Sideline CEO: Leadership Principles from Championship Coaches
By Marty Smith
Twelve; hardcover, 256 pages; $30.00
Marty Smith has been with ESPN for nearly 20 years, and he is known for producing in-depth interviews, vulnerable storytelling, and breaking news reporting across their platforms. He has covered college football and basketball, the NFL, NBA, the PGA Tour, The Masters, NASCAR and IndyCar, Formula 1, and horse racing's triple crown. His 2019 memoir, Never Settle: Sports, Family, and the American Soul, is a New York Times bestseller.
In the new, engaging book, Sideline CEO: Leadership Principles from Championship Coaches, Smith looks at the key leadership principles he has learned from championship coaches he has interviewed. These coaches have a unique psychology and daily preparation and gameplan execution that has made them America's most respected leaders.
The impressive group of coaches that Marty interviewed, known for building successful teams that have reached the pinnacle of success, include college football's Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, Mack Brown, and Frank Beamer; college basketball's John Calipari, Roy Williams, and Tom Izzo; women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey, college baseball coach Tim Corbin, softball coach Patty Gasso, and the NBA's Doc Rivers.
These coaches give insights and candor through their sharp storytelling, and they offer valuable takeaways that go beyond the game and can be used in the boardroom, the classroom, and set goals for winning in daily life.
Smith develops a set of leadership pillars, some of which are: building vital TRUST within the organization; creating open lines of COMMUNICATION; DELEGATING responsibility - and thereby empowerment - to your coaches and players; establishing and sustaining the RIGHT CULTURE in your program; MANAGING CRISES and adversity; EVOLVING with the game, the players and society, and always challenging your team.
Each chapter is based off one of those concepts, and it begins with Smith explaining how important each is before the virtual conversation between the coaches begins, and it flows wonderfully.
In this excerpt, Smith writes of leadership: "Leadership. It is essential to conceptualizing, developing, growing, and sustaining any business. Confident direction from the top is essential, undeniable, hard to quantify and, sometimes, the greatest intangible.
Leadership can be lonely. And it's never easy.
It's not always William Wallace in Braveheart yelling 'FREEDOM!' at the top of his lungs to motivate a legion. Sometimes it's a closed door and an open ear for a troubled soul, or the vulnerability and self-confidence to delegate responsibility in key moments to empower others. Sometimes it's an ass-chewing. Sometimes it's letting someone else run point in an important meeting. Sometimes it's presence during a silent ride home from practice.
Without strong leadership, failure is virtually inevitable. Rare is the unit that overcomes poor direction. Leadership includes myriad attributes and must possess a very fluid dynamic - what works with one group today may not motivate a different group tomorrow. Hell, what worked today may not motivate the same group tomorrow. What makes one person tick may turn someone else off. That's why tenured coaching leaders like Bill Belichick, Gregg Popovich, Dawn Staley, or Nick Saban are so fascinating. Think about who Saban was when he first became a head coach in 1990 at Toledo versus who he is today at Alabama. The evolution of the world, of society, of technology, of psychology, of relatability, of parenting styles, of operating rules, of the young people themselves, have all vastly changed during those decades.
So leadership has to adapt. Not leadership principles, necessarily, more so the execution themselves.
Every individual requires unique direction to find the best version of themselves. As a result, there is a certain clairvoyance required of individuals in leadership positions, because no two individuals are motivated in the exact same manner. You may have fifty employees. No two of them respond to the same stimulus exactly the same way.
We all have an innate understanding of what leadership does. But what is it, exactly? What are the attributes, qualities, personality traits, and experiences that develop great leaders? How is leadership built? And how is it cultivated and maintained?
How does it evolve over time, and how must you evolve with it to ensure its relevance and effectiveness? What are its supporting tentpoles and tactics? What percentage is muted psychology and what percentage is spittin'-mad motivation?
With age and experience, I began to wonder about these things. And I knew I had some resources to help uncover and extrapolate answers. My broadcasting position at ESPN affords me the tremendous opportunity to engage with some of the most successful, most prominent leaders in America and beyond - professional athletic coaches and executives - on a daily basis. These men and women shape and mold tomorrow's leaders on a globally visible, high-pressure scale, with annual roster turnover and astronomical expectations. Sports is a performance-based business. In most instances, you either win or you're gone.
So if anyone knows how to define leadership and its key values, complete with unique, specific examples of its impact, it's them.
For this book, I spent hours interviewing coaching titans over a three-year span. I interviewed Doc Rivers as he rode the Philadelphia 76ers team bus to the arena. I interviewed Dabo Swinney during the forty-five minute lull between events at one of my son's high school track meets. I interviewed Kim Mulkey minutes before she flew with her LSU Women's Basketball program to the 2023 NCAA Women's Final Four in Dallas, Texas. (Days later, Mulkey's Lady Tigers won the school's first women's basketball championship.) These men and women scrapped and clawed and fought to earn and sustain pinnacle coaching positions. And as their careers blossomed, every person within these pages created an influential legacy of leadership excellence, both between the lines and beyond the game."