During my time in St. Louis I had the privilege of hiring Rick Venturi as a talk show host. Aside from being a very talented communicator, Rick had spent his entire adult life coaching college and professional football. More than 35 years were spent designing schemes, motivating players and gaining knowledge with the ultimate goal being to use it all to help the teams he worked for win a championship.
While Rick didn’t win a Super Bowl or National Championship during his career, he had a wealth of knowledge to share and after working with great leaders such as Bill Belichick, Mike Ditka, Jim Mora, Jon Gruden and Jim Haslett, I was curious to find out what made each of them and their teams unique and successful.
What I remember most was a discussion we had about the importance in every team having an identity and philosophy that was understood and shared by every member inside the organization. During our chat, Rick mentioned how he could look at a team in the NFL and know if they were a sound organization with a strong game plan or if they were a collection of parts just hoping to stumble into the right place. In most cases, he felt it was reflective of the Head Coach and GM’s attention to detail and overall vision for the organization.
I recall asking specifically about Bill Belichick because Rick had worked under him in Cleveland from 1994-1995 and following a number of Super Bowl titles in New England, I felt Bill knew a thing or two about winning and getting the most out of his players. Bill not only had a strong plan but he also surrounded himself with outstanding leaders who understood his vision and were committed to helping him realize it.
If you look back at the group that Belichick assembled in Cleveland it’s one of the best groups of all time. Nick Saban, Eric Mangini, Al Groh, Jim Schwartz and Kirk Ferentz were all coaches under Belichick and every single one of them went on to be a Head Coach. Inside the organization, the team employed Scott Pioli, Thomas Dimitroff, Ozzie Newsome, Michael Lombardi and Mike Tannenbaum. Each of them went on to become a General Manager.
While the Browns didn’t deliver on the field the way they should have given that amazing array of expertise, if you look at the Patriots of the past 14 years they’ve been one of the NFL’s most consistent and elite franchises. Once again Belichick surrounded himself with great people. Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Bill O’Brien and Josh McDaniels all have worked under him and each has gone on to become a Head Coach too.
What jumped out to me when I spoke to Rick was how quickly he could tell you what a Bill Belichick football team looked like. He took me through the way Bill looked at various positions on a football team and what he expected out of those positions from a performance standpoint but even more important, he could tell you every detail of what the position should look like from the player’s height, weight and speed. If a player didn’t fit the description of what they looked for, more times than not they’d take a pass.
I asked Rick to provide a few examples and he was able to do so without missing a beat. He mentioned how Bill would look for physical running backs who could take a toll but wouldn’t necessarily be the fastest guy on the field. He liked wide receivers with a chip on their shoulders who weren’t afraid of contact. He liked taller corners who could play man to man and punish a wideout for 60 minutes even if they weren’t the fastest at their positions and he preferred heavier defensive tackles who could clog the middle and stop the run, even if it meant less ability to sack the QB.
When I took a look at Belichick’s teams I was blown away by the similarities. From Andre Rison in Cleveland to Randy Moss and Wes Welker in New England. At RB he went from Leroy Hoard, Tommy Vardell and Kevin Mack in Cleveland to Kevin Faulk, Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney in New England. All very much similar type of players from a height, weight and style standpoint. If you log on to Pro Football Reference and look at some of those Browns and Patriots rosters you’ll be really surprised at how many similarities exist for players at each position.
Now when you ask Rick about his time with the St. Louis Rams, it’s not something he enjoys spending much time talking about. While he liked and respected Scott Linehan and was grateful for the opportunity to coach with the Rams, Rick knew the team was in trouble the first day he walked into the locker room.
He’d recall how each position had inconsistencies when it came to player attributes and styles. The vision on draft day would be cloudy which caused confusion on what the team was trying to become and when it carried over to the field, the organization lacked an identity and as a result finished with an 11-25 record under Linehan.
That isn’t to suggest that Scott Linehan can’t coach because he did a nice job for the Detroit Lions as their offensive coordinator and now he’s the passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys but it illustrates the importance in knowing what you want your team to look like, feel like and ultimately play like in professional sports.
When you think of how that applies to sports talk radio, the comparisons are endless. Every detail inside an organization is critical to having success and it’s very true that much of the personality of the leader is reflected in the mindset and overall attitude of the team.
When I started programming radio stations I didn’t think about this at all. I was just trying to focus on helping guys out with doing a good show while also trying to convince myself that I was ready for the opportunity I had been handed. I didn’t know what I wanted out of each position on my radio stations, I just knew I wanted to win. While that goal was one that everyone shared, having a plan for how to do it was absent and I certainly didn’t have enough of the right type of people around me to reflect my vision. That’s not their fault, it was mine because I hadn’t created the identity or brand vision that was needed for everyone to have success.
