In the late 1990’s, the University of Pittsburgh football team had a significant resurgence after many losing seasons. To a large extent, this resurgence started when a coach and player were brought together at just the right time. Head Coach Walt Harris and Pete Gonzalez, a quarterback from Miami, were two critical components to Pitt’s successful 1997 season that saw Pitt return to a bowl game for the first time in 8 years. Pete threw 31 touchdown passes that season and still today holds the Pitt records for most passing yards in a game, 470, and most touchdown passes in a game, 7. It was a special season for Pitt football.
After several years in the NFL, Pete is now a businessman in Pittsburgh. I had a chance to catch up with him this week and we talked about that season. I asked Pete his thoughts on leadership and how that team was able to turn things around after so many losing seasons. Pete talked about how he was broken when Coach Harris was hired to coach Pitt. Pete had not gotten the opportunity to play much earlier in his career and this had left him frustrated and full of doubt. When Coach Harris arrived, he believed in Pete and supported him. As Pete says, “Coach Harris built me up. He believed in me and always had my back.” With the coaching and support of Coach Harris, Pete’s confidence started to grow and the Pitt offense started to thrive.
I also asked Pete how he was able to motivate his teammates who, after so many losing seasons, were also certainly “broken.” Pete talked about the importance of “elevating” others rather than tearing them down. He told me how he learned that his receivers and offensive teammates were more productive when he built them up, so he made this his focus. He explained with this example, “If a receiver dropped a pass he should have caught, I would tell him, shake it off, I’m coming right back to you, we’ll get the next one.” If a lineman missed a block that resulted in Pete getting sacked hard, he would get up and say, “You got him, use your technique, he won’t beat you again.” Pete said that even today he continues to try to be an “elevator” for others.
This idea of elevating others, of building them up, is so important for us as leaders. Leadership is all about building people up, helping them to maximize their potential and to achieve their goals. Coach Harris elevated Pete Gonzalez. Pete elevated his teammates. And together, with their focus on building others up, they resurrected Pitt football.
Are you an elevator? Are you building people up? If not, you have a great opportunity to lead a resurgence in your organization just like Coach Harris and Pete Gonzalez did at Pitt.
Thanks for reading,