Vince Lombardi, John Wooden, Bo Pelini.
Joe Moglia put Nebraska's head football coach in that sentence. Moglia knows a thing or two about football — he's a former high school head coach and defensive coordinator at Dartmouth. And he knows a thing or three about being a CEO; in seven years as the CEO of TD Ameritrade, Moglia turned the company into a world leader in online equity trading.
He also knows about Pelini. For the past two years, Moglia has put in up to 70 hours a week as an executive adviser to Pelini at NU. Moglia is chairman of Ameritrade now. He stepped down as CEO so he could pursue his real passion: being a college head football coach. He and Pelini are advising each other. It's a cool trade-off.
Anyway, the other day I talked with Moglia, in between coaches' meetings. We talked a lot about Pelini's growth as a CEO. That's when he dared to put Pelini in a leadership Mount Rushmore that would blow your mind.
“I think he's going to be phenomenal," Moglia said. “When I think of the great leaders that I always aspired to, I think of (Vince) Lombardi, John Wooden. In business, it was guys like Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch. In finance, Warren Buffett.
“I think Bo has the potential to be one of those guys in the world of football. Why? Because he has the skill set for football; he's phenomenal with football. But he has the passion for his people that separates him from others. He will go down rather than not protect the best interests of his players, coaches and their families."
Moglia pointed to last week's “Media Gate" as a perfect example of what he was talking about.
A lot of people backed Pelini in his decision to cut off media access for three days to prove a point. But Pelini was criticized in some corners for a knee-jerk reaction. Overreacting. Another example of Pelini's immaturity as a CEO.
Moglia said it's quite the opposite. Last week, he said, showed a huge growth spurt in Pelini's maturity as a CEO. He also said it's one of those little moments that could help add up to a championship one day.
“When I talk about great leaders or CEOs, I start with this: You can't be a great leader unless you really care about the people who work for you," Moglia said. “Bo already has that. The No. 1 thing he's got is an incredible passion and loyalty and belief in his coaches, players and their families. The program.
“He makes a commitment to his coaches that he expects back from them. He promises to have their backs. He tells the families of the players that his job isn't to win a national championship, it's to prepare their sons for life after football, to make them the best they can be. Those are powerful, powerful words.
“While he respects your job, his first responsibility is to protect the integrity of his promises to his players and his coaches. That's the type of CEO he is. There are a lot of really smart guys on Wall Street. They talk about the grandiose plans they have to expand to China and Germany and all that. But at the end of the day, it's about how many you have on your team and how to get those people to a single-minded focus. I always said we care about our clients, shareholders and our employees. They have to know I have their best interests at heart and if we do well, they do well. That's how we built the No. 1 firm in the world in equity transactions.
“It's the same thing Bo is trying to do."
Which, Moglia says, was exactly the fuss over telling Sean Fisher's family about the injury first.
“Bo visited Fish in the hospital that night," Moglia said. “The kid's mom thanked Bo and said, ‘I can't imagine what would have happened if I read on Twitter or saw in a press release or read it in the paper the next day something about my son that wasn't factual or I hadn't known yet.' That is tremendous reinforcement for Bo that he is holding up his promise. That's a big deal here.
“Bo really understands you have a job to do. He gets the role that Nebraska football plays in the state. And it would have been easier for Bo to open that up and tell everyone right away what was going on. But if he had done that, he would have violated that promise he made to Sean Fisher and his family. It's a little bit like the ad for the Marines: Every Marine that goes down knows he's not going to be forgotten or lying there. Someone is going to pick him up and get him out of there.
“Every Marine knows going into the system that is going to happen. Every kid coming into this program is told that. But they know it's going to happen when they see it happen to other kids."
Pelini said he talks to Moglia every day during the season. It shows. Pelini showed up at NU in 2008 still a little rough around the coaching edges. He's grown each year. Give Moglia some credit there. He doesn't have to do a lot. Back in 2003, Omaha businessman and CEO David Sokol mentored former coach Frank Solich on leadership skills. Pelini already has those. Pelini says Moglia has helped him look at “the big picture perspective."
Moglia has provided Pelini with polish. Is Moglia helping Pelini curtail his signature outbursts? Moglia won't say. The specifics of his advice stay between him and Pelini. But he warns not to label Pelini because of what you see or hear.
“I wouldn't confuse a burst of emotion with his ability to make decisions," Moglia said. “At the end of the day, the priority is not whether he gets excited or not, it's whether he's always trying to make decisions that are in the best interest of the program. And is he truly doing that.
“Is he being a CEO? Yes. He's a bright guy, a football genius, he understands people and knows how to put something together. Those are all skill sets that CEOs are supposed to have. But what sets them apart is what I call love — the commitment to the well-being of others. You can count on the guy. He always, always has your back.
“Every time he has a decision to make, he has to err on the side of his promise to the program. That's all that happened here this week. Do I think it's the end of the world? No. We'll forget about this in two weeks. But the kid, and the players, will remember what he did for a long time."
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