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  • Writer's picturePeter Miller

Joining administrators and other head coaches at the high school, we presented the Bell Cow Award to Coach Rice

A Bell Cow Coach provides us a model from whom we can learn deeply and meaningfully about coaching. The term “bell cow” is not just a catchy reference to Wisconsin’s proud dairy heritage, but a useful metaphor for leadership.

Tradition has it that farmers have been known place a large bell around the neck of the “lead cow” in a herd. Knowing that the other cows tend to congregate around the lead cow, the herd can easily be found by the farmer, even in the biggest of fields or roughest of terrains. The farmer listens for the clang of the bell and knows that by finding the bell cow, they’ll find the whole herd.

What’s interesting to note about bell cows is that the other cows naturally follow them. They watch, learn from, and follow the bell cows. Bell cows pace the herd and model the way to go. In a similar fashion, we can each benefit from “bell cows” in our own lives. We can observe, listen to, learn from, and, in some cases, emulate leaders we admire. Bell cow coaches.

The Wisconsin Coaching Project is identifying and honoring Bell Cows throughout the 2021-22 academic year. These leaders change lives. They grow the good around them.

We traveled to Waunakee High School to present football coach Pat Rice with a Bell Cow Award. Fresh off his seventh state title, he's a Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever coach in Wisconsin. We recognize Coach Rice for his elite capacity for adaptive and innovative organizational leadership.

"You have to stay ahead of the curve," Coach told us in a recent SGG podcast interview. Impressively, even amid winning season after winning season, he leads his staff in ongoing, systematic reflection on "where we can get better."

Waunakee's staff is composed of diversely skilled coaches -- from savvy veterans to what Coach Rice refers to as his "tech young guys." He finds purposeful roles for each of them in the evolution and growth of the program.

Sports leaders can learn much from Coach Rice. He is a paces the herd and models a way. To learn more about his journey and how he engaged his team in a comprehensive change process, adopting a new offensive system, listen to his SGG podcast interview:

Leaders coming together to honor Waunakee's Bell Cow!


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