Herman Edwards’ “You play to win the game” press conference as head coach of the New York Jets in 2002 is rated as one of the 10 greatest NFL coaching rants of all time.
A video of that was part of his introduction Tuesday night as the featured speaker at the Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of Central Arkansas.
“We were 2-5 at the time,” said Edwards, who now is an ESPN pro football analyst and motivational speaker. “I said that at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. I got home about 1 a.m. the next morning and my wife was waiting for me asking, ‘What did you do?’ I had forgotten about it, then she told me I was all over on television and the internet, all day.”
Edwards said the important thing about his tirade was what happened at a team meeting the next day.
“The players got the message,” he said. “To a man, the players walked up to me and told me they got it and were all in.”That Jets’ team went on to win the division.
Pacing back and forth across the stage and using a laser pointer and remote to highlight bullet points on a big screen, Edwards turned a packed house at Reynolds Performance Hall into a giant locker room as he gave a pregame (or halftime) talk about life.
Much of the audience consisted of college students, and Edwards often aimed squarely at them and their communication devices.Pretending his remote was a smart phone, he turned and pretended to text with an imaginary friend. “You don’t have conversations anymore and look people in the face. You don’t talk. You use your fingers and press send. You should talk. There are feelings when you talk. And when you use those devices, be sure you think about what you just wrote before you press send.
“I have two daughters, 6 and 7, who know more about computers than I do. When I get home I make them put away their computers and phones and talk.
His speech was peppered with advice about setting goals and executing a vision. The message, delivered with a locker room cadence and tone, got proverbial early and often.
“A goal without a plan is a wish.”
“Don’t let someone else to figure out who you are. Be happy with who you are. Don’t let your possessions possess you.”
A former college star at Cal-Berkeley and San Jose State, Edwards used examples from his personal life to illustrate lessons he has learned.
“Watch who you associate with,” he said. “When you are an athlete, you get a lot of friends, When you become a pro athlete, you discover you have a lot of cousins.”
Several times, he mentioned life not being fair or going as planned. He said he grew up a Dallas Cowboy fan and always dreamed of playing for them. “Then, who drafts me? The Philadelphia Eagles. You don’t even mention the Cowboys by name in Philadelphia ...
“When you learn how to deal with inconvenience, you will be successful,” he continued.
Passion punctuated his words.
“I’ve never had a job because everything I’ve done has been a passion,” he said. “I got to play football. I got to coach football. Now, I get to talk about football.”
He talked about attitude and perseverance.
“I could ask for a show of hands on how many people want to go to heaven; that’s paradise; that’s a perfect world,” he said. “Then, I could ask how many people want to die right now to get there and all those hands go down. Not perfect, but no so bad here, you figure ... “You have to ask the question ‘what are you willing to give up to reach your expectations.’ Life is giving up something to get something.”
He warned against fame.
“Being famous is very overrated,” he said, pretending his remote was a camera as he made his point. “When you are famous, people are watching you and taking pictures. If you stray off the path and it deals with sports, you’re gonna be on ‘Da, Da, Da. Da, Da, Da. (ESPN theme song)’ If you’re a football player in the offseason and it’s basketball season, you don’t want to be on ‘Da, Da, Da.
“There are no little mistakes anymore. There’s Twitter. There are are iPads. When something goes on on this campus, 5,000 people probably know about it in two minutes.”
He mentioned his fame and being a recognizable face and figure.“I cannot have a bad day,” he said. “All it takes is for me to rush through an airport and ignore one guy and that guy says I brushed him off, so I’m a jerk. I know a lot of jerks. It’s hard. You don’t want to be a jerk.”
About 400 of UCA’s athletes, representing 17 sports, filled the balcony. Edwards reprised what their coaches have told them about being on time and noted it was a good rule for everyone.
“If you can’t be on time, I can’t trust you,” he said. “It tells me you think you are more important than your teammates who are on time. It tells me you don’t think doing the little things are important. If your teammates can’t trust you to be on time, they can’t trust you to in the huddle.”
Then, a proverb about role playing. “Most people know their role, but their intentions are to do the other person’s job.”
He talked about in pro football about the quarterback being the glamor job. “The quarterback dates the prom queen and gets the cover model for a girl friend. He’ll throw a winning touchdown pass and leave the field as a hero with his girl.
“But every play starts with the center. And in pro football, the center has a player in front of him who is about 350 pounds and generally a mean guy. And every time that center snaps the ball, he gets hit so hard in the head it makes a ringing sound. And he gets that ringing sound about 70 plays a game. So while the quarterback is heading off with his friend, the center is lying in the locker room holding his head, trying to get rid of that ringing sound. And he does it for 16 games. Sometimes when that center gets home, he doesn’t know who his wife is for an hour.”
After finding a passion and a role in life, Edwards hammered home that things should be done with integrity and a person is often measured by how he serves, which led to closing remarks on legacy and more proverbs.
“Your words and life should match up, What you say is how you live.”“We often get caught up about making a living rather than making a difference.”
“You don’t get to choose your parents, but you do get to choose how you use your last name.”
After a 90-minute speech, Edwards went next door for a reception, meeting many people and posing for pictures.
The line from a room at the Brewer-Hegeman Conference Center was long — backing to the side entrance of the performance hall.
Edwards, who lives in California, was scheduled to fly Wednesday to Bristol, Conn., for his television duties. But Tuesday, he practiced what he had just preached.(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or email@example.com)