You may not know who Nathan Whitaker is, and you probably wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a crowd, but if you are a Colts’ fan, there’s a good chance you’ve read one of his books.
Nathan is the co-author of all three of Tony Dungy’s bestsellers: Quiet Strength (Tony’s autobiography), Uncommon (a book of life advice to young men), and their new book The Mentor Leader. I have reviewed all three books here at 18to88, and have been moved by them and deeply valued them.
I ‘met’ Nathan for just a few seconds at book signing in Carmel, and was struck with his humility. He knew everyone was there to see Coach, but was warm and gracious to all. When I got home, I looked him up on line and was fascinated to see the eclectic life he had already lived for a young man. I looked him up on twitter, and He was gracious enough to be interviewed for 18 Questions. In the interview, we’ll discuss his books, his football career as a player for Steve Spurrier and in NFL front offices, as well as what Tony Dungy is really like, and whether he thinks Tony will ever coach again.
1. ND: You have had quite the journey in life so far. You’re an athlete, a lawyer, worked in two NFL front offices. You’ve done ministry and are a best selling author. Why can’t you hold down a job? Seriously though, of your various endeavors which have you enjoyed the most?
As you note, I have been blessed to try a variety of things – and probably never became good at any of them… Working in the NFL was really fun at times, but ultimately, the personal toll of the NFL schedule was more than I wanted to continue to work through. That is, it’s fun to show up on game day or hang out at practice, but is it worth missing most of Christmas day for? Or Thanksgiving? Or pretty much every weekend from July to January? Because of that, I really enjoy what I’m doing now: writing books with interesting people and representing coaches through Whitaker Partners
with my father.
ND note: He also helped found www.impactforliving.org a ministry designed to help people fulfill their potential, and is a founder and contributor to www.sixseeds.tv, which helps parents find virtue in culture.
2. ND: What drives you to attempt such a wide variety of careers? What’s your driving motivation in life?
NW: My goal was to do as well as I could academically and with whatever other gifts I was given by God. (As those who know me would tell you, I’m educated beyond my intelligence.) Since then, it’s become a journey to figure out what I can do with those experiences and relationships to influence those around me for good, in whatever way God would lead me.
3. ND: What was it like playing football for Steve Spurrier?
NW: Coach was great. He treated us more like professionals that college kids (for example, our team rules: Don’t embarrass yourself, your family, or Duke; and, don’t wear a hat indoors) and was really sharp offensively. He let me hang out in the offensive meetings, but looking back, I wish I’d spent even more time learning the offense. I’m really pleased that he’s got a good team this year at South Carolina. Even better than Coach? Getting attention from Mrs. Spurrier (cookies in our locker on our birthday!).
4. ND: How did you get involved with the Jaguars front office? What’s life like for an NFL exec? Do you have a Super Bowl ring with Tampa?
NW: The Jags were looking for an attorney to help with player and travel contract negotiations. And I knew people. (See Connections answer above.) It can be fun, but as someone in Jacksonville once told me, “we’ve taken events that occur 16 times a year, for three hours each, and turned it into a 24/7/365 job”. And as Rich McKay told me in Tampa Bay – as he suggested that I stay in law – working in the league is anything but glamorous. Plus I made about twice as much practicing law. I did, however, get the ultimate conversation starter – the Super Bowl ring.
5. ND: Where do you keep your Super Bowl ring? Do you ever wear it?
NW: I do wear it. I find that those who have Super Bowl rings fall into one of two camps: me, and people who aren’t flashy.
Actually, some people put them straight into a safe deposit box, but to me, it has value as a conversation starter and fun piece, so I wear it if I’m getting particularly dressed up. Probably, on average, every other month (writers/agents don’t have to dress up very often!).
6. ND: Do you remember the first time you met Tony Dungy?
NW: Yes, it was 1998 and I was leaving my North Carolina law firm to join the Jaguars. My wife and I stopped into the Red Rocker Inn in Black Mountain on our last weekend living in NC, and TD and several of his Bucs coaches were having dinner there. They were in town for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes coaches’ camp there…I had no idea how our lives would later intersect.
7. ND: What lead you to leave the NFL?
NW: Um, the Bucs fired me. (I later had opportunities to join other clubs, but by then had a crazy book-writing idea.)
8. ND: How did you finally convince Tony to write Quiet Strength? I know he was reluctant to write for many years.
NW: I pitched the idea to him but he didn’t like the idea of a book about him. Typical of Tony. I had been let go by the Bucs but had other offers inside and outside the league. TD is just so incredibly authentic that I thought his approach to life – living out his faith in Jesus every day, in every setting – could help so many people, that I turned those down to pursue writing his story. He declined, but assisted me with writing a leadership book about him and other coaches that I admired, but I couldn’t sell it – for almost three years. Finally he agreed to write his memoir after winning the Super Bowl and told the publishers that either I wrote it or he wouldn’t do it. Remarkable. And those leadership concepts? Most of them are included in what became “The Mentor Leader.”
