Winning in football doesn’t start on the pitch. Its foundation takes shape when organizations hire the right people who share the right values and are committed to the right purpose. Essentially, winning teams are an extension of cohesive cultures that span locker room to C-suite.
In the NFL, winning football is all about skill and strategy: honing the fundamentals and mastering the playbooks, running down the line and outsmarting the cover. Long before games are played, they are won and lost in various other ways. This includes the Los Angeles Rams, 2022 Super Bowl champions. For example, the analysis team identifies opponent tendencies and situational odds to help coaches make the best decisions. Sports scientists develop protocols to minimize player wear and maximize repeat play. On the business side, the sales team packs the house, while the marketing team oversees brand identity. Specific to the Rams, the Super Bowl run was fueled by a high-risk strategy, where the front office piled the roster with high-paying ringers thanks to their uncanny ability to build depth with young talent at low cost.
“THE SUCCESS IS NOT ENDED”
Most fans associate the Rams with elite talent like Aaron Darnold, Matthew Stafford and Jalen Ramsey. Behind the scenes, you’ll find another differentiator: Jacques McClendon. Although his title is director of football affairs, his role is truly a jack-of-all-trades – the diplomat everyone trusts and the liaison who knows how everything goes. His job is to get everyone – players, coaches, scouts, accountants, salespeople, creatives – all on the same page. And his fingerprints are all over the Rams organization, from game-day fan experience to planning for international expansion.
It’s not easy to be an intermediary. After all, football and business are separated like church and state in most NFL franchises. This means that departments are often pursuing the same goals, just with very different paths and rubrics for success. McClendon’s mission is to act as a bridge, covering potential gaps within the Rams to guard against complacency and strive for excellence in all aspects every day.
“The success isn’t over,” McClendon admitted in a May interview with P&Q. “You don’t just climb the mountain and you’re there. Success is how you evolve and adapt to whatever the moment brings. I think we have a group of people on my team and within the organization who want to do that. I hope being in this situation and having this relay position shows the organization that I want to do it too.
A MORE GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
And McClendon holds herself to similar high standards. This is one of the reasons he enrolled in IE-Brown’s Executive MBA for Working Professionals program in 2021. A 15-month program with a cohort of 53 students, the program includes 5 in-person residencies: 2 in Providence, 2 in Madrid and 1 in Cape Town. McClendon describes IE-Brown as a hybrid program that revolves closely around a group of five-person students. The return on investment from the program came quickly for McClendon. Notably, he began to see football very differently after speaking to a member of the UK cohort who had just been exposed to the sport.
“This classmate talked about the most exciting moment on the day of the match, it was the kick,” he explains. “Why? It’s directly related to football, that they play a lot in England. That’s what they relate to. I think it’s codified that people take things differently from me based on standards that the person is used to. I thought it was cool at the time to have these conversations and stretch myself to think about how other countries might interpret a sport that I watch from some way.
McClendon himself personifies the American spirit of always growing and never giving up. He grew up in Cleveland, Tennessee – home to 45,000 people – to a single mother. He describes himself as the “free lunch kid” who always took walks here and there. Early on, McClendon also recognized the value of education, which led him to seek to take advantage of all the opportunities around him. Often finding himself home alone, McClendon made one of his first life-changing decisions when he decided to attend boarding school beginning in the 8th grade.
“I made this decision based on the possibility of being less of a financial burden on my mother,” he explains. I always thought, ‘How can I be professionally and financially self-sufficient and put myself in a position where I wasn’t growing up?’ I always think back to that moment: you find ways to think bigger. You find ways to make yourself uncomfortable. I think that’s how I work now… The opportunities are limitless. You have to be ready to jump when they come.