Since that time, I’ve grown a lot as a leader and it really started at 101 ESPN in St. Louis and has continued for me in San Francisco with 95.7 The Game. The best thing to happen to me was going through a bad situation at 590 The Fan in St. Louis because the end result was failure and a 6-month stay on the beach and it was during that time that I really started to analyze every aspect of my game, what I wanted to accomplish if I got another chance and what team I would put in place to reflect my vision when I did get the call.
What I ultimately came up with was, any Jason Barrett programmed radio station was going to carry with it the identity of the 3 L’s. While there are always other things that are important to a show or radio station’s success or failure, these are the core principles that I seek out of my personalities. If I don’t feel an individual carries these traits with them, then it’s difficult for me to bring myself to adding them to my team.
Learn: On the radio station’s that I have programmed, I have hired on-air personalities who possess the ability to help our audiences learn something new about the subjects were discussing. Any talk show host can throw out a basic statement and get an audience to react if they do it with passion. I want my hosts to dig deeper and give me some piece of insight I can’t get anywhere else. I should always feel as a listener that the host on the radio station is smart, prepared and informed and gives me things to think about that I can use with my friends to make myself look good. A few examples of hosts who’ve worked with me and fit this bill would be Bernie Miklasz, Greg Papa, Ric Bucher, Chris Dimino and Randy Karraker. There are plenty of others too.
Laugh: Let’s face it, the audience looks to us to take them away from the stress of their day and we’re in business to entertain. If you can’t laugh at yourself or with the audience, then what’s the point? Sports is supposed to be fun. So is doing a sports radio show. We’re not digging ditches or searching for the cure for cancer. Those are tough jobs. This is a labor of love, a passion play if you will. If you don’t have the ability to laugh, be vulnerable and let the audience feel like they’re coming into a sports bar to have a beer and shoot the shit with you then you’re missing the point. Laughter brings people together and that’s our job – to form a bond with our audience. When I think of hosts who deliver the laugh trait consistently I immediately think of John Lund, Zack McCrite, Whitey Gleason, Tim McKernan and Damon Bruce. Once again, I’m leaving some others out.
Likeability: This is the toughest of the 3 because the audience ultimately decides whether or not you’re likeable but there are some factors that I look at that play into it. For example, are you willing to put your heart and soul into your content and let your audience into your world? If so, that matters to people. Can you acknowledge you’re wrong when you miss on an opinion or statement? It’s ok to be wrong in this business. You can strive to be right but need to be smart and own up to it when you’re not. People appreciate it because it tells them you’re human and you make mistakes just like them. And last but not least, are you approachable when you’re in front of people or are you the person who can’t wait to break away from the crowd? We’re in the people business so if you don’t like being around them, then that’s going to make it really hard to build lasting relationships. When I think of some hosts I’ve worked with who fit the Likeability characteristic, D’Marco Farr, Chris Duncan, Rob Ellis, Guy Haberman and Frank Cusumano all come to mind. Yes I know, I’m leaving a few others out too.
While I may seek personalities for my brands who possess the 3 L’s, it doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be successful if you have them. You could have a slow pace show that bores the audience. You could conduct 30 minute interviews each hour that fatigue the audience. You could talk fast and loud and cause the listener to only listen in small doses. Or, you could use references to help your positions that the audience simply can’t relate to.
In each of those cases, I believe coaching can help make a difference. Having the ability though to make an audience laugh and learn and come across as someone who’s likeable is something you either have or don’t. It’s kind of like following the Belichick system. You can check all the boxes but if you’re not a good football player eventually you’ll be exposed.
The purpose of this exercise isn’t to instruct you to go back to work tomorrow and implement the 3 L’s, it’s to get you thinking on what makes you or your brand unique and what strategies you plan to use to help you further establish that philosophy.
Think about how it compares to sports since that’s what our format focuses on 24/7. Bill Walsh teams were known for playing the west coast offense and the players who were picked to play for his teams either fit that system or they played elsewhere in the NFL.
This didn’t mean that other players like Dan Marino, Lawrence Taylor or Marcus Allen couldn’t adapt and fit in, it just meant that the people who were already in place fit the system so well and helped the team win so much that there was no need to worry about changing anything. The same applies to the radio business.
There are always talented people out there who could help us perform. The question you must ask though is, do they fit the organization and my philosophy or not? If they don’t then it doesn’t matter how good they are because the end result will be your own dissatisfaction. That’s not just for a PD either. It can be a Host’s view of a Producer. A Producer’s view of a Board Operator or any other part of your organization.
Yes we all want to win but we also want to win with people who we enjoy working with and who we believe reflect the values and mission statement of our brands. Having an understanding of who you want to be and how you’re going to become that type of team is essential to determining whether or not you’re built to succeed or fail. Knowing or not knowing could be the difference of whether you become Bill Belichick or Scott Linehan.