UNC Case Study

September 8, 2023

University of North Carolina Football

Client: Our client is one of the most iconic, recognized brands in the NCAA and collegiate football.  They recruit some of the most intelligent and talented athletes in the country, attract some of the top coaches around the globe, and entertain millions around the world on a weekly basis.  Their influence does not just spread to their fanbase, it ignites the next generation of athletes and coaches.  

Challenge: This client, like many in the hierarchical world of athletics and business, functioned with a top-down, leader to follower method – Coaches at the top providing consistent instruction and accountability for others to follow.  Their desire was to have active leaders at the player level that would seize initiative, take ownership of situations, and drive team behaviors consistent with the team culture.  Their previous season lacked leadership at the player level and the result was a 6-6 record. A network of well-equipped small unit leaders would dramatically improve the performance of the team; impacting not only the fan base and team for this season, but also improving recruiting.

Solution: Deployment of a season-long, phased leadership development plan – coach and team workshops, interactive leadership reaction course, and continuous performance coaching throughout the season.  

The most common leadership development practice among athletic programs is bringing in various speakers throughout the off-season, or hosting one-off events.  While the diversity of thought from various speakers has value, The Iron Leader recognizes that transformational change is achieved through consistency and accountability of key leadership concepts over time.  Our phased approach builds trusting relationships, provides consistency across key topics, and drives cultural alignment in organizations.  The result unleashes initiative through decentralized execution of small unit leaders, and equips your team to lead the future of your organization.  

Collegiate athletics have a very demanding schedule.  The Iron Leader customizes solutions in a way to maximize training value while minimizing disruption to the daily schedule.  Serving as trusted advisors to the Head Coach throughout the year, we built relationships with the coaching staff to understand their messaging and desired culture, host multiple interactive leadership development workshops across all levels of the team – coaching staff, leadership council, and team – and sustain the transformation throughout the season with performance coaching for real-time, in-season challenges.

Results: ACC Coastal Division Champions.  

With the addition of The Iron Leader programming, The Tar Heels went from 6-6 the year prior to winning the ACC Coastal Division, competing for the ACC Championship against Clemson – their first visit since 2015 – and a bowl bid.  

Additionally, many of their players were recognized with national awards.  Most notably, Drake Maye, their freshman quarterback and leader of the team, was named to first team All-ACC, ACC Player of the Year, and multiple National Freshman of the Year awards.  

This season-long leadership journey was specifically designed to prepare young athletes for bigger leadership roles within the organization.  We consistently worked alongside the staff and players to develop of an individual code of conduct to drive desired behaviors, provided communication techniques that prepared their athletes to take an active role in solving problems and team accountability, and helped push authority to small unit leaders, ultimately unleashing initiative at the lowest level possible.  

Player testimonial: “Working with Joe and The Iron Leader has prepared our players to take active leadership roles.  Their program is a big reason the team is in a position to have an incredible season.” – Kevin Donnalley,  Super Bowl Champion & Director of the Koman Game Plan for Success at UNC Football

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