Establishing A Center of Excellence: Lessons From The New England Patriots and The Alabama Crimson Tide

Establishing A Center of Excellence: Lessons From The New England Patriots and The Alabama Crimson Tide

It has been well documented how success in sports, the lessons learned in wins and defeat, translate to personal character development and how the “teamwork mindset” pays dividends in real life scenarios. In sports as in life, sustained winning performances are not achieved by luck or chance.

Anyone can have a “good year.” Nobody has good decade. Except these two.

The University of Alabama’s football program, and its head coach Nick Saban, made history earlier this month by appearing in a third straight College Football National Championship game in as many years, lifting the trophy twice in that span. Saban also claimed his sixth national championship since 2003, his fifth with the Crimson Tide, tying the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant for most as a head coach in college football.

The New England Patriots just pulled off another American Football Conference (AFC) Championship win to earn their third Super Bowl appearance in the last four years. Owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick, and star Quarterback Tom Brady will head to the Super Bowl for the eighth time since 2001, capturing five Super Bowl wins in that stretch.

The feats that these two football programs have achieved in their respective ranks is truly incredible and quite unprecedented.

However, it’s more than just the Patriots’ and Crimson Tide’s incredible consistency as the best their sport has to offer each year over the last 10–15 years in the National Football League (NFL) and College Football, respectively. They aren’t just some football teams enjoying the greatest run of sustained excellence in the history of their sport.

No. It is more important to recognize how they have executed this unparalleled string of success and realize that they are also the perfect example of how any type of organization should be approaching their operations in the 21st century.

Sometime during the mid-2000’s, the phrase “The Patriot Way” popped up. This was the explanation that the New England Patriots’ success was directly attributable to their unique process and organizational philosophy. They just “do things differently.”

Actually, they created a Center of Excellence. This is their competitive advantage.

What is a Center of Excellence?

A Center of Excellence (COE) is simply a methodology, resulting in a standard of the highest quality. Through process, training, and innovation, the COE sets the bar for which performance is based and measured.

Once a COE is established, it is manned by a few hand-selected, respected credible experts (administrators and coaches) with the desire to teach, innovate and look for continuous improvement for the team, and the results of the model are clearly understood by those who have embraced its tenants.

A COE’s core functions include:

  • Keepers of the Standards
  • Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)
  • “Train the Trainers” – The ability to train highest level personnel
  • Technical Innovation and Implementation
  • Procedural Innovation
  • Regulatory Recommendations

The value of a COE is demonstrated through Proven Training and Standardization, with the installation of SMEs (captains and team leaders) with core functions and critical topics holistically, then formalizing innovation processes into the daily routine, thusly raising the cognitive intelligence of the team.

The New England Patriots were not always the standard bearers of the NFL. Actually, quite the opposite. Before hiring Bill Belichick in 2000, the Patriots we largely a marginal football organization.

And even though Alabama’s football program has a storied history in the college ranks, before the administration changeover in 2007 with the hiring of Nick Saban, they too had sunk into college football mediocrity.

What is a COEs Lasting Value?

The value of the COE can also be seen in results in standards within the organization. Here are Five (5) Inconsistent Standards and how the CATSHOT’s COE Model improves inconsistencies and produces favorable habits and outcomes.

With an established COE, a reputation will be realized, and key attributes will begin to surface with overall improved performance in four (4) key areas:

  • Execution: Organizations with an established COE will soon be recognized as the leading authority in their area and considered the best at what they do, engendering genuine reverence! Organizations will in turn earn respect and peers will start to emulate their processes.
  • Innovation: The SMEs and trainers become integral and there is little loathing of their status as opposed to organizations that are declarative of their status and rely on official titles for their authority. The core element to the overall training continuum comes when the Trainee becomes the Trainer, which is critical to organizational success.
  • Resiliency: Once recognition is gained, the organization will begin to attract enthusiastic and relentless innovators. These individuals display resilience and lasting value; relentless innovations will drive evolution. These staff members will then go on to become great leaders, both internal as well as in future career endeavors.
  • Produce Great Leaders: Most of all, the organization will portray an aura of “Humble Exceptionalism,” a utilitarian attitude with individuals that appreciate they are part of something greater than themselves.

Only after a Center of Excellence is implemented and total “buy-in” is achieved at every level, from ownership and team administrators down to the athletic trainers, will success become instinctive. Winning, in other words, becomes a habit.

Any antipathy for the aforementioned sports organizations is simply a matter of preference. Love them or hate them, results speak for themselves.

Ultimately, to achieve this same level of sustained high performance and winning continuity, a COE must be established. Once the standard is set, it must be repeatedly met.

Further Reading: Building Your Center of Excellence: 5 Principles of High Reliability Organizations (HROs).


To learn more about the value of Building your Center of Excellence, send an email to: [email protected] and let’s discuss how CATSHOT Group can help your organization reach optimal performance!

Also published on Medium.