From NFL Champ To Entrepreneur: This Is Why You Don’t Quit

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What can you achieve if you just don't quit?

We’ve all faced rejection in work and life, and in those moments it can be difficult to discern when we need to persist despite the naysayers, and when it’s time to readjust our goals. How do you know if something is a bump in the road, or a sign that things may not come together?

Gary Brackett personifies tenacity and persistence. Despite his passion and talent for football in high school, no Division 1 colleges recruited him. He went to Rutgers and as a walk-on, he earned a spot on the team and became the team captain and won MVP in both his junior and senior years. But once again, his potential was overlooked when he went undrafted by the NFL, because scouts didn't think he was big enough to play at the highest level. Again, he showed up anyway. He went to Indianapolis and as an undrafted free agent, he won a job on the Colts as a middle linebacker, and in 2006, just his second year as a starter, he was chosen as defensive team captain and led the team to the Super Bowl where they beat the Chicago Bears.

I recently interviewed Gary for the LEADx Podcast, where we talked about the art of never giving up.

Kevin Kruse: After retiring from the NFL, you got an MBA from Rutgers and bought a franchise called Stacked Pickles. Why keep going when you could be relaxing?

Gary Brackett: I don't think Bill Gates is relaxing, Warren Buffett for sure is not relaxing. Jeff Bezos who just took over wealthiest person in the world, he doesn't relax, right? I think for me, what happened when I retired, and I was golfing—I'm a horrible golfer, if I break 100, it is a great day on the golf course—I'm golfing, my wife who's a doctor, she just graduated this year, and she's at medical school and she's doing residency at the time, and she's putting in 90 hours a week at work, and here Dad comes home with a golf bag, two or three beers in me, right?

My son who's now about to turn six, was three at the time, he looked at me and was like, “Dad, what do you want to do when you grow up?” I was like, “You don't see this house? You don't see these trophies? Super bowl ring? Like, what do you mean what do I want to do when I grow up?” But it was a serious question because he didn't know me as a football player, as a Super Bowl champion, right? He knew me as Dad, the guy who goes and golfs with his buddies and comes home slightly intoxicated. At that moment, I was like, “Man, for my kids, I've got to show them hunger, desire,” right? That life is more than going golfing with your buddies.

At that time I was like, “Man, I need to sharpen the saw.” That's when I enrolled in the MBA and got my MBA because I feel like we all have toolboxes, and sometimes the tools get pretty dull in our toolbox, but I feel like going to get my MBA was an opportunity for me to sharpen all the tools that I had in my toolbox that I was going to use for the rest of my life.

Kruse: So Stacked Pickle, you've got nine locations, is that right?

Brackett: Now. We just signed a lease on our tenth location, so we're going through the process of the building, so hopefully that will be open in November. We actually just started franchising about two months ago, almost three months ago. We have three or four people that are very close to signing on to be franchisees, taking Stacked Pickle outside of Indiana, so we’re very excited. We always field calls every week about different opportunities, so I'm extremely excited where we're positioned as a value-driven brand, and I really feel like something that's going to be welcoming to a lot of suburban neighborhoods in a lot of different areas around the US.

Kruse: What makes the Stacked Pickle unique? Why do people love it so much?

Brackett: I think we pride ourselves on legendary service. We pride ourselves in knowing our consumer when they come into our doors. I think our food is very good. A lot of our food is made fresh and prepped in the background. There's daily specials in there, so I believe the value proposition from a consumer standpoint is amazing. I mean, you can go in there with a family of four, feed them for under 30 bucks, where you go to most restaurants, it's $50-$60. For that reason, we get people coming to us two and three times a week. We have healthy options on our menu which is definitely a trend now and it's not going away.

We have over 10 salads, we have rice bowls on our menu. It's a really approachable menu. It's something that does work very well for us in this market.

Kruse: I assume that in any location your restaurant manager is key. Is that right?

Brackett: Two things, it's a lot of more, but your location and your manager are the most important things in having a successful restaurant.

Kruse: What advice would you give to a new manager? 

Brackett: For me, I would just say know your personnel and know yourself, right? A lot of people, they go into situations and they don't seek first to understand their personnel, on what makes things tick. Sometimes people go and the only tool in their toolbox is a hammer, so they just lead with a hammer. Well, my management style is that you don't treat everyone equal, you treat everyone fair.

The people that are inside your four walls that's been on time for the last three years, that's for one week when she's dealing with her car problems, she's been late, versus the guy who's been on for three months and he's been late every week since the day he started. They're not the same individual. Understanding both of those scenarios and treating them very differently inside our restaurant is what really buys loyalty and buy-in from our staff.

Kruse: People say standards should come from teams, and a coach should be a last resort. What did you see working for different coaches?

Brackett: I think for me, the coaches that I worked for, I think that common sense principle prevail. So many times, like you said, people stick to rules that make no sense, right? When I speak to my managers I'm always challenging them on why we do things a certain way, and the correct answer is not because we've always done it this way, right? Because if we always did it this way, we've never been successful at it, so why do we continue to do that? Why don't we look at different alternatives? I think the people that coached me, Coach Dungy, Coach Caldwell, I mean, Coach Caldwell would always say, “I'm stubborn about my goals and flexible about my methods.”

For me, you talked about those standards and those mission statements, that's something that we're passionate about. That's something that I'm stubborn about, but how we get there, in order for us to continue to grow 10 stores, 500 employees, I can't micromanage every person at every situation. I can tell them what our goals are and I can tell you what our values are, and then it's up to them to be a manager, and have some flexibility, and make some decisions that they feel like was going to be best inside their restaurant.

Kruse: I always challenge our listeners to try to become 1% better every single day. I'm hoping you'll give us a challenge.

Brackett: I think for me, my big thing is be intentional about your success. I tell people, “Hope is not a strategy.” If you're going to be successful, have a plan and work your plan. The night before, Sunday night in my opinion, is the most important day of the week, because that's when you get to map out your week, what meetings you have, what background information you should do, what clothes you're going to wear. All that stuff you can handle on Sunday night, then throughout the week you can have a successful week because you set yourself up for success. There's so many people that look at their calendar and they're like, “All right, what's tomorrow? Oh, I forgot about that. I've got to read this paper.”

Well, they set themselves up for success, they won't run into that situation, so that's one thing that's big for me. When we have meetings, I want you prepared. I want you to read anything that you need to read before we enter to our meeting and I don't want to meet just for the sake of meeting. I want to be able to make decisions. I want people that are educated, that did their back work so then we go to a meeting, it's time to make a decision, and not plan on meeting again to discuss the same thing because we have folks that weren't prepared.

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.

CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at