Lessons in Teamwork and Leadership From Former NFL Linebacker Rennie Curran

On this week’s episode of The Playbook, host Mark Collier, business consultant for the UGA Small Business Development Center, is joined by Rennie Curran, three-time All American team MVP, Butkus Award finalist, and permanent team captain at the University of Georgia. He finished his Bulldog career as one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the program.

In 2010, Curran entered the NFL draft and played with the Tennessee Titans, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Edmonton Eskimos, and the BC Lions. Curran is now a keynote speaker, author, and leadership coach. He speaks to Fortune 500 companies and a variety of organizations on topics such as leadership, team building, overcoming adversity, and high performance.

Transcription:

Mark Collier:
Welcome into The Playbook, Rennie.

Rennie Curran:
Thanks so much for having me, Mark.

Mark Collier:
All right. Hey man, you’re a true UGA legend. I thank you for taking the time to come into the studio today and converse with me on my program, man.

Rennie Curran:
Definitely, not a problem.

Mark Collier:
Tell me a little bit more. We all know about your past, but tell me a little bit more about what you’re doing now as a speaker and a coach.

Rennie Curran:
Yeah, man. I love it and a lot of what I do actually derived from my experiences as a linebacker, man. Being on the field, serving as a team captain. I was one of those that always gave that pre-game speech and did a lot of post-game interviews and whatnot, man. As I rose in my level of influence and really was able to get out there and get some success, I realized, man, that I had an opportunity and responsibility to give back and to really just pour back into those, especially the next up and coming generation.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Rennie Curran:
That’s where it really started for me, in terms of speaking and being able to go back to schools. I was one of those kids who was on the free and reduced lunch meals. I was a kid who always needed a ride home, needed a scholarship, needed an opportunity. It was always a just big mission for me, man, to give back. The more I did that, the more I just started to build that skill of public speaking, working with schools, working with churches. It eventually got to the level of opportunity where I could present to corporations and rotary clubs and associations. That’s primarily what I do now, as mentioned before. I work with a lot of different companies. I’ve worked with Chick-fil-A, SunTrust, Wells Fargo. Equitable, just recently spoke to their group. But really just discussing different principles that cover leadership, teamwork, and performance. Love just the opportunity to present to different groups, to help them take their business, their brand, their leadership ability to the next level.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic, man. I’ll tell you what, the transition oftentimes from the gridiron to the workplace, it’s a difficult one. And role models like you, who are able to successfully make that transition, you set the stage for the generations behind you, man. Kudos to you on that.

Rennie Curran:
Thank you so much.

Mark Collier:
All right. What were some of the favorite things about your career as an athlete and how did your career prepare you for your life now as an entrepreneur?

Rennie Curran:
I appreciate that question, man. I mean, one of the most favorite things about being an athlete was not necessarily being on the field. It was the things I did to build those relationships, man, with my teammates in the locker room. Most athletes you talk to, that’s what’s going to come up. Just those memories, the inside jokes. Just the days that you have competing, you’re working extremely hard. But at the end of the day, you form this bond that’s unbreakable. I have guys that I can call on right now that I know if anything’s going down, they’re going to show up for me. It’s a special thing. I talk to guys in other industries, military, and other just high performing career paths and it’s a lot of the similarities there, man, that make it really, really special.

Rennie Curran:
And a lot of the things that once again, I was able to take from the game was leadership was the mindset piece, was delayed gratification. Working hard for something, knowing that it’s going to be a certain amount of time before you reap the benefits and the rewards.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Rennie Curran:
Just being in that position that you don’t necessarily want to be in, but knowing that you’re a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. Having to go out there, sacrifice, work extremely hard, trusting that person next to you to know that they have a job to do and you do too, so that you all can be successful. These are some of the things that have now helped me as I’m going out speaking to different corporations and working with different people, one on one as a coach, to really give them that perspective that really helps them to improve their performance and just really look at whatever challenge they may be facing and see an opportunity in it.

