Wiedmer: Lombardi's words still ring true

Wiedmer: Lombardi's words still ring true

June 13th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

For those of us old enough to remember Green Bay thrashing Kansas City 35-10 in the first Super Bowl, ESPN recently naming then-Packers coach Vince Lombardi as the greatest NFL coach in history was a foregone conclusion.

Kind of like someone naming the Beatles the greatest rock group ever. Or Coca-Cola the greatest soft drink ever (sorry, Pepsi). Or "To Kill A Mockingbird" author Harper Lee the greatest one-hit wonder writer of all-time.

Much like that trio, Lombardi was always first among equals, a Brooklyn native given to passion, persistence and perfection, determined that his Packers would execute a few plays so well that no one could stop them.

It won him five NFL titles in nine seasons as the Green Bay coach, as well as the first two Super Bowls, that game's trophy now bearing his name.

But it was something that his quarterback, Bart Starr, told ESPN earlier this week that made me realize how much his beliefs still hugely impact the game nearly 43 years after his death in 1970 due to cancer. He was 57 years old.

Said Starr, "One of the first things he said was, 'We're going to RELENTLESSLY pursue perfection -- even though we know full well that we won't catch it, because nothing is perfect.' But put 'relentlessly' in capital letters because that's how he said it."

Now fast-forward to last Friday night at the Bradley Central High School auditorium, new Tennessee coach Butch Jones in the house for the Sunrise Rotary Club's fundraiser.

Said Jones, "We want to be relentless, merciless. I know the price of success. You must have dedication, hard work and a relentless devotion to the things that you want to happen."

How much did that single thought, especially that single word "relentless" resonate?

When Bradley Central defensive tackle Blake McSpadden was asked what most impressed him about the UT coach's speech, he instantly replied, "I loved what he said about UT being relentless. That's what the Vols need. I think he's going to win championships there."

No active college football coach has won more national championships than Alabama's Nick Saban, who's overseen four in his last eight years of college coaching, including three of the last four BCS titles with the Crimson Tide.

During his Tuesday night visit to Athens. Tenn., for that town's Chamber of Commerce fundraiser, Saban uttered the line: "Do the right thing the right way at the right time all the time."

If this sounds vaguely familiar to longtime Packer Backers, it may be because Lombardi loved to say, "You don't do things right once in a while ... you do them right all the time."

The game has certainly changed. Saban's favored 3-4 defense is said to be the most complicated in football, having probably three times as many "plays" as Lombardi ever had on offense.

Green Bay's entire coaching staff in 1967 consisted of seven men, including Lombardi. Jones's first UT staff -- not including the strength and conditioning coach -- will stand at 10. Throw in the grad assistants and assistant strength coaches and that number balloons to 23.

Yet the men at the top relentlessly pursuing perfection still somehow find a way to stand out.

Not an hour into his first practice with Lombardi, Starr called his wife during a brief break to tell her, "'Honey, we're going to start winning.' It was that obvious."

And after going 7-5 Lombardi's first year, the Packers won titles five of the next eight. If this sounds somewhat like Saban, it should, since the Tide has won it all three of the last five seasons he's coached Bama after going 7-6 his first year.

Does this mean Jones can work similar wonders with the Big Orange? Does this mean he's a young Lombardi? Absolutely not. It simply means that before he's ever coached a game at UT, he seems to have that look that so many great coaches have.

In the final minutes before Jones spoke at Bradley Central last week, a video was played that contained an interview with Peyton Manning.

Said the greatest quarterback in Big Orange history of the program's newest coach, "He's got a plan. The most inspiring thing is how excited he is to be here. He's all in for Tennessee."

If that sounds relentlessly optimistic, perhaps that's because for someone who's won as much as Manning has, it's that obvious.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.