a way they can’t help believe in their future growth.
You never know what seeds you plant in someone’s belief will change their life.
I love this clip following a loss after Jackson State lost an overtime game last season. Tight-End Hayden Hegler is devastated after the game, having dropped a touchdown pass that could’ve won it for them.
Listen to what Coach Prime says:
We lost this game.
Fans often chalk up a loss to a single play – the kicker missed the kick, this person fumbled, etc… – when in reality the game is won and lost on dozens of plays that stack up. We tend to think of the last snap but in reality, there are plenty prior that could have changed the course of the outcome.
Deion encourages this young man that the team lost the game, not him, and then says, “I need you to fight through adversity, this is going to prepare you for life. You’ve got to believe that…”
He encourages Hegler, points to the team lost, and then illustrates the bigger point beyond sports we often forget. This moment will prepare you to succeed in life if you fight through it.
A leader’s ability to give feedback, coach up, and call individual team members forward will determine their organization’s long-term growth. A-players want to work for people who believe in them, speak truth to them, and help coach them to be better.
3. Challenge your team to compete.
“If you’re scared of competition, you’re not supposed to be here.”
I wrote this post in early 2023 when the video of Coach Prime telling the Colorado roster there’s “not a place for you here.”
He was eliciting a challenge – leave if you think the job is yours, be prepared to compete for a spot if you plan to stay. Nothing given, everything earned. I’m bringing in great players, so if you’re stay, be prepared to rise up.
It’s easy for a college football player to feel entitled – just like it is for a manager or successful leader in the workforce. We have a culture that expects things without earning them.
We want the promotion without delivering all of the results. We want the corner office pay despite being in our second year. We want everything now because we “deserve it.”
The moment you stop feeling like you’re owed something is the moment you can start improving yourself to go get it.
Competition eliminates entitlement because you are forced to fight for the job vs. expect it due to your tenure, background, or in this case, high-school recruiting ranking.
Competition is brings out the best in individuals because it is ultimately you vs you.
You don’t control your teammates/coworkers – you control you. What are you doing to raise your game? When others show up with the same (or a stronger) talent, it forces one to choose – am I willing to sacrifice what’s comfortable to get better and rise to the challenge? Or am I willing to sacrifice what I want because I don’t want to get better to achieve it?
When people lean into the right mentality to compete every day, great things happen within your culture and believe it or not, teamwork and collaboration improve.
Embracing a culture where everyone pushes each other to bring out greatness within them instead of providing a space where everyone can settle for what’s comfortable leads to greatness.
It’s hard to be entitled when you have to compete every day for your job.
4. Emphasize your company’s we over me.
This game is about us.
If you haven’t seen it yet, catch a clip of this speech prior to the TCU game.
Coach Prime emphasizes over and over again – this is about us. It’s not about who we face, it’s not about who doubts us, it’s about what we control – which is how we play and how you carry your teammates.
Repeatedly all off-season he hammers home the message of WE to a team of individual superstars, getting them to buy into the idea that they can do something special together. They just need to believe like he does and work hard to reinforce that belief.
Does your team believe it’s about us winning together – or them winning for you?
The more they see you in the trenches with them, the more we can emphasize the we, the more we can start to cultivate the team-first attitude required for organizations to thrive.
5. Leverage your network for reinforcement.
If you’ve got the assets, leverage them.
Just as Coach Prime leveraged his name and brand, (built throughout his playing career and his post-playing career, especially during his time working with NFL Network and Barstool Sports), he leveraged his professional network at Colorado.
Even more, he understands that sometimes (just sometimes) your voice can start to sound monotone, and you need to bring in outside help to share the message in a new tone or light.
Last week, a video circulated featuring his former teammate and Hall of Fame NFL receiver Michael Irvin, sharing a strong message to the team.
You think a 18-21 year old isn’t going to listen to Irvin? He has them captivated.
He’s leveraged his name & personal brand to drive attention to the program, selling out a spring game and regular season.
A great leader leverages their network to build their team. Whether that’s bringing in an outside speaker to deliver a keynote or having your direct reports share key themes with the team (versus always coming from you you), a leader understands they don’t always have to be the one saying the message for the message to get to their team.
6. Create “locker room” language.
What type of “insider” language can you create within your organization to bond your team?
One thing that caught everyone’s attention last Saturday (in addition to their play) was the “L” and “D” on four players’ jersey in a place that typically you’ll see a “C” for Captain.
This “Leader” & “Dawg” patch was a way to designate the team’s captains in a way that isn’t typically – it becomes their language. This is huge in creating bonds for a team because it’s something they own that outsiders won’t.
It’s like the inside jokes you and your friends had growing up – you felt empowered because only you knew what it really meant and others didn’t. You felt connected to the others who did, no different than a fraternity/sorority with their handshakes and secret phrases.
What are specific phrases you can incorporate into your team’s consistent vocabulary to strengthen ties? What are some awards or ways to recognize individuals within your team that can be named something unique and specific?
7. Share it ALL.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
The social media and videos filling your feed of Colorado football are not accidental. It’s not a coincidence they’re on every platform, every day. He has a video team. Their job is to capture everything and SHARE.
His team has turned him into a “reality star” if you think about it – and it’s a great strategy.
The more content we capture, the more great stuff we get. The more great stuff we get, the more we can share – promoting the university, culture and why you want to play here.
You don’t have to have as many catchy one-liners as Coach Prime or be as smooth in interviews as him to deliver quality content.
Unfortunately, a lot of leaders are afraid to put content out there. They can’t release a podcast unless everything is perfect (including their canned PR responses). They don’t share a post on social media unless it’s a professional headshot and corporate feel.
And they miss out on the opportunity to develop a community and share their best practices or a behind-the-scenes look at their organization, which can create brand affinity and awareness.
The CEOs I enjoy following online share content in a way that makes you think, “Man, they’d be a lot of fun to work with.” You indirectly create a recruiting channel by sharing more of you – no different than Coach Prime’s videos are intended to recruit more players to Colorado.
It’s not like there’s a shortage of options out today between podcasts, short video reels, long-form content, and more. You can find a medium that fits your style and personality but the key is to start sharing your thoughts, ideas, and a peek into your life.
Plus, let’s be honest, you aren’t worried about sharing ideas if you know you won’t be outworked by anyone else who implements them.
You probably won’t change your culture as quickly as Coach Prime did, but you might.
Changing a culture isn’t overnight time – but it doesn’t have to take years either.
Coach Prime’s win Saturday over TCU is the culmination of building his own “coach” brand and roster over the last few years, not just the last 24 hours.
You might not have the same ability to change out 80% of your company in a week, but you can follow steps 1-5 to change out the necessary % over time.
Don’t worry about being the next Coach Prime.
Learn what he’s done that you can apply and then focus on leading like the first you.
Thank you for reading! PS – Here are 3 ways I can help you right now!
1. 🚀 Make Your Next Event Impactful Beyond Just One Day: Learn how we can partner to help your leaders & organization compete every day here.
3. 📕 Grab a copy of my first book, Compete Every Day, here.