Player Resource: Leadership Conversations with Peyton Manning and Bill Rancic




Bill Rancic: This is great. I’ve got to be honest. I’m a huge fan. But in 2007, I’m a kid from Chicago, when you faced the Bears in the Super Bowl, I may have been rooting against you. I’m certainly glad you’re here.

Peyton Manning: I wish I could say I’m sorry, but I’m not. Thank you.

Bill Rancic: In your talk you mentioned that in order to be a leader, you have to surround yourself around people who are going to give you honest feedback, honest criticism, but often times, it’s hard for people to digest. How do you handle that?

Peyton Manning: Sure. I think it’s really important. Of course, being an NFL quarterback, you’re going to receive a lot of criticism, most of it unsolicited. I think it’s important, like you said, Bill, to surround yourself with a group of people, it doesn’t have to be a lot of people, that are going to shoot you straight.

Of course I have my coaches. I’m constantly wanting to be coached. They are grading me after every single game, giving me a grade sheet. They grade me after the season. They give me goals, things that they think I need to work on. Then I have some outside people, like Coach Cutcliffe, my old coach. I still send him film. He still breaks down my fundamentals and my mechanics.

I think the key is you can’t be afraid to work on your weaknesses. Sometimes it’s embarrassing for a quarterback to go out there and work on a throw that he’s not very good at. People are watching. Coaches are watching. I have a new coach. I don’t want him to see me making bad throws. That’s not good. But if you’re only working on your strengths and not working on your weaknesses, you are not going to get better.

There’s an old saying in football, you either get better or you get worse every day. You don’t stay the same. So it’s having the confidence to work on your weaknesses, accept that honest feedback. You cannot be getting your feelings hurt if you’ve asked for advice and someone tells you something.

You’ve got to accept it and you’ve got to have thick skin in the NFL, as they say, but it’s been a big part of being able, I think, to improve every year. I think I have gotten a little better each year because of the experience but also working on that honest feedback that I’ve received from those people that have helped me.

Bill Rancic: You’ve kind of setup a mini board of directors, so to speak.

Peyton Manning: Exactly.

Bill Rancic: People that aren’t just going to say yes.

Peyton Manning: Exactly.

Bill Rancic: I think a lot of leaders often get caught up in that trap where they let their egos get in the way and they want to have yes-men and women around them.

Peyton Manning: Absolutely.

Bill Rancic: But that’s certainly not the case. That’s why you’re so successful, obviously. I want to talk about football for a second.

Peyton Manning: Okay.

Bill Rancic: Hardest hit you’ve ever had to take.

Peyton Manning: Yeah. Thank you for bringing that up, Bill. The hardest hit, unfortunately, the player that hit me the most often thankfully has just retired. Ray Lewis is his name. I sent him big flowers for his retirement announcement. Bill, Ray was very friendly. When he hits you, he likes to drive you into the ground. It seemed like he was always kind of using you to help him get up and whispering something like, “I’ll be back here in a couple of minutes, punk.” Very, very friendly.

I was fortunate to play in a number of Pro Bowls. Back then it was in Hawaii and you play with other members of the AFC. I played in 12 Pro Bowls with Ray Lewis where he and I were teammates. It’s supposed to be this relaxing week in Hawaii. But I was working. I was buying Ray’s drinks, his dinners. I bought him golf clubs one year, hoping he’d kind of remember to soften the blow come October, but he never seemed to remember.

Bill Rancic: It didn’t work out.

Peyton Manning: It did not work out.

Bill Rancic: But when you take a big hit like that, do you let them know that they’ve hurt you?

Peyton Manning: No, I think you can’t because that’s going to make them want to hit you again even harder. Sometimes they can just hear that, “Ugh.” That little grunt. But like I say, I think the key is to get up. You have to get up. They say don’t let the defense know that they’ve affected you. Don’t let them know you’re frustrated. Control it. Sometimes when he sticks his helmet right into your stomach, it can be a challenge.

Bill Rancic: That’s tough. Best advice you’ve been given or best pieces of advice that you’ve been given?

Peyton Manning: Well, that huddle story, it’s a humorous story. I kind of teased my dad. But it taught me a valuable lesson. Basically after that humbling moment in that huddle, I didn’t say another word in the huddle the entire season. The lesson it taught me, Bill, was that a bunch of seniors, a bunch of veteran employees, they don’t want to hear what a rookie employee or rookie quarterback has to say up until you’ve earned their respect, you’ve earned that platform.

I stayed quiet the rest of that freshman season. I stayed late after practice. I got there early. I studied my plays, I took responsibility for a bad performance in my interviews after the game. I really felt that entire season, I ended up starting eight games that year, I earned more of a platform.

My second season as a sophomore, I was more comfortable being more vocal, being more of a leader, maybe voicing constructive criticism to a teammate or being encouraging, whatever it may be. But you can’t lead until you’ve earned the respect of the people that you’re leading. I used that advice to myself when I joined the Colts as a rookie coming in, a top draft choice, a lot of ballyhoo.

