The old adage – you can do anything if you put your mind to it – now rings hollow to much of America’s workforce. So many people pursue their dream – doctor, lawyer, writer, athlete, sports business professional or otherwise – only to lose hope when success doesn’t come. Truly rewarding careers aren’t achieved easily and “putting your mind to it” no longer means graduating and fielding job offers. Creativity, endless effort and a willingness to start from the bottom are core characteristics in growing your career. There are scores of success stories that should inspire us, reminding us of what can be achieved when you really put your mind to it.
Roger Goodell assumed the title of ‘most powerful man in sports’ in 2006. The NFL Commissioner earned almost $30 million in 2012, inspiring for someone that began his NFL profession as an intern. It required a relentless letter writing campaign to secure his lowly internship position in 1982. It took 24 more years of proving his worth to land the most powerful position within the strongest professional sports league in America. Goodell spent his time in the league office contributing in a variety of areas, proving his flexibility and learning agility. From being an assistant to AFC president, Lamar Hunt, to head of NFL Ventures and the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Goodell made his imprint on the NFL long before taking on the job of commissioner. The initial letter writing campaign, unorthodox as it may seem, highlights the fact that unique tactics are sometimes required to realize your dream. Persistency and passion makes good people feel great and smart people appear brilliant. If there is a team or company you love, don’t underestimate the tactic of getting your foot in the door and working your way up. It worked for the commissioner, didn’t it?
Mike Florio, the man behind the wildly popular ProFootballTalk website, was once simply a football nut who loved to write. Florio practiced law in West Virginia for 18 years, irregularly writing sports articles on the side. In 2000, he contributed to NFLtalk.com and has also written columns for SportingNews.com. Beyond those freelance gigs, Florio practiced his law and worked on his website, launched in late 2001. It took an untold number of hours to keep his law practice profitable while growing his blog’s readership. The dedication to making his site one of the premier football sites in the country is the same one that got him through law school and made him a great lawyer. Florio struck oil in 2009 when he inked a deal with NBC to become an affiliate partner of the media conglomerate. While he and his business partner retain ownership of the site, NBC owns exclusive rights to its content and he is now a featured part of their football coverage. Florio’s sweat, blood and unique style has made him a highly paid journalist, national sports media figure and former practicing attorney, the latter of which many of lawyers dream of being called.
Masai Ujiri is the first African-born general manager for an American professional sports team. Now a hot commodity in the National Basketball Association, Ujiri took the long road to realize his potential. After playing college basketball at a couple middling schools, he spent several years playing professionally in Europe before calling it a playing career. After networking with front office people while coaching Nigerian youth players, he found a way into the National Basketball Association. His first NBA job, with the Orlando Magic, was as an unpaid scout. He eventually took a paid international scouting job with the Nuggets and began his upward climb up the front office corporate ladder. Ujiri became an assistant general manager with the Toronto Raptors in 2008 and then earned the top job – executive vice president in charge of basketball operations – back with the Denver Nuggets in 2010. Most recently, after winning the NBA Executive of the Year award, he signed a 5 year deal to return to Toronto as the Raptor’s General Manager. His trek from unpaid scout to team leader is one that tells us anyone with heart, brains and drive can get anywhere they want in sports.
Nick Caserio is one of the most powerful names in football that few of us have ever heard of. As the New England Patriots Director of Player Personnel, Caserio assists head honcho Bill Belichick in roster decisions for one of the most successful teams in the National Football League. He started his career at Division II Saginaw Valley State University as a Graduate Assistant before joining the Patriots organization. Unlike most personnel leaders, Caserio spent time on the coaching staff and in the front office before landing the big job. After being hired by the Patriots as a Personnel Assistant in 2001, he spent time as a coaching assistant, scout, pro personnel director and wide receivers coach. His organizational loyalty and work ethic turned a lowly assistant into a thirty something front office leader for a first class organization.
Jonathan “The Coach” Coachman joined ESPN in 2008 but spent years working his way through the ranks. His tale sheds light on the reality that success is achievable but most typically earned over time. Coachman’s media career began at KAKE in Wichita, Kansas. He also spent his early years at a Kansas City news station and filming technical instructional videos. In late 1999, he joined up with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) as a presenter, commentator and interviewer. He also worked a side gig on the quickly-defunct XFL football league, a less successful Vince McMahon enterprise. After almost a decade spending week-after-week on the road entertaining wrestling fans, Jonathan Coachman started a new career with sports entertainment mothership, ESPN. As an ESPN radio host and SportsCenter anchor, Coachman has found his place in the tough sports broadcasting industry. But unlike a former head coach or retired superstar athlete that quickly gets a top tier media gig, most of us spend years trying to get recognized and promoted to the big stage.