By Monte Burke
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As a kid growing up in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood in New York City, Joe Moglia dreamed of someday becoming the head coach of a college football team-not of becoming a corporate titan.
But sometimes, life gets in the way of our dreams. By the time Joe was in his early 30s, he had risen through the high school and college football ranks to become the defensive coordinator at Dartmouth. His dream was very much within reach. Problem was, Joe wasn't making enough money to support his growing family. Faced with the hard choice between chasing his lifelong dream and supporting his wife and four young kids, Joe did the honorable thing: He walked away from football and went to Wall Street to try to find a job that would foot the bills at home.
Joe had no training in finance. He had no MBA. His resume reflected his coaching accomplishments and his teaching jobs. And yet, somehow, through grit and determination, he was able to land an entry-level position at Merrill Lynch.
Fast forward 25 years later. Joe had reached the business world's mountaintop. He was the CEO of TD Ameritrade, one of the country's most successful financial firms. He was recognized as one of the most respected corporate chiefs in America.
But over all those years, Joe never shook his passion for coaching football. In 2008, he made a fateful and stunning decision: He voluntarily walked away from his high-paying corporate job to do the one thing he'd left undone in his life. He decided to pursue his original passion for becoming a college football head coach.
Getting hired as a college coach proved incredibly difficult. College athletic directors told him it was an impossible feat. He'd been out of football for nearly three decades. Undaunted, and at age 60, Joe became an unpaid intern with the University of Nebraska's football team in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, he was named the head coach of the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League, a professional league teetering on the brink of financial collapse. It was a risky proposition, but one he felt he needed to take to prove to his naysayers that he could coach a college team. Failure would mean the death of a dream that refused to die.
As told by Forbes writer, Monte Burke, 4th And Goal is a detailed account of Joe Moglia's amazing and uplifting life story, his quest for his ultimate dream and its stunning conclusion. It's a tale of overcoming adversity…of never giving up…of never losing sight of one's true goals in life.
It is a story, quite literally, of a dream deferred, but never forgotten.
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It's a frigid early Sunday morning in the late fall of 1983. Joe Moglia, the thirty-three-year-old defensive coordinator of the two-time defending Ivy League champion Dartmouth Big Green football team, lies awake in his bed in an unheated storage room located on the top floor of the Davis Varsity House, an old, red brick building on the school's Hanover, New Hampshire, campus. During daylight hours, from the room's huge circular window, one can see the green grass of the football field, encircled by a vermilion running track that's pinstriped with white lane lines. But it is now 4:00 a.m., that dark, unsettling hour when the racing minds of the sleepless become easy prey for creeping anxieties.
Joe's back nearly touches the icy cement floor, the springs on his single bed having long since surrendered to the fatigue of three decades of use. He watches his vaporized breaths blow into a thin slice of streetlamp light pouring in through the uncurtained window. His shirts hang from the room's exposed water pipes like laundered ghosts. A half-dozen pigeons, sleepless themselves, are perched on the ledge outside his window, trilling softly.
To stave off the cold, Joe is wearing a gray sweat suit, the hood pulled over the ski hat on his head. He's also wrapped four old Army blankets—providing all the suppleness of steel wool—around his body. Joe is fighting the urge to urinate. He doesn't want to break the seal of warmth that his body has taken hours to create—the bathroom is down two flights of stairs, in the football team's locker room.
The previous afternoon, Dartmouth had tied Columbia to remain undefeated in the Ivy League. They are very much in contention for their third straight league championship. For the past three seasons Dartmouth has been led by Joe's defense, one of the best in college football. Though they are an undersized, slow-footed group, he has somehow managed to convince them that a football game is won as much with their heads and hearts as it is with their bodies.
It's not unusual for a football coach to be awake at this hour. Sleeplessness is a common malady among this particular fraternity of men, who are judged, fairly or unfairly, by a single metric: whether they win or lose on Saturday afternoons. Nights after games are the worst. Brains hum, exulting in a victory or stewing over a loss or, perhaps, already fretting about next week's opponents.
