A while ago I was at a breakfast where the keynote speaker was LaVelle Edwards, retired football coach of the Brigham Young University Cougars. At the time of his retirement he was the 3rd winningest coach in America. He also had presided over what came to be known as “The Quarterback Factory” having coached Gifford Nielson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Mark Wilson, Robbi Bosco, and Ty Detmer; all All American Quarterbacks and all pro QB’s, some wearing Super Bowl rings.
At the end of his prepared remarks he opened it up for questions. One of the first questions was, “Who was the best player you ever coached?”
We were all eager to hear as LaVelle paused a moment to consider his answer.
He said, he’d coached many great athletes, and some with extreme talent, but the greatest player he coached wasn’t the best athlete, or the most talented. Instead, the person he considered to be the greatest player he coached was Jim McMahon.
He went on to explain that Jim McMahon was the most ‘mentally’ in the game than anyone he’d ever coached. Because of that, even though he wasn’t the most talented, or the best athlete, he understood what was going on so well, that he caused great things to happen on the field. He was so ‘in the game’ that he knew what needed to be done on a given play, ‘saw’ the opportunities, and had prepared himself well enough he could execute in a way that made clutch plays when they made the difference between winning and losing.
A good example was the famous 1980 Holiday Bowl where Brigham Young University was down against Southern Methodist University 38 to 19 going into the last quarter. BYU scored, and then SMU came back, with the score of 45 to 25 and only minutes left. LaVelle said that he’d pretty well given up, but not Jim McMahon. Jim came to the sidelines and had to talk his coach into staying with him, that they could still win it.
BYU had the ball, and Jim moved them down the field with a series of quick passes. With three seconds left, it all came down to a Hail Mary pass into the end zone between four defenders. The BYU receiver jumped up, wrestled the ball away from the defenders, and came down with it to win the game! But it was only because Jim McMahon was ‘mentally’ there all the way, refusing to let anyone give in. He saw how they could win, executed to make it happen, and motivated others to do the same – even when the coach wasn’t sure they could.
If you want to be ‘great’ make sure you are ‘mentally’ in the game more than anyone else. You don’t need to have the most talent, or the most ability, but if you are “˜mentally’ there, you can do great things, even when others don’t believe.