One of the most successful coaches in football history, Vince Lombardi transformed the Green Bay Packers into a dominating force in the National Football League in the 1960s, winning five NFL titles and the first two Super Bowl crowns. Off the field, Lombardi became known for his coaching philosophy and motivational skills, demanding dedication and obedience from his team and promising championships in return.
Vincent Thomas Lombardi was born on June 11, 1913, in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest of five children. Raised Catholic, Lombardi studied for the priesthood for two years before transferring to St. Francis Preparatory High School, where he became a star fullback on the football team. Accepted at Fordham University in 1933, Lombardi spent his first year on the freshman team before being promoted to offensive guard on the varsity team. He graduated with a degree in business in 1937.
After college Lombardi worked for a finance company while taking night classes at Fordham's law school and playing semi-professional football with the Wilmington Clippers. In 1939 Lombardi took a teaching and coaching job at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey, where he taught Latin, algebra, physics and chemistry. He also coached the football, basketball and baseball teams. He married Marie Planitz in 1940.
Lombardi left St. Cecilia in 1947 to accept a coaching position at Fordham. Two years later he was hired to coach the varsity defensive line at the United States Military Academy. Under Earl Blaik, who was widely considered the best coach in the country at the time, Lombardi honed the leadership and coaching skills that would become a hallmark of his later coaching success.
Lombardi's professional football career began in 1954 when he became the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants. Working closely with defensive coordinator Tom Landry and head coach Jim Lee Howell, Lombardi helped to turn the Giants into a championship team in only three years. During Lombardi's five years with the team, the Giants did not have a losing season.
Tired of being an assistant coach, Lombardi accepted a five-year contract as general manager and head coach of the Green Bay Packers. The Packers had won only one game the previous season but Lombardi believed himself up to the challenge. He immediately began cementing his reputation as a demanding coach, creating punishing training regimens and expecting 100-percent dedication from his players. His unrelenting style paid off as Lombardi's Packers defeated the Giants for the National Football League championship on December 31, 1961. For the next eight years the Packers stood alone in the field, winning six divisional titles, five NFL championships, and the first two wins in Super Bowls I and II.
Lombardi retired as head coach in 1968, but retained his position as general manager. Bored without his coaching duties, though, Lombardi became head coach of the Washington Redskins in 1969. He led the Redskins to their first winning record in 14 years. In 1970 the NFL named him its "1960s Man of the Decade."
Diagnosed with intestinal cancer, Lombardi died on September 3, 1970. The following year Lombardi was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame and the Super Bowl trophy was renamed in his honor. ESPN named Lombardi "Coach of the Century" in 2000.