I stayed very quiet, very humble and I wanted to earn the respect of my new teammates. We went 3-13 that first season. I still hold the NFL record for rookie interceptions that year. I pull for somebody to break it every year. I really do. RGIII had a chance a few years ago. He got hurt. Eli would have broken it. He only started ten games that year. It’s not one that I’m proud to hold.

But I got up from every hit. Same deal, I was accountable. The next year, I was more comfortable, more of a leader. We went from 3-13 to 13-3. Then Bill, I also used it when I got to the Broncos. Even though I’d been a 14-year veteran at that point, I had not earned the respect of the new players that I was going to be playing with.

So I was quiet. I was humble. I got the weight room early, tried to earn their respect. I was voted captain that first year, which was a real honor for me. So no matter how old you are, you have to earn the respect. Do that by working and not by talking.

Bill Rancic: Now, in your introduction, I mentioned all the awards you’ve won, from the Walter Payton Award, you’ve won a Super Bowl, but you’ve never arrived until you host “Saturday Night Live.” I’ve got to be honest. I watched it. That skit you did, I think it was United Way with the kids and you’re chucking these footballs at these kids.

Peyton Manning: Yeah. It’s amazing. I get a lot of fan mail, mostly autograph requests. But I got a lot of mail after that from a lot of disappointed mothers, concerned mothers wondering if I was really hurting those kids. I wrote them back and I said, “Ma’am, I can assure you, this football was a Nerf football. The Nerf was cut out. It weight as light as a feather but they put those sound effects with it. It looks like you’re just knocking this kid out.”

Bill, I have to say, I felt uncomfortable doing it. The director said, “Peyton, this is how it’s going to work. This is a spoof for United Way. You’re a charitable guy. You have to be into it. You cannot half-speed this. You have got to hit these kids right in the face.” I kept saying, “My mother is going to be so disappointed in me.”

But finally, Bill, I got over it when all these kids were all child actors. Their parents were there the entire time. I heard, no lie, one of the parents of the child actors literally yelling at the director, “I want him to hit my kid in the face.” I said, “I’ll do it. I will knock your kid out.”

Bill Rancic: So you’ve added entrepreneur to your list of accomplishments. We have something in common. You’re a restaurateur as well. You own many of the Papa Johns. What’s that like?

Peyton Manning: Entrepreneur, I’d be careful using that word, Bill. I obviously get to do some commercials. I actually am involved in the pizza business out there in Denver, partnered with Papa Johns corporate. I’m trying to learn the business. I cannot give anybody in this room any type of business advice. I know there are some great business leaders out there. I can tell you though that due to some recent law changes out there in Colorado, the pizza business is pretty good out there right now.

Bill Rancic: I’m a new father. I’ve got a two and a half year old son. I know a lot of the moms and dads out there would love to have a son who is as honorable and hardworking with integrity and the discipline you have. What is one piece of advice you would give to the parents to use on their children when they’re growing up?

Peyton Manning: That’s hard for me to answer. I have four year old twins. I’m in no position to give great parenting advice. I had two great parents to support me and my two brothers growing up. Like I said, growing up, being the son of a famous NFL quarterback, what I appreciated the most about my dad was he never pushed me into sports. Obviously we wanted to play sports. I was a middle child. We were always playing a game. But our rule was that if we wanted help, we had to go to him. We had to ask him. He never came to us and pushed us and pushed us.

Sometimes you hear about the ex-athlete, especially. They push and push their child, eventually push their kid where they don’t want to do it anymore. So it was fun for us. We wanted his help. But it was a healthy approach. My parents were as surprised as anybody that they have two sons playing in the NFL, but they’re just as proud at my older brother, Cooper, who’s in the oil and energy business down in New Orleans.

I always appreciated my dad being at my games. He was at my games. He told me after the game he was proud of me, that he loved me, whether we won or lost. I just wanted him being there. He never really coached me. He was always just kind of a parent sitting on the top row, not yelling at an umpire . . . he might have yelled at an umpire every now and then. But like I said, I felt real fortunate to have a great support system growing up.

Bill Rancic: I see some of these parents today and oh my lord. They get these kids on the waiting list to the right preschool the day their born so they can get into the right grade school, so they can get into the right high school. They have so much pressure on these kids that kids can’t be kids anymore.

Peyton Manning: I think it’s important to let them have fun. Obviously having two brothers, it was a fun way to grow up. I think it’s important to have fun. Like I said, my parents basically let us grow up. They didn’t pressure us. I think that’s important.

Bill Rancic: You’ve had a lot of coaches over your career. Some have given you good advice some have given you bad advice. Is there anything that stands out where it was bad advice?

Peyton Manning: Well, coaches have had a huge impact on me. I’m sure everyone out there has a coach somewhere along the lines, growing up playing any type of sport that have had an impact on them. For me, a number of coaches have had a huge impact on me. I still get to get coached by my old college coach, Coach Cutcliffe.