But Joe has something bigger than a football game on his mind. Since he was a teenager, he has worked toward his one abiding dream, his lifelong obsession: He wants to become the head coach of a college football team.
But he has decided on this early morning in Hanover—well into the second year of his ascetic, solo existence in this musty storage room—that his dream must die.
Technically, Joe is still married, though that will not be the case in a few months. His separation and subsequent divorce from the woman he married at age nineteen will be, always, what he counts as his greatest failure. Together, he and Kathe have four children: three elementary school–aged girls and a five-year-old boy. But Joe's current salary is $33,000. He has decided that he can no longer patiently work his way up the football-coaching ladder and still provide for his family.
His main objective now will be taking care of his family. Making this choice will require an almost unbearable sacrifice. He will have to lose his dream. But he will also lose something much more important. In order to take care of his family, Joe has decided, he must leave them. He will regret the consequences of this decision for the rest of his life. But he will always believe he made the right choice.
Two months later Joe will be offered a job on the defensive staff of the defending national champion University of Miami Hurricanes, with a promise that he will soon become the team's defensive coordinator. It is exactly the right job for this point in his career, a high-profile chance to position himself, eventually, for a head-coaching gig.
But Joe will decline the offer. Instead, he will follow through on his new life plan. Joe has his sights set on Wall Street. He has decided that if he is going to lose both his career and everyday contact with his family, he is going to make a lot of money doing so. Somehow, he hopes, it could ease the pain.
But neither a Wall Street job nor the money that comes with it is guaranteed. He is fantastically unqualified for employment in one of the most competitive industries in the world. In his professional life, he has known only the world of football. He is rolling the dice, betting on himself.
On that cold morning in that storage room in New Hampshire, Joe believes his coaching career—the sole ambition of his professional life—is now over, forever. The Yogi Berra–like maxim tossed around by the salty old-timers in the profession, Joe knows, is true: the only way to get back into coaching is to never leave it.
Twenty-eight years later, now sixty-two, Joe Moglia is standing on the sidelines of a football field in Nebraska, wearing a headset and a white polo shirt with the words "Omaha Nighthawks" stenciled over the left breast. It is a Thursday night in the fall of 2011, chilly and sprinkling with rain. The stadium lights are aureoled in the mist. Joe can see the vapor from his breath.
Joe has become the head coach of the Nighthawks, one of four franchises that constitute the United Football League, a professional minor league in only its third year of existence. Constantly teetering on the brink of obsolescence because of financial troubles, this is a league made up of football players and coaches who, for one reason or another, are currently either National Football League castoffs or wannabes. The UFL provides them with a chance to get back into the biggest, most powerful sports league in the world, or to make it there for the first time.
The league provided Joe an opportunity, too. In a life filled with overcoming challenges, he has sought out yet another in his quest to become a coach again. He had been born and raised in a rough-and-tumble inner city New York neighborhood from which half of its kids never made it out. He was an audacious young football coach who scratched and clawed his way up the profession for sixteen years. After leaving coaching in 1984, he embarked on one of the most remarkable—and unlikely—business careers of the last half century, one that was completely self-made. With no experience or pedigree, he somehow willed his way into a new career on Wall Street. In his seventeen years at Merrill Lynch, he rose quickly to a top management position and, along the way, actually changed the way Wall Street does business.
In 2001 Joe remade himself again, shocking the financial world when he left his very comfortable and highly lucrative post at Merrill to take over a money-losing, left-for-dead online broker. In his eight years at TD Ameritrade, he rescued the company from the bursting of one financial bubble, helped it to completely sidestep another, and in the process created one of the strongest financial services firms in the country.
Then, at the top of the financial game, he walked away. Voluntarily. He was almost sixty. Deep inside, Joe knew there was one more life task left undone, one more challenge to face. He never had become the head coach of a college football team, and now, he decided, the time had come.
