As I was a young High School student who played as a 3rd String Wide Receiver for the Parkland High School Mustangs in the 1970-1971 season, I remember reading the news article in the Newspaper that told about the entire Marshall University football team dying in a plane crash and at that time, I remember thinking “Nawwww”.
As we know it did happen and Head Coach Red Tolley and all but one or two players and assistant coaches died that day. It is characterized in the movie “We Are Marshall”. Just a short time ago I was on a coaching trip to West Virginia and in the Taxi and as we drove by the sign that pointed out the exit to Marshall University, all those thoughts and feelings momentarily came back.
The story also highlights a key lesson from the life and career of Jack Lengyl. Right after the accident that killed the team, the college board voted to not abandon the football program. A Georgia Tech Assistant Coach, Dick Bestwick, accepted the position but left after a couple of days.
Jack Lengyl, who was the coach at the College of Wooster called the Marshall U staff. Lengyl himself said “I was their last choice….I was their only choice”. The movie went into a number of aspects of their having to employ Divergent Thinking to find the radical solutions. They made it work and got approval from the College Football committees and put a team together.
The movie points out that the first game was a loss but on the 2nd game, they upset Xavier with a touchdown on the last play of the game. The movie pointed out some key leadership aspects. One scene was when Lengyl met with Red Dawson at the church and said Tolley was right that “Winning is everything and nothing else matters” but he pointed out that it was not true anymore. He said “right now it is not how we play but it is THAT we play”. He said “if we keep playing, then we will get back to the point where Winning is everything and nothing else matters.”
He also brought the team to the burial site for the team that died. He pointed out that these are why we are here. He then pointed out that “The Funeral Ends TODAY!”
All of these are key. However, during his entire career, Jack Lengyl would be considered by many today to be a failure because his entire football coaching career record was only 33-54 and in Lacrosse it was 10-11. Many would see him as a “loser” but he was far from that.
As a leader, he was awesome and he became the Athletic Director at the Naval Academy and served 14 years before retiring in 2001. In 2005, Jack Lengyl was awarded the 2005 John L. Toner Award from the College Football Hall of Fame. During retirement he also served as Interim Director at Temple U., Eastern Kentucky U. And University of Colorado.
Over 4 seasons at Marshall, he compiled a record of only 9-33. However in later years, Jack Lengyl was know to admit a key truth:
“When I arrived there, I thought I was rebuilding a football team. I guess I found out that …..it was much BIGGER than that!”
His impact was not as much about the football team, but about rebuilding a team…a town….and families. His impact on them laid the foundation so that a few years later, Marshall University not only won conference championships but also became an NCAA National Champion.
“From The Ashes We Arose!” – We Are Marshall
As a leader in your current environment, what if your real purpose is much bigger than you would have thought or even believed.
– Randy Swaim, CSC, CSP, SLI, CLC-S, MBA
Coaching for Relevance, LLC