Jerry Rosburg commanded many men during his years as a college and National Football League coach.
Rosburg sent them onto the field with clear instructions and the best orders he had to offer.
Last week, the former special teams coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens spent two days talking to Iron Rakkasan leaders about how to coach to help Soldiers reach their best potential.
Rosburg, who was part of the Ravens team that won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, met with company commanders and first sergeants on Oct. 30 and platoon sergeants and above Oct. 31.
“There’s probably too many coaches who try to make the comparison between football and combat, but it’s really not the same,” Rosburg said. “What the military does is life and death. We are playing a game. Ours is just a matter of life. What [Soldiers] are doing is far and above what we are doing.”
Rosburg, who retired this year, was invited by Lt. Col. Ed Arntson, commander of 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), to talk to Iron Rakkasan leaders about the aspects of football and coaching that can be used in an Army setting.
Arntson’s father played football with Rosburg at North Dakota State University and suggested the coach’s visit to his son, who was working on a leadership development program for 3rd BCT.
Arntson said there are many ways football coaching can transfer to the Army and the infantry.
“For a coach to share a little bit of that insight is awesome,” he said.
Rosburg was always known as a coach who could teach and bring out the best in his players without yelling and screaming, Arntson said. As someone who prefers the coaching method, Arntson thought the visit could be valuable to those leaders who heard it and the Soldiers in their command.
“If you have to coach someone up or provide feedback, you do it in a professional manner,” he said. “I think that’s the message that coach brings, along with being authentic, being passionate, having an intellectual curiosity and to improve and get better.”
Rosburg’s message is one shared by many in the Army, Arntson said, and the coach’s humility, combined with his confidence, is something many can learn from.
“We can still improve, we can still get better,” Arntson said. “I think sometimes for our Soldiers, for our leaders, to hear the same message – but maybe from someone who has a little different path – that message can land a little bit differently and have some impact from someone who has been a professional football coach versus someone who is still currently a professional Army officer.”
Rosburg never served in the military but his father fought in World War II and was a prisoner of war. After his father’s death in 1990, he began to read up more about the military to get a feel of what his father went through.
Rosburg said when Arntson asked him to visit to Fort Campbell, he was “honored and humbled” and couldn’t pass up the chance.
“I have a great respect for our military and what they do for us on a daily basis,” Rosburg said.
While he drew the line at comparing real war to sports battles, he said there is a close relationship between the football community and service members. And there are leadership lessons that can be shared.
While it is a challenge to lead and be a better leader, it is possible – especially for those who are willing to listen to feedback from their subordinates.
“Being humble doesn’t mean to be weak,” Rosburg said.
Leaders and those they lead become confident by “getting really good,” and that requires studying, practicing and going above to keep getting better, to keep planning, he said.
As a special teams football coach it was Rosburg’s job to make players successful, ensure they’re doing well and if not figure out how to make them good, he said.
Sometimes that meant defining roles and expectations. Sometimes it meant pairing younger players with seasoned players. Sometimes it meant finding someone else to help teach. Different strategies work with different players and personalities, Rosburg said.
“It’s a teaching technique rather than leadership,” he said.
It is also important, Rosburg said, to remember to balance personal and work life. He and Arntson talked about the role of leaders and how involved they should be in the personal lives of their people.
While it’s best to have a player who is happy and whole, “he doesn’t need another friend. I have the responsibility to make sure he’s a great player,” Rosburg said.
To get better, the Soldier may need to be pushed and have trust in the relationship with leaders, Arntson said. Leaders can do their part to make sure they know about Family issues that could impact performance and do their part to create better citizens to make better Soldiers.
But weak coaches who just want to push personal relationships and be buddies with the people they lead will not challenge their people to do their best, he said.
In the NFL, if a player can’t meet expectations, they can be cut or quickly put out of the league. Players and coaches have to work constantly to get better, Rosburg said.
“If you are standing still, you are going backward,” he said.
Rosburg urged fighting complacency with strong work habits, making one’s day competitive in small ways and standing on fundamentals.
Rosburg was excited to visit Fort Campbell for the first time and meet with Soldiers.
“There is a great brotherhood between the NFL and military,” he said. “I’m proud of the patriotic game of football because we share values. We love this country. We are blessed to do what we do, what we are allowed to do.”
It is exciting to know Soldiers all over the world watch games during football season and his favorite time of football is in November when service members are honored, Rosburg said.
“It’s been a whirlwind of excitement,” he said. “This is a lifetime experience.
For some of the Soldiers, the Rosburg visit also was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Sergeant First Class Rodney Greenway, platoon sergeant, said he doesn’t watch much sports but got a lot out of Rosburg’s talk.
“I might not know a lot about him or football but anytime I can hear the wisdom and experience of someone who has been in a leadership position for multiple years, then there will always be something for me to learn,” Greenway said.
He left with insight on getting others to work as a team, Greenway said, having thick skin, leaving egos behind, developing better relationships and knowing he’s not in it alone.
Captain Stephen Anderson, commander of C Co., 3-187th Inf. Regt., also benefited from Rosburg’s advice.
“Coach Rosburg is a leader of men,” Anderson said.
He said sports teams also have missions.
“They have a goal in mind,” Anderson said. It’s a team-oriented sport with physicality.
Football teams have preparation, execution and after-action review.
As the leader of 137 Soldiers, he found Rosburg’s talk informative.
“It’s as close to what we do as a sport,” can be, he said. “I liked getting his take on getting the most out of the people he leads.”