Leadership Lessons From My Hall of Fame Coaches


Pastor Derwin Gray shares valuable leadership lessons that he has learned from his coaches when he was in the NFL.

So I was marinating the other day, and it hit me that God has blessed me to be shaped by two Hall of Fame football coaches and another one who has a shot at being voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Much of what I’ve learned as a leader and how I lead can be traced back to the hot August days of training camp in high school, college, and the NFL. My high school football coach is a Texas high school football legend; his name is D.W. Rutledge. My college football coach, Lavell Edwards, is a College Football Hall of Famer who led exciting teams who were very strong on offense. And in the NFL, defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers, Dom Capers, was my NFL coach with the Carolina Panthers. He is one the architects of the Zone Blitz defense.

 In this post, I will share what I’ve learned from each of these hall of fame leaders on leadership.

From D.W. Rutledge, I learned the power of vision.

Coach Rutledge built Converse Judson High School football on this simple vision, “Do Your Best and Don’t Sweat the Rest.” From this simple vision, a football dynasty was birthed. We never talked about winning games, only “Do your best and don’t sweat the rest.” This vision of the future shaped how we worked and sacrificed. This vision of the future became our reality.

Leadership Lesson #1A compelling vision of the future will compel those you lead to will the future into the present. As a pastor, stay-at-home mom, 11th grader, or CEO, what is your vision for your life? What is the vision of the organization you lead? Is it compelling? If not, start dreaming. The way you see your tomorrow will determine your today. I recently had Coach Rutledge join us at Transformation Church. 

My former college football coach, College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Lavell Edwards, taught me how to build great leadership teams through delegation. He recruited and hired great coaches who bought into his vision and who could effectively teach his philosophy of football. And then, he let them coach! He was not a micro-manager.

Leaders, if you have to micro-manage someone, either they’re wrong for the position you want them to fulfill or you’re a control freak.

Leadership Lesson #2: Recruit, train, delegate, and resource great leaders. Then let them lead! Leaders, you will only soar as high as the leaders you have around you. Make it your mission to make your staff great! The greater you hunger for your leaders to become great, the greater you yourself will become.

A great leader produces a great staff. A great staff produces a great leader. And a great leader teamed with a great staff produces a great organization.

If you’re insecure, you will not recruit nor train leaders who are better than you. Why? Because your insecurity will not allow it and a leadership lid will cover your organization. This type of insecurity will prevent an organization from achieving its true potential. The only way to fight insecurity is to anchor your life in the deep, unconditional love of Jesus.

Coach Edwards was a master at delegation and the empowering of his coaches. Two of his former staff at BYU, Mike Holmgren (Packers) and Brian Billick (Ravens), are Super Bowl Champion coaches. May your leadership produce great leaders!

This past NFL season, the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl. One of the reasons was because my former NFL coach (Carolina Panthers, 1998) Dom Capers was the defensive coordinator.

Coach Capers is one of the architects of the Zone Blitz Defense. Since the mid-1990’s, the Zone Blitz Defense has revolutionized football the same way Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense revolutionized football in the 1980’s. This is one of the reasons I think he has a great shot at being in the NFL Hall of Fame one day.

What impressed me most about Coach Capers was how organized he was and how he paid attention to the details. He was one of the most detailed and organized people I’ve ever been around.

Leadership lesson #3: Develop vision-enhancing systems and processes (organization). And always take care of the details.

Your organization will fail or succeed largely based on the systems and processes you have in place (organizational leadership). Life is too short and too precious to not be organized. And as leaders, people get hurt when we’re not organized.

Too much is at stake! Perhaps you’re not organized? If that’s the case, then recruit organizers for your leadership team.

A vision is just a dream without organizers to implement strategy so the vision can live in reality.

And never, ever underestimate the “details.” The big things don’t rip success from our hands; it’s the little things, or what I call “death by a thousand paper cuts.”


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