Coach For A Day

EA’s NFL Head Coach video game offers a mixed message on the art of management.

Executives like to compare themselves to head coaches, while actual coaches compare themselves to CEOs. The problem, as EA Sports’ new game NFL Head Coach demonstrates (wittingly or not), is that both comparisons may be all too accurate.


NFL Head Coach, which makes you the boss of a pro football team, not so subtly implies that even a glamour job is filled with mind-numbing drudgery and retrograde management practices. In a test-drive, a lot of my time is spent working the phones and reading emails. If I delegate to an assistant coach, I earn his trust, but the task will likely be done worse than if I had done it. Just how much of their own management experience did EA’s producers put into the game? “Maybe too much,” admits executive producer Dale Jackson.

Unfortunately, EA abandons realism at the precise moment it has the best chance to show you what management’s really about. During the games, I can only call plays and pace, hoping that our preparation leads to success. That sounds like how a CEO works. But my players perfectly execute plays we never practiced. Eventually, without much help from me, my team goes to the Super Bowl.

Confused, I sought advice from a real Super Bowl winner, Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick, who reassured me that the business of football isn’t so different from plain old business. “[In both jobs] it’s attention to detail, it’s crisis management,” he says. “The only difference is that ours is done with everybody watching all the time.”

NFL Head Coach’s ultimate insight for aspiring CEOs is this: Patience is a truly underrated skill, especially for day-to-day managerial nonsense. Without it, you’re probably not cut out for the job. But at least ESPN won’t be sending a camera crew.


I used to start every day with a wonderfully orchestrated list. That would last until 10:43 a.m., when I received a deluge of emails. I realized that I didn’t need to respond to every email the moment it arrived. I adopted a humanistic approach and looked at what needed doing first, and just got on with it.Vanessa Horwell