Now that we have some background on Bart Oates, Santana Moss, Matt Stover and Archie Griffin, let’s dive into their lessons learned and best advice. Here are some highlights from my interviews with the four retired football stars:

Adam: What are the best lessons you have learned through your career in sports that are applicable to those of us who will never earn a living playing pro ball?

Bart: There will always be losses. But those losses don’t have to define you. As long as you get up one more time than you get knocked down, you’ll be successful. It’s your willingness to stay focused, persevere and stay dedicated to your vision that dictates your success.

Matt: Three things: Create a plan, find your passion, and do something significant. As I was transitioning out of the league I knew I wanted to have a life of significance. I created my foundation with my partner Seth McDonnell to help athletes, celebrities, and philanthropists create and manage financially-sound charitable organizations. In short, I wanted to use my talents and the lessons I learned to help make the world a better place. That’s something anyone can emulate.

Adam: What is the best advice you have on building, managing and leading teams?

Archie: I always felt like you needed to build a sense of family, a sense of togetherness. Maybe it stems from my time in athletics, but when people know that you care about them they will run through a brick wall for you.

Santana: Character is the key. If I was building a football team, for example, I’d look at each player’s character. I would look at who he is, not just on the football field, but how he conducts his life. A man should not be judged by his mistakes, but how he learned from them and moved on from that lesson. The type of people you want on your team are people with good character, who want to learn, can be coached, and understand what it takes to win.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader?

Santana: Talk less, do more. Be consistent. I always tried to be the guy who didn’t talk a whole lot. I tried to lead by example. People believed me because they watched me and they saw the same thing on game day as they saw in practice. Leaders are the most effective when they walk the walk and act with integrity.

Archie: One quality that is absolutely essential to being an effective leader is never stop learning yourself. Don’t think you have everything figured out, because the reality is you can always learn more. And probably need to! I have also always tried to follow the Golden Rule in my business and personal relationships: Treat people the way that you would want to be treated. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions that people don’t like, but it goes down easier if you have empathy for others. I have also always tried to really be a good listener. You can learn a lot by listening, and I think it’s a rare quality in today’s world.

Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Archie: As someone who worked for many years at what I think is the greatest university in the country, I would say that furthering your education can really work for some people. It can give you a new skill set and help you network with people in your field you might have never known. The work I have done on corporate boards like Motorists Mutual of Insurance and Abercrombie & Fitch over the years have also helped me better understand how and why decisions are made at the top levels of the corporate world.

Santana: A leader can take their skills to the next level simply by sharing their knowledge. Others respect those who share the real story. Few leaders have gotten to their position without challenges. There was likely a few battles along the way, so leaders should share what happen and how they overcame them. I never thought I’d be in a position to sit in front of people and talk about all that I’ve done. I talk about the injuries, the times coaches told me I wouldn’t play anymore, so they understand that what I have wasn’t given. But even in the face of adversity I still stayed positive and focused on meeting my goals.

Adam: What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth as a leader?

Archie: I actually had a pretty rough start to my college football career. The very first time I got to touch the ball for The Ohio State University in my very first game, I fumbled it. And you did not do that for Coach Woody Hayes! I thought my college career might be over before it started, and I remember being very discouraged and talking to my Dad about it. He gave me great advice, and told me to keep working hard and more chances would come my way. The very next game we played against North Carolina, I got my chance and didn’t fumble it away! I actually ran for a school-record 239 yards, and my college career was off and running. I’ve had other setbacks along the way—I had a business venture many years ago that didn’t work out how I wanted—and I would say you probably learn more from the bad days than you do from the good days. When you do fail, and everyone is tested this way at some point, the key is how you handle that failure. I believe that you work hard, do your best, keep your word to people and let the chips fall where they may.

Adam: Who are or were your mentors and how did they shape your personal and professional success?

Archie: I’ve already talked about my parents, and the central role they played in my life. Right after them, I would say my coach Woody Hayes. Woody has been gone many years now, but I still think about him every day of my life. He showed me the importance of caring for other people, and paying forward to the next generation. I can’t even tell you how many evenings I went with him to visit sick kids at Children’s Hospital, and he never wanted any credit for it. We even had a special door we went through so people couldn’t see us coming in. He made paying forward become part of my DNA, and he really cared about his players as people.

Santana: In life, you cross paths with many people who have an impact on who you’ll become. One person that stands out in my mind was my high school football coach, Walt Frazier. Before each practice he would talk with us players about to conduct ourselves as men. Many of the lessons he taught then I am reliving today. My parents also had a huge influence on who I am. Growing up friends knew that I had people, particularly a man, in my life who told me right from wrong. I truly appreciate all my father taught me. My parents molded me into someone who is able to think clearly about the bigger picture–on the football field, but also in my personal life. I pay it forward by walking in the light that my mentors shined on me. Every day I try to be the person these influential people wanted and expected me to be. I try to be a role model for others as to how to represent yourself.

The full interviews with Bart, Santana, Matt and Archie can be found at:





Adam Mendler