My Story: From NFL Executive To Kelley MBA Student

The Dawson Family (From Left: Myles, Lori, Bella, Lake and Leila)

The Dawson Family (From Left: Myles, Lori, Bella, Lake and Leila)

I’ve had the chance to interview to be a general manager several times. That process requires a lot of preparation. We’re all a makeup of the people that we’ve come into contact with. It’s humbling to interview for a general manager job because there are so many talented guys in the NFL who don’t get that opportunity. With that said, I certainly felt excited about the opportunities I had to interview with the St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Chicago Bears. I was actually offered the Miami job and didn’t take it. Sometimes, you don’t take a job just to take it. You need to give yourself the best opportunity to be successful. With any job you take at that level, it’s all about getting time and support. I keep talking about how you need to have the same vision and alignment to give you a chance at success – and even that doesn’t guarantee success. Everyone needs to be on the same page and understand that the culture you are trying to create.

A lot of that preparation you already have in you. In my case, I’ve been working in the NFL, in one form or another, for 21 years. Being around other successful people, you see how others function from a leadership function as well as what their core beliefs are. You take some of that and you make it your own. And you formulate your own ideas on what it takes to build a championship caliber team, how you sustain success, and the type of people you want to work with. I’ve formulated my philosophies based on relationships that I’ve had with the guys that I’ve mentioned before. But I also rely on advice from guys like Ozzie Newsome (General Manager of the Baltimore Ravens), for example, a former player who transitioned into a leadership role like me. At the end of the day, you want to be who you are and sell your vision and your strategies on what it takes to be successful to an owner. With interviews, I got better each time.

Dawson with former Titans Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton

Dawson with former Titans Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton

The interview process can be daunting and exhausting. They can last anywhere from four to eight hours. I’ve been married for 20 years now and I don’t talk to my wife for four hours straight – and I love her! It’s amazing to think that you can talk that long. You meet with a variety of people. Not only the owners, but you also sit down with the president of the organization, head coach (if they have one in place), and people who work in football operations.

Being a general manager is just that – general knowledge. The owner is going to ask you anything from dealing with the grass at the stadium to hiring and firing people to establishing a player personnel structure for building his team. And that’s one of the reasons I went back to get my MBA. I wanted to have a general knowledge of finance specifically and business overall so I could feel stronger and more confident about myself in those broader situations. When you sit down in front of the owners, they’re just like you and me. They want to win. They have a passion for it. In the interview process, you have to have a clear vision of what’s important to you, right or wrong, and be able to express that to the owner. You’re trying to see if your passion and vision align with them (and the people you’re going to be working with). Just because they don’t hire you, it doesn’t mean you’re not capable of doing that job. It just means that it might not be the most ideal fit for you.

As far as my future, once I get my MBA, I want to use it to successfully build a championship level team in the National Football League. In what capacity? Titles really don’t matter to me at this point in time. To me, it’s all about working with the right people and winning games. I want to utilize my MBA to do just that. Then, I want to take it a little further. I think in the National Football League, you have a chance to have an impact on people’s lives. I really see the potential of eventually working on the collegiate side of things. I’ve had conversations with different colleagues and peers on the transition to the college side because I have a lot of value that I can add through my MBA education and my experiences as an executive and a player at both the collegiate and professional ranks. That, to me, would be a successful picture: One being that I’ve built a NFL championship caliber team and two being that I’ve had a chance to apply those lessons to the collegiate ranks as an athletic director.

DON’T MISS: MY STORY: FROM THE NFL TO AN MBA or MY STORY: THE PRIEST WHO EARNED AN MBA