Manny Matsakis

The Parthenon Approach

Your Guide to Building a Football Program

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A traveler said to Socrates, “Which way to the Parthenon?” Socrates answered, “Just make sure every step you take is in the direction of the Acropolis.”

The Manhattan Project

As a head coach, it’s vital to have a plan and to work toward your ultimate destination. When I was a young assistant coach at Kansas State University, I was fortunate to sit in staff meetings with Bill Snyder as he created the greatest turnaround in the history of college football. Coach Snyder had a vision for his program, and undeniably he was able to get that vision across to each member of his team.

It worked like this…

He would carry a variety of steno pads into each meeting. These notebooks were filled with actions that needed to be taken by members of the staff. Next to each task, he would place a coach’s initials. As he would cover an item, he would pass it off and delegate that action to that particular person. I recall guys on the staff looking at those notes to see if their initials were next on the list.

It seemed that everything was task-oriented and handed down from Coach Snyder.

At the next meeting, he would review each item from the previous meeting and get a status report on each task as he moved the program forward. This became a never-ending massive “to-do” list. As the years went by,  I started to notice a method to Coach Snyder’s madness. Each of those steno pads was broken up into an area of focus. And that gave me an idea of how I’d build my first college football program at Emporia State University a few years later.

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The Parthenon Approach

The Parthenon approach is the underlying philosophy I came up with to help me operate a massive operation like a college football program. This paradigm was the guidepost that I referred to on a regular basis to systematically regenerate our program to national prominence. I hear so often that running a football program is all about culture, goals, and discipline. However, I felt that a systematic approach that I could refer to would be valuable when embarking on a monumental task. I used this approach when I created American Football Monthly and in every football program & business venture that I have had the privilege to lead.

The Parthenon approach is divided into key structural areas of the foundation, the pillars, and the apex. Just like the famous building in Athens, Greece and a replica of one which exists in Nashville, Tennessee, this visual picture can guide you toward building your own Parthenon. Let’s take a look at each of these three vital structural areas and how they relate to your football program.

The Foundation

Just as in the actual Parthenon, you want your program’s foundation to be built on solid ground. It all starts with the head coach and the culture he establishes each day on the job. The more robust football programs are developed with high-integrity leaders that take extreme ownership in the program.

As Woody Hayes once said, “You Win with People.”

It’s imperative that you surround yourself with positive, optimistic  people who contribute to your “esprit de corps.” The more you associate and build relationships based on this; the sooner you will be able to establish a juggernaut of a football program. One thing I learned early in my coaching career is that you are better off having fewer people in your program that are all on the same page than hundreds who are scattered in their ideology. As a head coach, it’s your responsibility to set the culture and make sure to take that extreme ownership as you lead by example. If you aren’t doing it, don’t expect others to come through for you. The football program will show up the way the leader shows up.

Coach Snyder has always been notorious for working diligently on his program as well as in his program while doing his best to provide a family atmosphere among the players and staff.

The Pillars

As this solid foundation is being built, you are creating each pillar of your program as areas of focus. Each component must be well defined and interact synergistically with each department of the program – no pillar should stand alone. In my particular football program, I create 21 pillars to focus on in the entirety of the program. As the head coach, it’s imperative to leave nothing to chance; each area of focus should have a short-term as well as a long-term plan. Over time, a laser-like focus on each of these areas of emphasis gives you the flexibility to brand your program.

Here’s an example of some pillars I’ve created in my program:

  1. Marketing
  2. Public Relations
  3. Player Acquisition
  4. Player Development
  5. Athletic Performance
  6. Fundraising
  7. Staff Development
  8. Offense
  9. Defense
  10. Special Teams

The Apex

In establishing each of your pillars, know that they will strengthen over time and work well together if and only if your Apex is appropriately designed to bring them together toward your ultimate mission. The creation of the Apex is based on the time-honored philosophy of Kaizen. Kaizen is the systematic approach utilized by W. Edwards Deming to create a system of constant and never-ending improvement. The key to your success is that you seek quantifiable and measurable performance results to ensure the attainment of long-term goals in making this positive transformation. A statistical approach is paramount to the success of your program on and off the field.

Putting it all together

An outstanding football coach is consciously preoccupied with the questions – what is the Parthenon of my life or what is the ultimate goal of my life as it relates to our football program? How will the decisions I make and the actions I take help or hinder me from getting my Parthenon built? And how can I achieve more alignment in my life?

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I am curious as to how you can use the Parthenon Approach in your football program and in your life? I welcome your comments below.

Leave a reply and let me know!

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2 thoughts on “The Parthenon Approach

  1. You can do the same thing Coach Snyder did with the steno pads with One Note if you have Microsoft and Google Drive if you do not have Microsoft. It is simple yet extremely effective because the expectations become crystal clear.

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