As Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien trudged across the field through a postgame swarm of players, coaches, photographers and security guards to congratulate Bill Belichick, who had just dealt him the most painful blow of his nascent head-coaching career—a soul-crushing 34-16 loss that jettisoned Houston from the playoffs, just two wins shy of a Super Bowl appearance—I couldn’t help but wonder two things.
First. Wow! I wouldn’t want to have walked in Bill O’Brien’s shoes last Saturday—even for a minute. As if coaching a high stakes NFL playoff game weren’t harrowing enough, he had to go up against his former boss—a man he spent years imitating and adulating, whose wildly successful career he can only hope to one day emulate. O’Brien must have been racking his brains, wondering—“What did I do to deserve this? I finally arrive on football’s biggest stage—in the most critical game of my coaching career—and I have to outwit the very man who has been my greatest source of inspiration. And who—it just so happens, is the most decorated coach in the NFL today. And among the best ever!”
Not that long ago, UFC star Ronda Rousey was billed as “the world’s most dangerous woman” and with commercial endorsements and movie appearances seemed poised to make a major impact on pop culture. That was before two "setbacks" in the Octagon. While her star has dimmed considerably in those last two fights, Rousey’s story offers valuable insights and serves as a warning for those of us who get too wrapped up in our jobs.
Stringing together a series of twelves straight wins, Rousey rocketed to the top of her sport while her looks and charisma helped her transcend her brutal sport. News stands across the country featured magazines with Rousey on their covers, including the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She was selected as the Best Female Athlete Ever by voters at ESPN.com. Hollywood came calling as Rousey appeared in “The Expendables 3,” “Furious 7,” with other projects also lining up.
Then it all came crashing down....
In the final seconds of a loss at the hands of Illinois State in October 2005, the Southern Illinois University football team experienced what appeared to be a nightmare.
Coach Jerry Kill, one of the masters of rebuilding college football programs, collapsed on the sidelines, his body convulsing as he suffered a seizure. Players panicked, not sure what to do, as Rebecca Kill, who knew that her husband had epilepsy, scrambled from the stands to be near his side. Coach Kill was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. In a moment which shows how perspectives change, he would later call the seizure one of the best things to happen to him.
Even as his cancer went into remission, in the years ahead at Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois University and, eventually, the University of Minnesota, the sight of Coach Kill suffering seizures on gameday would be repeated five more times. But, despite Coach Kill going down on the sidelines, his teams handled it far differently than his players did against Illinois State. Even as Coach Kill was being attended to during those games, Tracy Claeys, one of his assistant coaches, would put on his headphones and lead the team. It was the ultimate example of that core sporting (and business) principle: next man up.