Coach Phil Willenbrock has twenty years of coaching experience with eighteen of those years at the college level. He started his career at San Francisco State (DII) before moving on to coach high school football in Colorado Springs at Wasson and Doherty high schools. After a one year stopat South Dakota (DII), he returned to his home state of Pennsylvania as an assistant at Allegheny College (DIII) from 1998-2001. In 2002 he accepted the head coaching job at The University of Puget Sound (WA) and went to work transforming the culture of the Puget Sound (WA) Football Team. He led them to their most productive 5 consecutive seasons in 20 years from 2004-2008. Through the trials and many challenges involved with a turnaround process, he began an intense interest and study in the dynamics of team leadership.
Entering the Educational Leadership Doctorate program at Seattle University in 2006, Willenbrock earned his Ed.D. in 2009. The topic of his dissertation; Shared Leadership as a System of Team Captaincy in College Football, provides insight on an alternative to the traditional “team captain” model used almost exclusively in football. After going 1-17 his first two exhaustive seasons at Puget Sound, it became apparent that the one most critical aspect of team culture/ performance that had not yet been addressed was peer leadership (the influence of teammates on each other). Through using a leadership development curriculum with the senior class, a transformative culture was established. This culture set the framework for greater teammate buy-in, enthusiam, mutual respect, communication and character , cultivating a renaissance period of competitiveness, leadership and service. After the 1-17 start, the Puget Sound football program experienced the most productive 5 consecutive seasons in more than 20 years. In addition, Attrition was reduced to no more than 2 players each fall.
Peer Leadership and Team Captains play a vital and sometimes ignored role in team culture. All coaches have experienced less than exemplary Team Captains whose leadership was mis aligned with program principles and created negative media, game-week distractions and team dis-trust at a minimum. In reality, TEAM CAPTAINS are most often elevated to their leadership status based on the 4 P’s (Personality, Position, Power and Performance) and other factors greatly unrelated to leadership ability.
Making a commitment to be pro active and purposeful in developing the Leadership ability of players whom teammates recognize or perceive as being individuals of significant influence will enable Coaches/ Administrators/ Supervisors to effectively execute a system of leadership development that will pay immediate dividends in the short term and lasting lessons for team members moving into the future.