By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Joe Lombardi did not attend the Air Force Academy with the intention of becoming a football coach. In fact, his father warned him against the profession, just as Joe’s grandfather, the great Vince Lombardi, had cautioned Joe’s father, Vince Jr.
The Super Bowl trophy bears the name of Joe’s grandpa, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971 after coaching the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championship victories in a seven-year span. Vince’s success did not sway his opinion, however, about the career path his son wanted to take.
“I think when you come from a football family, you’re encouraged not to get into football,” Joe said in his introductory press conference as the new offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. “My dad went off to college and told his dad he wanted to be a football coach, he was going to major in physical education, and his dad said, ‘Well that’s fine, but I’m not paying for a cent of your college then. You’re going to be a lawyer.’ So my dad went to law school.”
Joe encountered the same resistance from Vince Jr., so Joe tried to pursue another path. Like his father, who eventually got into football management, Joe just could not quite resist the lure of the sport he grew up around.
“[My dad] said, ‘Hey listen, do something else. There’s a lot of stress involved, it’s hard on the family,’” Joe recounted. “You don’t go to the Air Force Academy with the thought you’re going to be a football coach, but when I graduated and that first football season came around where I wasn’t involved with a football team, it felt like something was missing.
“My dad said, ‘Look, if you can live without it, do it. Don’t coach. If you can live without it, don’t coach. If you can’t live without it, I don’t know what to tell you,’” Joe continued. “I felt like I couldn’t live without it, so it kind of came on me a little late. I was hoping to avoid it.”
Joe did not know his grandfather, who died in 1970, so he remembers Vince Sr. like many others do – from the TV specials that herald his historic accomplishments as a football coach. Of course, Joe has the extra insight from his father, who prepared Joe and his siblings for the pressure they would face having such a famous grandfather.
“My dad’s 5-foot-9, maybe he played football at 190 or something, but he was billed as a 6-foot-3, 230-pound All-American,” Joe recalled, “so there were certainly some expectations he had to deal with. I think because of that my dad prepared us very well as children to handle that pressure.
“I knew that when I became a coach that no matter how well I did, I was never going to be Vince Lombardi,” Joe continued, “so I don’t have that pressure hanging over my head. I’m just going to try to be the best Joe Lombardi I can.”