AN ACADEMIC AND ATHLETIC STAR
And McClendon had a knack for rising to the occasion. In high school, he was named Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year, an award that honors both athletic achievement and academic prowess. After earning a football scholarship to the University of Tennessee, he made the SEC All-Academic team three times. In 2010, he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, embarking on a 7-year career where he played 25 games for 6 clubs (including 5 starts). After retiring, McClendon joined the Los Angeles Rams as director of player engagement, where he focused on helping players with life skills, professional development and educational activities. . Last year, he was promoted to his current role, where he manages a 5-member team that acts as air traffic control, aligning organizational strategy between business and Rams home football.
Away from football, McClendon became heavily involved in sports ventures. He serves on the advisory board of the Black Sports Business Symposium, which is holding its inaugural gathering June 16-18 in Atlanta. Additionally, he was named Co-Vice Chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics Racial Equity Task Force. Despite these high profile selling points, her greatest passion is family. A husband and father of three, McClendon is unquestionably on the fast track to executive leadership in the NFL. Yet this newly created MBA thinks his greatest success will ultimately come down to being a father.
“When they see me, I want them to see a father, but also someone they can look up to and give them the tools they need to achieve what they want so they can be anything. what. I want to provide the time, the resources and the opportunity for them to do so. It’s my greatest passion: to make sure my family stays intact and whole and to live a life conducive to the American dream.
It’s already been a huge year for Jacque McClendon: a Super Bowl title in February and an MBA in May. What were the biggest lessons McClendon learned from the Executive MBA program? What advice would he give to future candidates? And what was it like to be part of a Super Bowl champion. These are some questions that P&Q posed to McClendon. From classmates to career goals, here are his experiences as an MBA…and beyond.
P&Q: Tell me about your role with the Los Angeles Rams? What does your daily life look like?
JM: “I am the director of football affairs. What it looks like from a day-to-day perspective is that I have the opportunity to have high-level points of contact with our leadership while serving as a liaison between the football operations side and the business side from a communications point of view. It’s all about a lot of things we do as an organization. As a former player, it was really cool to see the bigger picture and be involved in so many different directions to help the organization grow. This role gave me a great opportunity to be a part of it.
The Rams are split into two buildings. Our commercial side is located in Agoura Hills. Our football operations are in Thousand Oaks. What sometimes happens is that there are lines of communication that need to be maintained in order for us to operate as a business. I have been knighted to be one of those people who drive these conversations. I have weekly meetings with our media team and find out how we intertwine our players, staff and football operations in the programming they do. I have weekly meetings with our community team and learn how we can intertwine our football staff and staff in some of our community activations. And I also act as a liaison on game day, on how we activate, invest and amplify what Coach [Sean McVay] and [General Manager] Less Snead is trying to do from a game day football building perspective.
My position is on the football operations side of our organization. I received a promotion about a year ago and am now a liaison for several departments on our commercial side, such as ticketing and premium seating. As I mentioned, I serve as a communication bridge between our football and business operations. I am very fortunate to have such dynamic executive leadership within our organization which has allowed me to have high level points of contact across multiple aspects of our football business. Whether it’s touchpoints in our draft process, league-wide and internal diversity efforts, or among other business and football functions, my day-to-day is very dynamic. No two days are the same. This is my first job outside of playing in the NFL; were blessed with a lot of knowledge about how an entire NFL operation works and what it takes to keep everything clicking just by having the opportunity to be “in the room”. It’s really amazing to me to see how much you learn from the people you work with and for. Coach McVay always says, “We compete with our programs, but we win with our people.”
P&Q: What has been your greatest achievement so far in your role?
JM: ” It’s hard to say. Hope you haven’t had it yet. You are always pushing the needle, always trying to improve. For me, it’s knowing that I’m finding ways to fully integrate the way we do things on the football and business side. What happens when you have two separate buildings is that you might not always be on the same page, so I think I’m part of that solution to make it better. I know it’s not perfect and we continue to have tough conversations so it can get better. I think that is also success. The success is not over. You don’t just climb the mountain and you’re there. Success is how you evolve and adapt to whatever the moment brings. I think we have a group of people on my team and within the organization who want to do that. I hope being in this situation and having this relay position shows the organization that I want to do it too.