This guy is totally insane, said members of both the financial and football worlds, as Joe embarked on his dream chase. When he couldn't find a job right away, he became, at age sixty, an unpaid intern for the University of Nebraska's football team to regain the football experience, the brushing up, he believed that college athletic directors required to take a chance on him, to prove that he wasn't some rich Wall Street kook. He did this for two seasons, working eighty hours a week at Nebraska. But it wasn't enough. Joe got five coaching interviews, and had some nibbles at a few other places. But, in the end, no athletic director was willing to stick his neck out to hire a sixty-year-old man who had not coached in a quarter of a century. After all, athletic directors are naturally nervous critters, their own job security hinging on the success of their hires.
For nearly three years, Joe looked for a college-coaching job to no avail. Then came the offer from the UFL. True, it was not a college job, but it was the only job he'd been presented. It would give him the opportunity to prove himself. It was a risk he had to take. If he succeeded here, he believed, then those skittish athletic directors would find themselves out of excuses.
That's how Joe has found himself standing on the sidelines on this fall evening in Omaha. Tonight is Joe's first time coaching a football team in twenty-eight years.
It is also his first game as a head coach for any team above the level of high school.
And what he's facing isn't exactly high school competition. Across the field from Joe, on the opposing team's sideline, is Marty Schottenheimer, the coach of the UFL's Virginia Destroyers, and the sixth-winningest coach in NFL history. He is one of the three marquee-name, former NFL coaches who lead teams in the UFL (the others are Jim Fassel and Dennis Green). Schottenheimer, tall, toothy, and sixty-eight years old, looks younger than he did during his last coaching stint in the NFL. He is rejuvenated, no longer under the intense and confounding burden of coaching in a league that fired him after a 14-2 season with the San Diego Chargers, a league that deemed him a failure for winning countless games, but never the most important one: the Super Bowl.
With the UFL's Destroyers, Schottenheimer has inherited an experienced quarterback (thirty-five-year-old Chris Greisen) and team, one that in its previous iteration as the Florida Tuskers had advanced to the UFL championship game in the league's first two years. Schottenheimer runs a prototypical pro offense: drop-back quarterback, lots of I-formation sets, lots of runs on first down.
Conversely, Joe has a team that he himself has hastily assembled just in the last few months. Most of them, players as well as coaches, are new to each other, as well as to him, with very little team practice time under their belts.
Joe does not run a prototypical pro offense. He's installed a no-huddle, spread option offense that incorporates the quarterback in the running game, a strategy more commonly found in the Canadian Football League or the college ranks. To run the offense, Joe has chosen to split snaps between two quarterbacks who are by no means typical NFL drop-back passers: Eric Crouch, the thirty-two-year-old former University of Nebraska star and 2001 Heisman Trophy winner, who has never before played the quarterback position in an American professional game; and Jeremiah Masoli, a rookie who, during his two years at the University of Oregon, had run an offense similar to Joe's plan for Omaha. Joe succeeded in business by differentiating himself from his contemporaries. With this offense, he's attempting that again in the UFL.
He also has an ultra-aggressive plan for his special teams. Most professional and big-time college teams do not put much effort into blocking kicks, preferring instead to set up for a return (on punts) and to avoid incurring a "roughing the kicker" penalty (on both punts and field goal attempts). Joe has the Nighthawks doing just the opposite. They rehearse and study the art of blocking kicks—of onrushing wingmen making themselves "skinny" by turning their torsos sideways as they came through the line—for hours every week at practice. Joe believes the blocked kick is the most psychologically devastating play in football.
And Joe has one more thing he thinks will differentiate him from the other UFL coaches: the quarter of a decade he spent out of the game. He believes that experience—contrary to conventional wisdom—will make him a better football coach, one with wisdom about life both on and off the field. Football, he tells his players and staff, is just a game. Nothing more, nothing less. But everyone on the team—himself included—has chosen to be a part of it. Thus their actions within the game, how they choose to practice for it and play it, are manifestations of the way in which they choose to live their lives. "Be a man," he reminds them at least once a day. Stand on your own two feet. Accept responsibility for yourself and your actions.