9. ND: What is your process like for writing together? Tony said in Quiet Strength that he has journaled from time to time. Do you interview him? Do you build off of his notes? Does he write and then you re-write?
NW: I primarily interviewed him and watched him, but also used some of his journal entries. Then I took a stab at a rough draft. I would send him chapters each night and the next morning he’d send me his corrections – which sometimes were EVERY word that I’d written – and we’d discuss.
10. ND: You go to book signings all over the country to sign a bestseller with your name on it, but you know that most people are there to see Tony. Do you ever want to say, “Hey! I’m a really smart guy who had a lot to do with this book too!” Does ego ever get the better of you?
NW: Sure, especially when that 1 out of 100 people actually snatches the book so that I CAN’T sign it. Seems like the Bible has some things to say about pride, though, so I’m working on it. I’m a work in progress in a lot of areas, despite having a personal relationship with Jesus for three decades. Maybe I’m a slow study. But you know what? If I came to one of our signings, I’d be there for Tony, too.
11. ND: Tell me about Whitaker Partners LLC. What is your mission and how do you assist coaches?
NW: Our goal is to work with coaches who are interested in using their platform to impact the work around them for better. That makes it very easy to champion their careers and help shepherd them – it’s building our legacy as we help with theirs. Sometimes we help them get a promotion; other times we try to be sounding boards for whether it makes sense, if their reasons for seeking it are inconsistent with what they’ve previously told us are their priorities.
12. ND: Most Colts fans probably don’t realize you co-authored a book with James Brown (CBS Sports) called Role of a Lifetime. Tell us about that book and why football fans should read it.
NW: JB is a fantastic person and dear friend of Tony’s. One of the neat things about JB is that, in an industry in which you are rewarded for promoting yourself, he has succeeded and advanced by minimizing himself and making everyone around him look better. I wish his book had sold like TD’s; he’s got a lot of wisdom to share.
13. ND: Have you been surprised at all by the runaway success of your books with Tony? You probably figured they would do well, but three best sellers?
NW: It’s totally crazy. We were apologizing at one point that “Uncommon” only sold 350,000 copies in its first year and were educated that our view of book sales were a little skewed by how they were received. And I’m not blind…I know their reception has to do with the authentic faith and life of TD.
14. ND: What has been the most fulling part of working on The Mentor Leader?
NW: To me, this is the book that can have quite an impact in the corporate world and in families. There are just so many “others-first” lessons that TD has to share.
15. ND: There are scores of “leadership” books out there. Who should buy the The Mentor Leader and why? What makes it different from all the other books out there on the subject?
NW: Two things distinguish it: first, that it’s survived actual testing. TD’s leadership ideas were tested sixteen weeks a year for thirteen years…very publicly. His won/loss record is amazing. Second, it’s not focused on the leader. It’s general premise is that by building into the lives of those you are leading, you make the organization (or family) better, which ultimately benefits…the leader.
16. ND: Tony Dungy is outspoken about a lot of issues. People that know him often use the word ‘genuine’ to describe him. People that don’t, accuse him of being a ‘phony’. Set the record straight for us.
NW: I watched him live out his faith during the 2001 season in Tampa Bay. It was an awful year with rumors and innuendo and while the rest of us panicked, he was focused on the things that mattered, the things of the Lord. He said that his job was to coach, and it was the Lord’s job to determine where (which he desperately wanted to be in Tampa). And then he was fired.
17. ND: Uncommon is certainly an unusual book. Describe the how you and Tony came up with the idea of writing a book aimed at helping young men understand how to live life.
NW: As he said at the time after “Quiet Strength” sold over a million copies (now 1.4 million and counting), “I didn’t want to write one book but Nathan talked me into it; why would I want to write a second?” And Tyndale House, our publisher responded, “But what if you could help men live out the life they were meant to have?…” We then sat around watching the NBA playoffs for several nights in a row in his house, asking if we were driving for hours to drop our son off at college, what lessons would we be trying to make sure that they’d gotten?
18. ND: Tony clearly has a heart for working with young men and for coaching. Can you ever seem him going back to the sidelines?
NW: No. Not unless it’s in high school. It’s that time of year when rumors will start up again, but he’s having too much fun exploring all the different avenues and platforms that God has in store…and driving carpools to school!
Once again, let me thank Nathan for patiently answering my questions. He did mention that he was glad he got the 18 Questions and not the 88 Questions.