Woody Hayes spent twenty-eight seasons as the head football coach at Ohio State University, and then he was fired after a now-infamous incident in the 1978 Gator Bowl.
With time running down in the fourth quarter and the Buckeyes already in position to try a game-winning field goal, Hayes called a pass play. A Clemson player intercepted the pass and was knocked out-of-bounds along the Ohio State sideline, securing the victory for the Tigers. Frustrated by the play and the opponent’s celebration among his troops, Hayes lost his temper and hit the Clemson player.
For most Ohio State fans, however, that’s not the legacy of Woody Hayes. Some, naturally, see his legacy in his coaching record—two hundred thirty-eight wins, seventy-two loses, ten ties, three national championships, and thirteen Big Ten titles. That proved more than enough to land Hayes in college football’s Hall of Fame. And the OSU Woody Hayes Athletic Center is named in his honor.
Others, however, see his legacy in a chair—the Wayne Woodrow Hayes Chair in National Security Studies. In keeping with his wishes, donations made in his honor following his death in 1987 were directed toward academics, which led to the creation of the chair. Hayes, who once grilled Richard Nixon about foreign policy, always took academics as seriously as he did football.
I remember Hayes for all of those things, but most for something he said during a pep rally when I was a student on the Columbus, Ohio campus: “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse,” he told the crowd. The belief that you could stay competitive while staying the same was a myth.
I used to think that was pep talk, but time and experience taught me the truth in what he meant. In a competitive world, if you stay the same you get passed by. Thus the importance of the Innovation Imperative: Keep making your value better, because you’re competition keeps getting better.
No matter what field you play on–sports, business, politics or the military–you can’t afford to maintain the status quo. It is dangerous to stay the same. Winners keep getting better.