Mark Collier:
No, you mentioned something earlier about delayed gratification. That’s a tough principle for young folks to grasp and get their arms around because they want it now, they want it now, they want it now.

Rennie Curran:
Oh, yeah.

Mark Collier:
In many respects, you’ve made that transition seem easy, but I’m sure it wasn’t always easy.

Rennie Curran:
Oh, no.

Mark Collier:
That’s a transition to my next question. Share with me what was the hardest part about transitioning from the athletic field to the corporate environment?

Rennie Curran:
Man, there is so many tough aspects to it. I mean, we’re all going through transition right now in life. You look at the pandemic and just how many people have either transitioned job-wise or just location, proximity. They’re not in the office anymore and people have lost their loved ones. I mean, so many of us are going through transitions in some aspect and area of life. When I look at my transition from athlete to now being an entrepreneur in the business world, I mean, one of the toughest things was just really establishing or I say reestablishing my own self-worth. Just how I looked at myself. I’m no longer in front of 90,000 fans, getting cheered on and whatnot. I’m no longer this big athlete who walks in and is recognized.

Rennie Curran:
So now I have to humble myself. I have to just go back to the basics, go back to the fundamentals to really learn and reestablish a whole new career in a space that I never thought I’d be in a million years. It really required a lot of humility, it required a lot of determination. It required a lot of the same principles that got me to that highest level in the game of football. I had to learn how to really transfer all those skills, all those experiences into my new life. Then also understand that even though I’m going to this new life, there’s still certain things that’s part of my wiring that are going to help me be successful. So it’s still about that mindset, still about that perseverance. It’s still about delayed gratification, still about having the right team around me.

Rennie Curran:
That’s what I would say was one of the toughest things was just reestablishing that mindset of self-worth and just believing that I have what it takes to move on to the next level. Because it is extremely, extremely tough. You can look at people in other industries and find they have the same challenges. Whether they’re retiring or they were once in a leadership position and now a new regime comes in. There’s a lot of transferables there.

Mark Collier:
No, I mean, you raise a very good point because you go from that stage where you are a pro athlete, to you were a pro athlete. A lot of those transitions happen with career professionals, as well. You are a CEO, then you were a CEO. Again, a lot of that dealing with that, working through the various challenges that come with that. Again, you’ve done it tremendously well.

Rennie Curran:
Thank you.

Mark Collier:
All right. What advice would you give to people who are thinking about transitioning into entrepreneurship? What are the top three or four thing in terms of advice that you would share with them?

Rennie Curran:
Yeah, the first thing I would say is you have to start with the self-inventory. That means sitting down with yourself and just taking that time, getting out that sheet of paper and writing down all the current skills, experiences and just resources that you possess right now. If you walked away from that company, if you walked away from that current career that you have right now, what are the ways that you can add value to the marketplace right now?

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Rennie Curran:
That’s the first step. You have to really assess where you are, where you’re going, those types of things. And then from there, that creates the opportunity for you to identify now, who are those relationships that I have? Because that’s one of the toughest things as an entrepreneur, it seems like you’re just on this lonely road by yourself.

Mark Collier:
On an island.

Rennie Curran:
You against the world. Yeah, you really have to identify what I call your low hanging fruits.

Mark Collier:
There you go.

Rennie Curran:
Those are the people who whether they’re at your church, your past colleagues, maybe your former teammates. Those people who you could pick up one phone call and you have now an opportunity. That’s the second place that I would start.

Rennie Curran:
Then the third place I would really look at is what are the most realistic options that I have based off my relationships and based off that self inventory? What’s the best lane that’s going to be that path of least resistance? As an entrepreneur, first thing you have to do is generate that revenue, you have to stay afloat. The easiest way to do that is by combining those three elements, man. Is by looking at just that self-evaluation sheet, seeing what skills I have, the relationships and based off of that, what’s the best lane?

