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May 21

Draft The Best Available Athlete

Posted by: Mark Solon        

I grew up in New York and have always loved my NY sports teams.  In the NFL, it was all about the NY Giants for me. Unfortunately, during my most impressionable sports years (the 70’s), the Giants simply sucked and the Dallas Cowboys utterly dominated the NFC. As a matter of fact, I barely remember the Giants ever beating the damn Cowboys during those years. If you’re a football fan and as old as I am, you remember Tom Landry strolling the sidelines in his fedora while Roger Staubach coolly led the ‘Boys down the field time and time again. I still have nightmares of Staubach, Ed “too tall” Jones, Calvin Hill, Randy White, Tony Dorsett, Harvey Martin, Drew Pearson and the rest of Cowboys ruining my Sundays as a kid.

Landry & Staubach plan another downfield march

Landry & Staubach plan another downfield march

What most people don’t know however is that behind the scenes, a man named Tex Schramm was the architect of stacking the Cowboys with more pure talent than just about any team ever assembled. You see, conventional wisdom at the time dictated that teams draft the best player out of college who played the specific position in which that team’s most glaring weakness existed, even if there weren’t any superstars coming out of college that year who played that position.

Tex Schramm being elected into the Hall of Fame

Tex Schramm being elected into the Hall of Fame

Tex Schramm had other ideas however. As General Manager of the Cowboys, Tex shunned conventional wisdom and drafted the best athlete available, regardless of position. If the Cowboys had 4 great wide receivers and a lousy set of defensive backs, it didn’t matter. When it was the Cowboy’s turn to pick in the draft, if the best available athlete left was a wide receiver, that’s who Tex took. You see, Tex believed that talent would win over position. He’d take a defensive back and make him a wide receiver, or take a linebacker and make him a tight end. The result? The Cowboys of the 70’s went to five super bowls and sent a bunch of players to the hall of fame.

The Cowboys of the 70's still give me nightmares

The Cowboys of the 70's still give me nightmares

I believe that today’s start-ups can learn a lot from Tex’s strategy. Too many times I’ve seen young companies pass on fantastic talent because they didn’t need a “VP Biz Dev” or they already had a “VP Marketing”. Truth is, people are more flexible then you think and truly great talent is really hard to find. Does that mean that you can take a killer salesperson and have them write code for you? Of course not. But you’d be amazed how a VP Ops star who has three successful start-ups on his or her resume might make a tremendous impact at your startup in another role.

As a venture capitalist, I regularly get a slew of resumes and have coffee with many talented folks who are looking to get involved in the next hot start-up in the rocky mountain region. When I meet a person who has a clear record of adding real value to start-up companies, I’ll forward their resumes to all of our portfolio companies and other start-ups that I’m close with. I’m always a little surprised when an accomplished superstar is turned away because “we don’t need that position filled.” While there’s no hard and fast rule that I can offer as each of these cases are different, I really believe that most start-ups can benefit by taking a page out of Tex Schramm’s “Playbook” and try drafting the best available athlete…


5 Responses to “Draft The Best Available Athlete”

  1. avatar Alicia Ritter says:


    Good post. I couldn't agree more. The same principle holds true in more mature companies, as well. I have heard all too often, "well, they won't be a good fit because they haven't done X, Y and Z, and we need someone who can just step in and get started without any hand-holding." It's rubbish.

    In my past life, I had a company that grew very fast and talent was hard to find in those days. I can tell you, I'd hire for attitude over skill any day of the week. You can train for skill. You can't give someone motivation or fire in the belly. Good people are rare, and the wise snatch them even when they think they don't need them.

    Alicia Ritter

  2. avatar Rich Raimondi says:


    One other thought comes from John Wooden, my hero as a coach. He believed that "the team with the best players almost always wins". This comes from one of my favorite books on Coach Wooden called "Be Quick - But Don't Hurry!".

    • avatar mbsolon says:

      Being a fan of Wooden myself, what I think hear you saying Rich is that having the best athletes is great and helps you win most of the time, but if you really want to win, you need execution as well. Yep, we\\'re in agreement!

  3. avatar Jen says:

    That was a ugly game yesterday evening, what was up with the New york giants Defence? All credit to Vick but really, the Giants lost that more than the Eagles won it

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