Playing to win takes trust, commitment

Former NFL coach Herm Edwards on getting involved and making hard decisions
Fiona Soltes
NRF Contributor

ESPN football analyst Herm Edwards has a proven game plan for those seeking success: Quit being “interested.”

“Most people in life are interested,” he told the crowd during a keynote at NRF PROTECT 2024. “You know, everybody’s interested. Because when you stay interested, you’re kind of not all the way in, not all the way out — kind of, ‘wanting to see how this is going to work out before I commit.’”

He not only urged the retail security professionals in attendance to fully commit to what was in front of them and what they had learned. He also warned against having others on their teams who “need to know the outcome” before they jump in. Plans might change. Commitment shouldn’t.

Edwards, a former NFL and college football head coach, said he knew at age eight that he’d be a professional football player, and would tell anyone who would listen.

“A lot of eight-year-olds say that,” he said. “There’s a difference. When I got to 10 years old, and I got to 15 years old, there were a lot of things I had to do to try to get where I wanted to go. And I was willing to do those things. And a lot of other athletes were not … . I was committed to something. I wasn’t interested in it. And there’s sacrifice when you commit. When you’re ‘interested,’ you can play both sides.”

Making the tough calls

Edwards joined the NFL as a player with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1977. There weren’t 32 teams back then, and “you only played 14 games,” he reminded the crowd. Things have certainly changed in the league — just as they have in retail and in security.

Edwards, who played for the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams in addition to the Eagles, spent eight years as an NFL head coach with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs.

He began working with the Jets in 2001. The team played the Indianapolis Colts in its first game that year and lost. A couple of days later, he was watching game tape in preparation to play the then-Oakland Raiders. He looked out the window at the beautiful day and found it odd that there weren’t any planes overhead. It was September 11.

That afternoon, Edwards got a call from the NFL saying they hadn’t yet determined whether the teams would play that week. “And I went, ‘What?’ I said, ‘How you going to play a football game? You can’t play no football game this week. You crazy?’”

The next day, Edwards addressed his team. “I said, ‘Look, guys, we’re scheduled to play.’ And I said, ‘If I was you, and I know how you feel, there’s no way I’d play this game. If you don’t want to play, we won’t play.’ And they looked at me. I said, ‘I don’t care what everybody else does. We’ll forfeit the game. We won’t play.”

He took them outside for practice, and within 10 minutes, saw that there was “no way.”

Edwards brought the team back in, encouraged them to go home, call their families, hug their children and do whatever else they needed to do. Then he called the commissioner and told him of the decision. They wouldn’t get on a plane. The Jets weren’t going to play, no matter what the league decided. He told his wife, and then told the team owner; if they forfeited, he would start his first season 0-2 — recognizing “this is not a good way to start your career off as a head coach.”

Leading by example

Within days, the league canceled anyway, but Edwards had managed to accomplish something in the meantime: He had gained his players’ trust and respect. Incidentally, the Jets ended up beating the Raiders later in the season, landing a spot in the playoffs.

Retail Gets Real

Hear from retail’s most fascinating leaders about their approach to leadership on NRF’s Retail Gets Real podcast.

The team knew that he could have been fired. “I didn’t care if I’d get fired,” he said. “I’d go get another job. I’m good.” Somewhere along the line, Edwards said, “when you lead, you’ve got to earn their trust.” It was the saddest occasion to use as an example — but it was a strong introduction to being a leader.

Sometimes being a leader is uncomfortable, he said. It means making hard decisions. It means looking people in the eye. It requires stepping into the shoes of others rather than just thinking of yourself.

And it means being fully committed — all in.

Related content

Balancing the threats and opportunities of AI
Retail leaders speaking at NRF PROTECT.
How security leaders can effectively support the innovative use of artificial intelligence and protect against risks.
Read more
How to adopt a hacker’s mindset: A study in curiosity, creativity
Ted Harrington speaking at NRF PROTECT.
NRF PROTECT: Ethical hacker Ted Harrington on building more secure systems.
Read more
3 key learnings from NRF PROTECT 2024
How retail security professionals stay ahead of risk.
Read more