Success can take many forms, with a variety routes leading to it. And in a Thursday night lecture, a former Green Bay Packers linebacker and current university administrator spoke about how he arrived at the success he’s found in his life so far.
George Koonce started his football career at age nine after his father and mother went through a divorce in eastern North Carolina. He moved his way through college football and was later drafted by the Green Bay Packers for a four-year contract in 1992.
“Athletics came naturally to me, but academics were tougher,” Koonce said. “I failed the sixth grade and my mother said it wasn’t because I wasn’t smart — it was because I would get distracted.”
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Known as the “Doctor of Defense” after earning his Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies from Marquette University in 2012, Koonce now serves as the vice president of university relations at Marian University in Wisconsin.
Koonce is one of two NFL retirees who has gone on to receive a doctorate. While he has had the opportunity to play alongside greats like Brett Favre and Reggie White, Koonce said that his proudest moment was walking across the stage at his Ph.D. commencement.
“I never thought I would have the opportunity to play with the Green Bay Packers, let alone win a championship with them,” Koonce said.
In discussing leadership, Koonce said becoming a leader isn’t only about taking charge — it is also about empathizing and sympathizing with those who are struggling.
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While it has many forms, “servant leadership” has been Koonce’s favorite kind in the past years. He said this kind of leadership includes serving one’s surrounding community.
In his own life, Koonce said he has practiced servant leadership through mentoring kids in the inner city of Milwaukee and in creating the breast cancer awareness campaign “Real Men Wear Pink” with his wife. In the future, he said he hopes to continue practicing servant leadership through his work at Marian University and by helping those who are struggling.
Koonce, the first in his family to go to college, said his mother’s motivation, his football scholarship to East Carolina University and his willingness to “fall forward” instead of falling down have made him better as a leader.
Koonce ended his talk by stressing that good leadership qualities must be present at all times in one’s life — even when things aren’t going well.
“One thing about leadership is that it’s easy to lead when things are going well in your life,” Koonce said. “But what about when things aren’t going well?”