Herm Edwards played cornerback in the National Football League for 10 seasons, mostly with the Philadelphia Eagles, and briefly with the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams. He also spent eight years as an NFL head coach with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. In 2009, he joined ESPN as an analyst, appearing regularly on “SportsCenter” and “NFL Live.” You could say he knows a thing or two about football.
At the 2014 Advisor Network Summit, Edwards cited personal stories of the obstacles he encountered and the dedication and discipline he gained from his years of experience as a professional football player and head coach. With his characteristic gusto and infectious enthusiasm, Edwards shared a variety of “Hermisms” that can easily translate to the world of retirement advising.
1. The game has changed.
When Herm Edwards joined the National Football League in 1977, there were 28 teams, six preseason games, 14 regular season games, and no ESPN. Now, there are 32 teams, four preseason games, 16 regular season games, and entire cable networks devoted to sports event telecasts, news and talk shows. The world of football has changed significantly since he started, and he has adapted along with it. If you’re not willing to change, Edwards says, you’re not willing to grow. “If you don’t change,” he adds, “the next guy will. No one’s going to feel sorry for you.”
Sound familiar? The retirement landscape has also shifted in recent decades; regulations have multiplied, and the way consumers expect to interact with advisors has changed. And in an industry where a good plan means everything, it can be tempting to stick to your plan instead of adapting, Edwards says. “Sometimes we get so stubborn that we don’t want to tweak our plan. But a plan that can’t be tweaked becomes a bad plan. A goal without a plan? That’s just a wish.”
But be wary of change for change’s sake alone, says Edwards. You might feel pressure to adapt to an ever-evolving industry, but don’t compromise what you’re good at. “You’ve got to make sure you are utilizing your strengths,” says Edwards. “Otherwise the change won’t do you any good — it might even hinder you.”
2. Know your position.
The first thing to understand is that you’re in a leadership position, Edwards says, and to keep up with growth, you must know your personnel and your position. “We live in a world where we want praise,” he says, “and sometimes that means we want to be something else instead of truly knowing our role, where our strengths lie.”
Edwards relates this to the glamour of playing quarterback versus the overlooked role of the center. Everybody knows who Tom Brady is, but can anyone name a center? The center hikes the ball to Tom Brady, and in the process, endures 70 hits to the helmet every game. But Edwards notes that both positions rely on each other, and each role is integral to a winning team. “If my job is to hike the ball to Tom Brady and I do my job right,” he adds, “then there is great success. When you win the Super Bowl, you get the same ring Tom Brady gets, because you understood your job.”
When you decide on your vocation, Edwards says, you have to become dedicated to it. “Football is a hard job. The center is brought up saying, ‘I’m going to be the center. I’m going to hike the ball to Tom Brady, and I’m going to get hit in the head.’ He does that for 16 weeks. But when you stand in front of the masses on the podium, it’s all worth it.”
And those are the types of people you want on your team, he adds. “All good teams are built that way — with people who understand their role.”
3. Life’s about opportunity.
Edwards can’t help but chuckle when he remembers a call to his radio show: “Coach, sometimes the rookies don’t get as many reps as the better guys; that’s not fair.” To Edwards, life has never been about fairness; it’s been about being prepared and taking advantage of opportunity. “Who came up with the idea that life was fair? Life isn’t fair, ladies and gentlemen. If you don’t like it, don’t play. That’s the rules of life. Life’s about opportunity. Put yourself in the position so that when the opportunity presents itself, you can go,” Edwards says.
“The Miracle of the Meadowlands,” one of the most unusual plays in NFL history, is a perfect example of Edwards’ philosophy in action. During an Eagles-Giants game in November 1978, Edwards recovered a fumble by Giants quarterback Joe Pizarcik during the closing seconds of the game and returned the ball for the game-winning 26-yard touchdown.
Being prepared for opportunities is the cornerstone of guiding clients to a secure retirement plan and ample insurance coverage. It’s also a well-known concept to the advisor who readies himself to expand his business or network within the community. “We’re all a collection of our choices,” Edwards says, “so make good decisions every day.”
4. Stay disciplined
Bypassed in the NFL draft, Edwards entered the league as a free agent. There were 125 guys at training camp, 22 of whom were defensive backs. “I remember it like yesterday,” he says. “When they told me only six defensive backs would make it, I asked, ‘Who are those other five going to be?’ The guy looked at me like I was crazy.” Once Edwards decided he was going to be one of the six who made it, he devoted every minute to making that a reality. “I said, ‘I’m not letting anybody set limitations on what I’m going to do. I’m going to put myself in positions where if I get the chance — look out!’”
His discipline paid off. Edwards started in the first preseason game and was still starting 10 years later. In fact, he never missed a game in nine seasons with the Eagles, remaining active with the team for 135 consecutive regular season games, and recording 38 career interceptions.
Good decisions and daily discipline also apply to taking responsibility for your team and your clients, says Edwards. “When you’re coaching or advising people, you’ve got to trust that your teammates understand your philosophy. And if they fail, it’s your fault for allowing it to happen, because your job is to not allow your players to fail.”
5. Leave a legacy of integrity
Edwards recalls a moment in his childhood when his father told him, “Your most prized possession is your last name.” Your children will bear your last name, and that’s the most important gift you can give them, Edwards says.
Strive to make your legacy about the integrity of your actions, he says. “Your words and life should match up. What we do in the dark comes to light. If you can look someone in the eye and trust them — that’s everything.”
“Hopefully when I leave, I’ve made the game better,” Edwards says. “I’m an ambassador for the game. When the book of your life is written, what will it say?”