Joe runs a seminar for his players every week called "Life after Football," in which he talks about résumés, job interviews, and financial planning. He tells them that their careers in football will end someday, and they should start planning for that right away.
It all seems a little college, or maybe even high school, and, indeed, it is how Joe coached in both of those places. But it is also how he ran businesses. Joe believes that "being a man" is the fundamental principle of life. It's why he left football in the first place. And it's why he wants to return. And it is self-serving, in a way: he also believes that responsible people make for better football players.
Before the game, Schottenheimer seems utterly relaxed. He's on the field, talking, smiling, and shaking hands with players and coaches from both teams, many of whom he knows or has worked with during his thirty-one years as a coach in the NFL. Asked what he thinks of facing Joe, the former CEO, Schottenheimer curtly answers: "I cannot place any judgments on someone I do not know."
Joe, on the other hand, is nervous. So much so that, a few hours before kickoff, he cannot sit still in his cell-like office in the bowels of this baseball ballpark in Omaha (home to the College World Series) that's been temporarily converted into a football stadium, crusty infield dirt included. So Joe decides to go for a walk outside of the ballpark to visit with some of the thousands of tailgaters in the parking lot who are listening to loud heavy metal music and getting properly buzzed before the game. He stops first at the tailgate party hosted by his second wife, Amy, to whom he has been married for fifteen years. With her are twenty of their friends from Omaha, the Midwestern city that Joe, Amy, and her two sons have lived in ever since he took over what was then known as Ameritrade in 2001. It is a town they have all grown to love and where they have planted deep roots. Joe feels both comfort and pressure at the thought of coaching his hometown team. Warren Buffett is just one among many friends who are in the stands tonight to watch his debut, and Joe wants not to fail in front of them.
After giving Amy a hug and kiss, Joe works through a few more tailgate parties, shaking hands, patting backs, smiling, and thanking the fans for coming out. He stops just short of kissing babies.
And then it's game time.
Twenty-eight years ago Joe Moglia was lying in a cot in that unheated storage room. It seems a lot like yesterday. It seems a lot like forever.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Reclaiming a deferred dream requires sacrifice. Which explains what Joe Moglia was doing with his life two years before he found himself hired on as head coach for the UFL's Nighthawks.…
At 6:30 on an early winter morning in 2009, Joe exited the revolving doors of the Embassy Suites hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska, hugging a University of Nebraska football playbook to his chest. Outside, the biting prairie wind cuffed him, ruddying his cheeks and watering his eyes. Through the blear he saw the sun breasting the flat horizon. It didn't make him feel any warmer. That winter would go down as one of the coldest ever recorded in the state. Joe pulled the collar of his jacket up to his throat, leaned into the wind, and hurried the three hundred yards from his hotel to the Osborne Athletic Complex, home to the school's football facility.
Joe looks like a football coach. His body is big in the shoulders and chest, tapers a bit through his torso and upper legs, then swells again into cantaloupe-sized calves. It's a body made for wearing gray sweats. His hair is the color of rust. His brow furrows easily over his clear, alert, blue eyes that never miss a thing. His nose can quickly turn pugnacious—like a bulldog's—when he gets worked up. He even shouts well, in short, declarative barks spiced with traces of an inner-city New York accent that's easily discernible above nearly any din. He has a presence that commands attention.
However, Joe was not a football coach. Not then, in 2009. He was one once, long ago. But in 2009 he was a sixty-year-old grandfather trying to somehow retrace the steps back to that place where the road forked, to find that other path, the one that leads to a dream unfulfilled. Since there didn't seem to be any shortcuts to that path, Joe was in Lincoln now serving as an unpaid intern—officially, the "executive advisor to the head coach"—for the University of Nebraska football team. That frigid winter day would be just one of the hundreds he spent with the team over the next two years. Fourteen hours a day catching up on half a lifetime away from the game. Film study. Practices. Meetings with coaches and players. Legal pads filled with his scribbled notes. Two years living in a hotel room. Four thousand hours of work.
