Winning football doesn’t start on the field. Its foundation takes shape when organizations hire the right people who share the right values and commit to the right purpose. In essence, winning teams are the extension of consistent cultures that stretch from the locker room to the c-suite.
In the NFL, winning football is equated with talent and strategy: honing fundamentals and mastering playbooks, wearing down the line and outmaneuvering the coverage. Long before games are played, they are won and lost in a variety of other ways. That includes the 2022 Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams. For example, the analytics team pinpoints opponent tendencies and situational odds to help coaches make the best decisions. The sports scientists develop protocols to minimize player wear-and-tear and maximize game reps. On the business side, the sales team packs the house, while the marketing team guards brand identity. Specific to the Rams, the Super Bowl run was fueled by a high risk strategy, where the front office stacked the roster with high-paid ringers thanks to their uncanny ability to build depth with low-cost young talents.
“SUCCESS IS NOT FINITE”
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. While his title is Director of Football Affairs, his role is really jack-of-all-trades — the diplomat who everyone trusts and the liaison who knows how everything runs. His job is to get everyone — players, coaches, scouts, accountants, sales reps, creatives — all on the same page. And his fingerprints are everywhere in the Rams organization, be it game day fan experience or international expansion planning.
It isn’t easy being a go-between. After all, the football and business sides are separated like church-and-state in most NFL franchises. That means departments are often chasing the same ends, just with very different pathways and rubrics for success. McClendon’s mission is to act as a bridge, spanning potential gaps within the Rams to guard against complacency and strive for excellence in every aspect every day.
“Success is not finite,” McClendon admits in a May interview with P&Q. “You don’t just climb the mountain and you’re there. Success is how you’re evolving and adapting 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. Hopefully, being in this situation and having this bridge position shows the organization that I want to do that as well.
A MORE GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
And McClendon holds himself to similar high standards. That’s one reason why he enrolled in IE-Brown’s Executive MBA for Working Professionals program in 2021. A 15-month program with a 53-student cohort, the program includes 5 in-person residences: 2 in Providence, 2 in Madrid, and 1 in Cape Town. McClendon describes IE-Brown as a hybrid program that revolves closely around a five-person student group. The ROI from the program came quickly for McClendon. Notably, he began to view football far differently after speaking to a cohort member from the United Kingdom who had been newly-exposed to the sport.
“This classmate talked about the most exciting moment on game day was the kicking,” he explains. “Why? That directly correlates with soccer, which they play heavily in England. That’s what they relate to. I think it codified that people take things differently than I do based upon the cultural norms that person is used to. I thought it was cool in that moment to have those conversations and stretch myself to think about how other countries might interpret a sport that I look at in a certain way.”
McClendon himself personifies the always keep growing and never give up spirit of Americana. He grew up in Cleveland, Tennessee — home to 45,000 people — to a single mother. He describes himself as the “free lunch kid” who was always getting rides here-and-there. Early on, McClendon also recognized the value of education, which resulted in him looking to capitalize on every opportunity around him. Often finding himself alone at home, McClendon made one of his first defining decisions when he decided to attend boarding school starting in 8th grade.
“I made that decision predicated on the opportunity to be less of a financial burden to my mother,” he explains. I’ve always thought, ‘How can I be self-sufficient from a career and financial perspective and put me in a position that I wasn’t growing up?’ I always look back to that moment: You find ways to think bigger. You find ways to make yourself uncomfortable. I think I operate like that now…Opportunities are boundless. You have to be willing to jump when they arise.”
AN ACADEMIC AND ATHLETIC STAR
And McClendon had a knack for rising to the occasion. In high school, he was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Tennessee, 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 assisting players with life skills, professional development, and educational pursuits. Last year, he was promoted to his current role, where he manages a team of 5 members who act as air traffic control, aligning organizational strategy between the business and football sides of the Rams’ house.
Away from football, McClendon has become heavily involved in sports enterprises. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Black Sports Business Symposium, which holds its inaugural gathering from June 16-18 in Atlanta. In addition, he has been named the Co-Vice Chair for the Racial Equity Task Force for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Despite these high profile outlets, his biggest passion is family. A husband and father to three children, McClendon is unquestionably on the fast track to executive leadership in the NFL. Still, this newly-minted MBA believes his biggest success will ultimately come down to his role as a dad.
“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 that they can be anything. I want to provide the time, resources, and opportunity so they can do that. That is my biggest passion point: Making sure my family stays intact and whole and living a life conducive to the American dream.”
It has already been a huge year for Jacque McClendon: A Super Bowl title in February and an MBA in May. What were the biggest lessons that McClendon learned from executive MBA program? What advice would he give to prospective applicants? And what was it like being part of a Super Bowl champion. These are a few 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 day-to-day look like?
JM: “I’m the Director of Football Affairs. What that looks like from a day-to-day standpoint is that I have the opportunity to have some high level touchpoints with our executives while also serving as the liaison between the football operations side and the business side from a communications standpoint. It is fully intertwined with a lot of the things we’re doing as an organization. As someone who is a former player, it has been real cool to get a bird’s eye view and be involved in so many different directions in helping the organization to grow. This role has given me a great opportunity to be part of that.
The Rams are set apart in two buildings. Our business side is set in Agoura Hills. Our football operations are in Thousand Oaks. What happens sometimes is there are lines of communications that need to be maintained so we operate as a business. I have been knighted to be one of those people who drive those conversations. I have weekly meetings with our media team and figure out how we intertwine our players, staff, and football operations in the programming that they are doing. I have weekly meetings with our community team and to learn how we can intertwine our football personnel and staff in some of our community activations. And I also act as a game day liaison, on how we activate, invest in, and amplify what Coach [Sean McVay] and [General Manager] Less Snead are trying to do from a football building perspective on game day.
My position sits on the Football Operations side of our organization. I was given a promotion about a year ago and now I am a liaison for multiple departments on our business side, such as ticketing and premium seating. As I mentioned, I serve as a bridge of communication between our football and business operations. I am very lucky to have such dynamic executive leadership within our organization, which has given me high level touchpoints across multiple aspects of our football operation. Whether its touchpoints within our draft process, league-wide and internal diversity efforts, or amongst 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; have been lucky to gain a lot of knowledge of how an entire NFL operation works and what it takes to make everything continue to click just by having an opportunity to be “in the room.” It truly is amazing to me how much you learn from the people you work with and for. Coach McVay always says, “We compete with our schemes, but we win with our people.”
P&Q: What has been your biggest success so far in your role?
JM: “That’s hard to say. Hopefully, you haven’t had that yet. You’re always pushing the needle, always trying to get better. For me, it is knowing that I’m finding ways to fully integrate the way we do things on the football and business sides. What happens when you have two separate buildings is you might not always be on the same page, so I feel that I am part of that solution in making it better. I know it’s not perfect and we’re continuing to have hard conversations so it can get better. I think that’s success too. Success is not finite. You don’t just climb the mountain and you’re there. Success is how you’re evolving and adapting 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. Hopefully, being in this situation and having this bridge position shows the organization that I want to do that as well.