Rennie Curran:
That’s the process I went through, man, for myself. Being that athlete who was back home. I got cut after my second year and I was back in Snowville, just wondering what was going to happen next. What’s going to happen in my career. I went through that same exact process. And for me, it landed on communicating, it landed on writing. That was two things that I always loved to do and things that I got a lot of experience doing while at University of Georgia. Even before that, did like I said, tons of interviews, pregame speeches. I already had the reps and I knew that I had tons of relationships with high school principals and head coaches. So if nothing else, my bread and butter, I could just go and I could speak and I could make $500 bucks here and there. I used that to segue into other things like coaching and like writing my first book and it just led to so many other opportunities.

Mark Collier:
Phenomenal. I mean, you mentioned that second principle. You talked about assessing, talked about your network, and then talked about finding that path of least resistance. That second one to me is very important, the network. I heard a saying a long time ago; your network determines your net worth. In many ways that is absolutely true because the people you choose to surround yourself with, those are relationships you’ll be leveraging to hopefully advance your career in the future.

Rennie Curran:
Oh, yeah. I totally agree. Another statistic I’ve seen is that over 85% of jobs are filled through networking, through word of mouth. So it’s extremely important. That’s one of the places that I started, was just going to different network events, workshops, and just putting myself out there, which I think is another important part. This is whether you’re an entrepreneur or whether you have a job. I believe you should always constantly be building your network.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely, absolutely. Public speaking, a lot of people are afraid of that, man. That’s pretty high on the phobia list.

Rennie Curran:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Mark Collier:
What are some of your tips for people who have a fear of public speaking and some of your tips and tricks for overcoming that?

Rennie Curran:
Yeah, I love helping people when it comes to public speaking. Whether just getting ready for a major presentation, or they’re getting ready to do a sales gig, or trying to get a job, man. That’s one of my favorite things. One of the things I always tell people is that number one, this takes a lot of pressure off of people, regardless of how great your speech is, or your presentation is, people only remember on average about 35% of your speech. I mean, think about how many speeches you’ve heard in your lifetime. I mean, I’m talking about Barack Obama, the greatest speeches in the world, [inaudible 00:12:12]. How much from that speech do you actually remember? You may remember one or two. I’m talking about Martin Luther King. Most people only remember, “I have a dream.” That’s the first thing, is just understanding that people’s retention level is not that high as it is. So if you stutter, if you say one thing that didn’t go right in your head, it’s really not that big a deal.

Rennie Curran:
The second thing I would say to people who struggle with public speaking is instead of when you’re in front of an audience, focusing on yourself because that’s a lot of times what happens, is we’re focused on ourselves. How do I sound? How do I look? How are they going to receive me? Focus on your audience. Literally, when I get in front of an audience, I’ll tell myself, as I’m looking at the audience, “Man, somebody in that audience may be going through something that I have no clue about and I have an opportunity to say one thing that may change their life, may change their perspective, may take them to another level.” Once you focus on those things, adding value to those who you’re speaking to and make it all about them, instead about yourself sounding right, then it takes a lot of that pressure off.

Rennie Curran:
And the last tip I would give to improve public speaking, is just focus on your breathing. A lot of times before we get called up to speak and as we’re getting introduced, that’s when that fight or flight with your brain and your mental kicks in. Your sympathetic nervous system kicks in, your heart starts beating fast, your palms start sweating. You get all out of whack. So if you focus on controlled breathing, I call it four by four breathing. Four seconds in, four seconds out before your presentation, it’ll engage that parasympathetic nervous system, calm you down, lower your heart rate. And it’ll get you into a better state where you can be able to better recall your thoughts and be able to communicate in an effective way. Yeah, those are my three tips.

Mark Collier:
I love it, man. Rennie Curran, University of Georgia, alumnus extraordinaire. I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to come in and talk about the importance of personal branding, the importance of public speaking, and the importance of leveraging that network, man. I really appreciate you taking the time to come in today.

Rennie Curran:
Yes, sir. Thanks so much for having me. Go Dogs.

Mark Collier:
All right.


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