Things That Matter

By Chris Crouch

This morning I read in the news that John Gagliardi, the somewhat maverick coach of the St. John’s “Johnnies” Division III football team, is retiring after 64 years of coaching. In addition to holding the record for coaching longevity, there is one more little thing about Gagliardi that is worth noting. Let’s talk a little about football history.

It appears that there have been well over 25,000 coaches in the history of college football. Based on a quick Web search it seems that only 11 of those coaches have won more than 300 games and only two have won more than 400 games. Gagliardi won 489 games over his 60-plus years of coaching making him, by a long shot, the winningest coach in the history of college football. By way of reference, he won more games than Eddie Robinson (408), Bobby Bowden (377), Pop Warner (336), Bear Bryant (232) and every other coach in college football history.

But that’s not the end of the story. Here’s the maverick-like element of the winningest coach in college football history. Gagliardi seriously focused on eliminating things that did not matter in terms of winning a football game. No whistles, no playbooks, no mission statements, no team meetings, no staff meetings, no tackling in practice, no tackling dummies or sleds, no compulsory weightlifting programs and so forth and so on. He constantly worked to eliminate unnecessary activities and to get his players totally focused on things that mattered. He also directed his players to focus on one game at a time. According to Gagliardi, “It’s pretty hard to be undefeated unless you win the first game.” It appears that his approach worked out quite nicely.

I don’t believe it would be too difficult to transfer Gagliardi’s thinking and approach to practical applications in your business. In a way, Gagliardi and his teams over the years have served as a real-life test laboratory supporting the validity of the Pareto Principle. As most of you know, in a nutshell, the Pareto Principle states that we get 80 percent of our results from 20 percent of our efforts. Stated another way, and somewhat supported by Gagliardi’s 64-year experiment, roughly 80 percent of the things we do at work do not really matter.

This also makes perfect sense in terms of the discoveries of neuroscience. Rushing around, overloading and other stress-inducing activities at work shut down or severely inhibit the proper functioning of your prefrontal cortex – the part of your brain that helps you exercise sound judgment and control impulsive behavior. In other words, under stress you slip into a mode that prevents you from effectively distinguishing the difference between frenetic motion and constructive action. It is, as they say, the vital few and not the trivial many that matters. Or as my old boss used to tell me and I have stated previously in this column, “Don’t trip over a dollar to get to nickel.”

What are your vital few activities? Are you totally focused on them?

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through