For nearly a quarter of a century I have been employed by the NFL. It has been a wild ride and as my good friend and the 49ers Director of Production, Wil Blackwell, states, “We are unemployable in any other business.” Now I’m unsure and hopeful that his statement is untrue, but it certainly feels accurate at this stage of my life. Like many in the sports world, I have had many opportunities to take different paths throughout my tenure but remained on the team side because it presented something that few other professions offered; progressiveness, innovation, camaraderie and the ability to be part of history.
I ask you to look into your hearts as you read more. Are you doing what you want to do? Are you progressing in a linear fashion as it pertains to your career? Is that career path one that will be fulfilling for the short and long term? These were questions I asked myself and still do to this day. I truly believe anyone who is introspective and in touch with themselves will do the same and I am hoping that a snapshot into my path might help understand that although incredibly fulfilling, doing what is right for you and your career plans isn’t easy nor is it scripted.
As mentioned, I am going into over 2 decades of being employed by an NFL franchise, however, my entry in to the National Football League did not begin there. The genesis of my career with the League started in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey as a Filmmaker for the “Hollywood of Sports”, NFL Films. I joined the Films crew in 1995 and spent 2 years working alongside some of the greatest storytellers of that time. To this day, I am amazed to think that I received advice, guidance and criticism from these leaders in the industry and even more amazing, Steve Sabol who led the charge at NFL Films after taking over for his father, was amongst that group. Fun Fact: I was present at Hall of Fame Inductee, Ed Sabol’s retirement which blows my mind as I reflect on the cast of characters who attended to see off Film’s patriarch. From Michael Buffer to Paul Hornung and everyone in between, I was a boy among men on that evening.
From Films I found my way to the team side through unfortunate events. I was let go as were a host of young filmmakers (8 of us to be exact) and that was the turning point in my career. I asked myself the question that almost everyone facing the long stare at unemployment faces;
What could I have done different?
The loss of my position at Films, to this day, is surprising to me. I never would (or could) be out worked. My career was priority #1 for me and I gave everything I had, both personally and professionally, to assure anything I touched would result in success. That was the case at Films, but unfortunately for me and the crop of young talent that worked alongside of me, we were sent packing to blaze a path elsewhere. I knew what I wanted to do and I knew what I loved; that was creating and delivering stories. I loved shooting, writing, producing and working with a team who cherished those very same things. With my ego and mind bruised from the expulsion, I had 2 choices.
Choice #1: Find a new profession. Do something a little safer and with greater potential for income, growth and stability.
Or Choice #2: Waste no time, pick your ass off the mat and do what you love and were put on this earth to do.
Although we were absolutely achieving our goals and working at our peak, I asked myself, “What do you do when you have a perfect ecosystem?”
The answer, “Build another one and see if the first was a fluke.”
Reaching out to one of my greatest centers of influence, Kansas City Chiefs President, Mark Donovan, I engaged him as I did many times. I connected with Mark to talk about what he thought about my career path and the potential options I had in front of me that were outside the scope of the NFL as well. I had the conversation in my car on a rainy Philadelphian February evening. I hung up the phone with a plane ticket to KC in hand and a promise to be able to mold a new group of storytellers, from scratch, into a true team that would compete with the best the League had to offer.
The creation of 65 Toss Power Trap Productions (the Chiefs in-house production team) launched a new way to look at a team locally. In this new system, marketing, production, design and new media all lived in one department. This equated to no walls and a high-octane way to create and distribute media to a hungry fan base that had been craving just what we were delivering. How powerful you might ask? As a matter of fact, in its first year, 65 TPT Productions won so many Emmy Awards that the crew walked out of the award ceremony with a hand truck to cart out the accolades.
The Chiefs were on the map and professional teams and leagues were starting to take closer notice. Once again, the power of truly enjoying one’s profession was on display. Total immersion in the marketing and storytelling of a team was paying off and even greater changes would occur as the entire team was seemingly being watched from near and far.
In early Spring of 2013, I received a call. I was in a car headed from Kansas City to Minneapolis when the 49ers, then COO, Paraag Marathe, called and connected with me and we talked about what was occurring in KC and the desire for the 49ers to have this but at a greater level. It was intriguing beyond words and my wife, who was in the car with me that day, was grateful that we would have 5 hours of a drive remaining to talk about the opportunity at hand. We talked about yet another change for our family, what the opportunity meant and weighed the pros and cons. We talked about uprooting and moving further from core members of our extended family to a place that we had no support system on a personal end and how we’d be “live without a net” in a foreign place. And then we talked about love of the work and how I would be getting to build, yet again, on one of the biggest stages in sports with one of the most historically significant franchises on the planet.
This is where I will deviate from the story and talk about a personal chapter that only a few close to me have been privy to...
Upon taking the visit to the Bay on a Thursday morning and meeting with the 49ers, I still had trepidations about moving my family and starting over.
I returned back to my house in Kansas City late that Friday night. I went dark on all communication as I needed time to think. Surely in 24 hours I would know what my plans were as I have never been one to be paralyzed when facing a difficult decision. This instance was different, however. I truly didn’t know what the “right” choice was. I had a terrific situation, worked with amazing folks and had a comfortable life; change was unnecessary. I was doing what I was put on the earth to do; building teams, creating content and connecting with people on personal levels while telling stories.
That Monday rolled around faster than I had anticipated and, like any other day, I strapped my boots on and headed to work. The entire time knowing I had to have an answer for both sides as both were awaiting my decision. Would I leave what I had built to begin again? Would I stay and continue on with a familiar system?
Either way, answers were expected.
As I pulled into the Chiefs complex in Missouri, I distinctly remember Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s, “Wasted on the Way” playing on my playlist in my car…. laugh if you will, but read the lyrics and it will make sense. At that very time, my phone buzzed. I pulled into my parking spot and inspected my phone prior to gathering my gear and heading in. The text was plain and simple and it was from my wife, Lisa.
“The 3 biggest gambles in my life are as follows; Being a single mom. Moving my life and son to Philadelphia for a man I knew for 6 months. Starting my career over at 30.
All were home runs.
Take the job.”
That’s how I made it to the Bay. Plain and simple. It hit me immediately that it was the right move to make for me, my career and my family. It was obvious that, in order to grow and take greater leaps towards my goals, I had to take myself out of my comfort zone.
As I head into my 6th season and 5th year with the 49ers, I am doing what I love. I have 5x the responsibilities from my previous position and I have a great number of people that rely on me to make decisions for both the franchise and the Faithful on any given day. Although I come to “work” every day I simply don’t see it that way – even on the toughest of days, facing the most severe circumstances, I can’t live without it. That’s how I know the career choice, and more importantly the journey itself, have been the correct path for me.
The impetus behind this blog are the questions that arises almost every time, “How did you know this was right for you?” as well as “I want to get into the sports business but is it worth it?”
For me the answers were obvious, and exactly the same for both questions. “Find what you love to do and attack it.” Loving what you do is the true path to success and happiness.
Here’s to hoping your adventure is fraught with twists, turns and cliffhangers, as well as an outcome that has you never “working” a day in your life.