Typically Joe wouldn't return through those revolving doors at the Embassy Suites until midnight, when he would go to his room, make a brief call to Amy back in Omaha, then plunk down in a chair with a Bible-thick book of the plays that he had decided he needed to understand completely if he were to return to coaching. Later, a few hours of sleep would end with a 6:00 a.m. wake-up call, starting the whole cycle over again. For his efforts, he would be paid exactly $0.00.
He did it all with a huge smile on his face. Joe wanted to be a football coach again, and this, he thought, was the first step he needed to take to get there.
Joe had done something extremely rare in the world of American business: he left at the absolute pinnacle of his career. There was no Securities & Exchange Commission investigation, no personal scandal, no precipitous drop in stock price, no shareholder revolt. Very simply, he took over a company, led it through one of the stormiest periods in the financial world's history, then left it a much stronger and more profitable place than it was when he started.
In the summer of 2008, Joe voluntarily walked away from the CEO post at TD Ameritrade. In just eight years, Joe had transformed the company, first by saving it from the disastrous pop of the dotcom bubble, then by building it into one of the most complete financial services firms in the world. Under his watch, TD Ameritrade not only completely skirted the 2008 financial crisis, it actually posted big profits.
Joe left because there was really nothing else to prove. He was presented with a huge challenge when he took over the company in the spring of 2001. By 2008, he'd exceeded the goals he set out to reach. He'd been in the business world for twenty-five years, and before that in an intense sixteen-year coaching career. Joe had worked since he was ten, when he started doing shifts in his father's New York City fruit store. Since boyhood, he'd never had any extended time off from work. Now, he had certainly earned it.
And that was what he thought he'd be getting, some serious time off. When Joe stepped down from his position as CEO in the summer of 2008, he became TD Ameritrade's chairman, which came with some responsibilities—mainly board meetings—but was a cakewalk, time-wise, compared to his previous job. So Joe played golf and read books. He went to the gym and kept detailed logs of his workouts and weight loss. ("He was starting to get chubby," says his wife, Amy. "I told him, 'You can be old or fat, but not both.' And, well, he wasn't getting any younger.")
The professional world didn't leave him alone, though. Within weeks of his resignation, he'd had a half-dozen inquiries from folks in the financial and media worlds. (Joe had spent some time guest-hosting CNBC shows during his TD Ameritrade stint.) He responded to all the calls with polite but firm no thank yous. Amy really believed that after what amounted to half a century of hard work, her husband was finally ready to take a breather. "I was really excited," she says. "Look, I don't want a guy who's following me around all the time and asking me what we're going to do today. But I wouldn't mind a little of that. I was ready for at least a year of relaxing a bit. He'd worked so hard. We've been really lucky. I wanted to enjoy it for a little while."
Joe's daughter Kim also thought that a break would be good for him and the entire family. "He was always driving himself so hard," she says. "Now he was financially set. I wanted him to exhale. I wanted him to spend more time with us." Even Joe signed on. "I was in no hurry to do anything. I was ready to try to relax."
At least that was the plan. Two months after he left his job, Joe and Amy went to Vermont to visit Joe's oldest child, Kelly. One night Joe and Amy were in their hotel room getting ready to go to a party at Kelly's when Joe's phone rang. It was Charles Johnson, chairman of the mutual fund company Franklin Resources. Joe thought this was just another guy calling to try to woo him back to finance. But Johnson also happened to be a major donor to the athletic program of his alma mater, Yale. He told Joe that the school's football head-coaching job might be available at the end of the year. He wondered if Joe was interested…in coaching.
Joe was stunned almost to the point of incoherence. He eventually mumbled something about being flattered that Johnson would even think about him as a potential candidate, especially since he'd been out of the game for so long. He told Johnson he'd think about it.