Very rarely do you get to go back in time and do something again, but literally when he and I are back there, I feel like I’m 18 years old. He’s a 35 year old young coach at Tennessee and he’s yelling at me, coaching. I’m getting mad at him. I know it’s going to make me better. I have to get over it because I’m staying at his house that night and he’s probably going to buy me dinner. I really believe that. I think you always need to be willing to be coached.

I had a great coach in Indianapolis, Tony Dungy, who’s every bit as good a person as you think he is. He treats you like such a professional, like a man that you don’t want to disappoint him. It’s a different style of leadership. He’s not a yeller or a screamer. He doesn’t raise his voice very often. You don’t want to let him down. You want to make that game-saving tackle or that one-handed catch for him. Then Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee always had my back. I think we all want loyalty in our coaches and our leaders to always support us.

I had a great high school coach in New Orleans, Tony Reginelli. I’m telling you, I never had a bad game in his eyes, Bill. I remember one time I was 8-33. I threw two interceptions. In the paper the next day, he said, “Yeah, what we had 22 dropped passes.” That’s loyalty right there.

He was always famous for these Yogi Berra-type expressions, Bill. He used to tell us for the team picture to lineup alphabetically by height, which was kind of hard to do if you think about it. He used to always tell me sprinting out to the left, “Peyton, it would be a lot easier to throw it left-handed if you were amphibious.” I think he meant ambidextrous. I never asked him.

I’ll say this, speaking of humbling advice, when I signed with Tennessee, we signed another freshman quarterback the same year. Right away, the media already started this competition like they can do, “Who’s going to be better? Who’s going to transfer? No way both guys will be there all four years.”

Coach Reginelli called me into his office and said, “What do you hear about this other quarterback?” I said, “Coach, I hear he’s a big time player, 5A football in Texas, big strong arm. He’s fast, sophisticated system. But Coach, you told me competition is part of it. I’m going to go up there to Knoxville, work as hard as I can. Hopefully it works out.” “Oh, Peyton, you’re going to do fine. You get up there, you start lifting weights, putting on a lot of weight, you probably could play tight end if you had to.” “Thank you, Coach. Thank you for that.” Humbling advice.

Bill Rancic: I’ve got to tell people in the audience. Peyton is truly as nice as he seems. I had the privilege of meeting Peyton about ten years ago. We played in a golf tournament together. Out of all the people I’ve met over the last ten years since I won that first season of “The Apprentice,” you are truly one that stands out.

Peyton Manning: Thanks.

Bill Rancic: We sat down and Peyton gave me great advice about the limelight and just a heart of gold. I think that’s really impressive. What I think is even more impressive is what a good steward you are with the gifts that God has given you. You try to do so much to help others and make an impact. What you did in Indianapolis for the community, people are still raving about the change that you made. I think that’s so important. So will you just share with us where that comes from and why you feel so compelled to make the world a better place?

Peyton Manning: I think we all have a responsibility to give back in a certain way. I think all of us can give our monies if we can, certainly give our time. I think it’s important to find something you’re passionate about, find a cause and try to create some kind of balance. I can’t say that I have it in balance. Everybody always says, “How do you prioritize?” I say I’m still trying to figure it out. Your faith, your family, your work, your charities, your extracurricular activities, it’s a constant challenge.

All I can say is you’ve got to keep working at it. I think when it comes to giving back, I’ve been very blessed. So I feel that it’s important to give back to the people, to the communities that have helped impact me. So we have a foundation that benefits underprivileged youth in Louisiana where I grew up, Tennessee where I went to college and Ashley is from, Indiana where we lived for 14 years and now Colorado. There are more kids in those four areas than you could touch in a lifetime, but I do think you have to try. Try to help.

But like I said, your time can be just as powerful. Just listening. We always have something to say. Just sitting and listening to someone who’s going through a tough time, I think that’s important. I’ve had some coaches, my dad, my parents have kind of helped instill that in me. As a football player, I think you do have an obligation to give back and to try to help. I think that’s important.

Bill Rancic: So speaking of time, we’re about ready for our half time here. If we were in the locker room, this is your team, if there was one pep talk you’d give, what would it be?

Peyton Manning: I think it’s all about finishing. We talk about at half time, a lot of times we’ll have this great first half, but let’s go out there and finish. It’s half time, you’ve got to be careful getting too excited. So I’d say let’s go out there and finish in the second half, let’s finish our blocks, let’s finish our routes. Let’s don’t get comfortable. I usually say, “Let’s step on their throats out there.”

Bill Rancic: We don’t want you guys doing that at lunch.

Peyton Manning: Exactly. I think getting off to a good start is important. Let’s go out there and finish and let’s use the hard work we put in to this week and go out there and finish this thing off and let’s have some fun doing it the same time. On one, on one, ready, break.

Bill Rancic: Peyton Manning, ladies and gentlemen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s