Winning Culture on the Gridiron: Lessons from Rutgers Head Football Coach

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending a Zoom call with Rutgers head football coach Greg Schiano. The call was rather intimate, with only 20 members, and Coach Shiano taught many lessons about leadership, motivation, and culture throughout his time with the class. For those who may not know, Greg Shiano is the most successful coach in the history of Rutgers football, and is widely considered to be one of the best coaches in college football today. This past season was Schiano’s first year back at Rutgers after an 8 year break, and he won as many games in his first year as the team did in the past two seasons combined. Needless to say, Schiano is a master at culture building, and at winning. Here are two of the main takeaways from Schiano’s talk with my class.

A vertically aligned culture is essential to winning

As soon as Schiano took over as head coach in 2020, he immediately implemented the core values that set the standard for the entire program. Those values are family, trust, and chop (chop essentially meaning perseverance and persistence). Schiano noted how these values are non-negotiable, and in order to be successful, every member of the organization has to be held to this standard. From the equipment managers to the starting quarterback, if the entire program is on the same page, there will be an equal understanding of what it takes to win. To bystanders, it’s the amount of emphasis Schiano places into these values is evident. They’re all over the Rutgers football social media, and Schiano, as well as the players, repeatedly use these phrases when talking to the media, and even when on the field. This shows that Schiano has gotten the entire organization to buy into his values, and will continue to preach them because it's what he believes will facilitate wins.

No person in the organization is too small to make a difference

This sentiment goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned vertically aligned culture. Schiano believed that in order to be successful, everyone in the organization, from himself to the janitors, had to be equally bought into the culture. He emphasized that each and every person in the program has the ability to contribute and make a difference. A quote he shared that stood out to me was, “If you think your role is too small to make a difference, try going camping with a mosquito in the tent.” This quote really puts into perspective how no matter how big or small your position in the organization is, you can still contribute to the winning culture. And, if you’re the leader of the organization, you cannot just enforce the culture at the top levels of your organization, you need to make sure each and every member is bought into the culture of winning.

For me, the overarching theme of everything Schiano told us was winning. Everything he does ultimately comes back to one goal, and that is to win. The steps and measures he takes are all done because it puts his program in a position to win, and under his leadership that’s what they do.