"Who was that?" Amy asked after Joe had hung up. They were late for the party.
"Uh, Charlie Johnson. He wanted to know about a coaching job," Joe replied. He was still dazed.
Amy thought little of it. They went off to the party. Joe didn't tell anyone else about the call.
But as days went by, Joe began to think about it more and more. The nights were the worst. "I literally could not sleep," he says. The call had stirred something within him that he thought he had repressed and walked away from forever.
Joe spent the next few months sitting alone in the office in his Omaha home for hours at a time, thinking about coaching and writing down thoughts and notes on legal pads. He wanted to be completely honest with himself in answering two questions: Was he qualified to coach again? And did he really want to? "The answer to the first one was an overwhelming yes," says Joe. After all, he'd been a coach before. And he was a leader. He'd managed teams in business that numbered in the hundreds, even thousands. His football-coaching career had been a huge asset to his business career. And now he had twenty-five years of managing, of decision making, of leading in business. How could that not be an asset on the field?
Answering the second question, however, was a bit more complicated. Joe knew that during the football season, he would end up working even harder than he did at Merrill and TD Ameritrade. Coaches routinely put in ninety to one hundred hours a week. What would Amy think of that? And there would be serious personal and reputational risks involved. Coaches are judged by wins and losses. No extra credit is given for all of the hard work put in. He could fail. He could certainly get fired.
As he sat in his home office and furiously scribbled notes (he would eventually fill five legal pads), a feeling began to overwhelm him: "It became clear that I couldn't really live with myself if I didn't give this a try."
Joe reached out to friends to get their opinions, just to make sure he wasn't totally crazy. One of those friends was fellow Omahan Warren Buffett. Joe asked him to dinner one night. It turned out that he was hugely supportive. "I always tell college students how lucky I was to find my passion very early in life and that they shouldn't give up until they find theirs," says Buffett. "Joe's dream obviously was to coach a top-notch football team and there is no question he would be terrific at it. So I encouraged him to do it."
By December 2008, Joe had made up his mind. He was going to attempt to land a head job at a Division I school, at either the FBS or FCS level. (Simply put, the FBS—Football Bowl Subdivision—is populated by the big-time football schools and conferences. The smaller schools and conferences make up the FCS—Football Championship Subdivision. The biggest difference: FBS schools have more scholarships and more money for those scholarships.)
He broke the news to Amy and the rest of the family. "He just looks at me one morning and goes, 'You know, I don't think I can let this go,'" says Amy. "I'll admit I was a little disappointed that he wasn't going to take some time off. But he told me that this was his passion now, that he was really feeling it. I wanted him to be happy. So I was like, 'Okay, here we go.'"
We all like to dream big when it comes to pursuing our goals, but the truth is, the real world too often gets in the way. That's why Joe Moglia's story is so fulfilling. Joe dared to chase his dreams, and this wonderful book captures his story in a way that is both gripping and unforgettable.
--Jim Nantz, CBS Sports
The story of Joe Moglia is equal parts sports, business, and family. In 4th and Goal, we clearly see that the common denominator is passion, and we end up rooting for Joe as he gets one last shot at his dream.
--Jeffrey Marx, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Season of Life
Captivating . . . Burke combines snappy magazine prose with the natural drama of Joe Moglia's unlikely career arc.
No one should ever be ashamed of letting practicality and responsibility take their dreams away. But what an inspiration Joe is to never let his dream die. After reading his story, I remind myself I still have my own unfulfilled dreams to pursue.
--Steve Young, NFL Hall of Famer
For many of us, coaching football is more than a way of life. It's a calling. Joe Moglia clearly understands this, and his story is both powerful and inspiring. If you're a football fan, this is a book you must read."
-- Bill Cowher, legendary coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers
A winning story for fans of Friday Night Lights and believers in the American dream.
- On Sale
- Sep 18, 2012
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Business Plus