Football players are often seen as larger than life, hero-like, and even unapproachable. Matt Ryan proved to be an exception to the stereotype. While he is certainly one of Boston College’s football heroes, he is humble and approachable, and looks kind of skinny. He’s a down-to-earth guy.
On Wednesday night, Ryan and his wife Sarah, both BC ’07, spoke to students at the Brennan Symposium in Leadership and Ethics, run through the Carroll School of Management. Topics ranged from properly fostering teamwork and chemistry as leaders to the lessons they both have learned through their life experiences as athletes. The event ended with general questions from the audience.
Many of the questions the Ryans fielded about lessons they learned were life lessons that they wanted to pass on to the students. As an athlete, there are a lot of highs and lows that come day-to-day through the season, and part of the process of becoming successful is learning how to deal with that rollercoaster.
Ryan has clearly had many rollercoasters, like any other athlete, but the one he emphasized was the swing from winning 13 games in the 2012 season, riding on what he called a “six-month high,” to winning only four games in the 2013 season, where each week was difficult.
“One of the biggest things you have to learn is staying even keel,” Ryan said. “It’s been a hard lesson to learn, because for a lot of your life, a lot of guys in the NFL have never really had a hard time, but it’s a reality check because a lot of the guys there are really talented.”
Both of the Ryans emphasized the need for good chemistry and teamwork in order for an organization to be successful. Matt said that the teams with the best chemistry were the winning teams. Sarah stressed the presence of senior leaders when she came to the BC women’s basketball team as a freshman, saying how large a role their locker room presence played in making the team a cohesive unit.
When talking about the 2007 BC football team that beat Michigan State in the Champs Sports Bowl, Matt likened the team dynamic to a Native American camp.
“We had a great mix of chiefs and Indians,” Ryan said. “We had certain guys that knew how to be a leader, but we also had the other guys who had to do the grunt work.”
He said that an important part of a team was this combination of leaders that knew how to lead and bring out the best of everyone else and other people who knew that it was their job to follow and learn.
Matt also highlighted the need for a common purpose and direction for a team to be successful. As his offensive coordinator liked to tell him in college, “you have to drive your bus, and your bus is going in this direction, and you have to get everyone on your bus. If you have people going in the wrong direction you got to get them off the bus.”
There are always going to be people whose bus doesn’t go in the same direction as yours, Ryan said, and in the NFL those people are usually gone quickly. He said that in college it is the leader’s job to try and get those buses back on track.
“You have to find what motivates people,” Ryan said. “Finding what is your teammates’ ‘why,’ and getting them back on track.”
Attending BC was a major part of the Ryans’ lives and both of them touched on how it prepared them for their post-graduate careers. Sarah acknowledged that the academics and the athletics prepared her through hard work, as she developed a tremendous work ethic that she still practices today. Matt recognized the importance of the network BC provided to him, and of his communication major, which he said prepared him to lead a successful life if the NFL did not pan out.
“There could not have been a better major to prepare me for being a quarterback in the NFL and the things it asked me to do off the field,” he said.
Matt parted with wisdom about fostering good chemistry through developing close, personal relationships.
“When you live with someone in Walsh, you are close with them,” Ryan said.
Whether they were aspiring residents of Walsh Hall or upperclassmen, BC students in attendance understood exactly what he was talking about.