Exclusive Interview With Former Bronco Karl Mecklenburg

I was recently lucky enough to have the chance to speak with former Broncos linebacker, Karl Mecklenburg. Mecklenburg played 12 hard-nosed seasons with the Broncos after being selected in the 12th round of the 1983 draft. You wouldn’t guess that he played JV football in his junior year of high school, and then went to a DII college for a couple of years before being taken out of Minnesota late in the draft. Mecklenburg worked his way to 3 Super Bowl appearances and 6 Pro Bowl honors despite chopping his own path to the NFL with his own bare hands.

The perfect guy to write a book guiding parents and their student athletes through life, Mecklenburg just published his first book titled, “Heart of a Student Athlete: All Pro Advice for Competitors and their Families“.  

Mecklenburg has been a motivational speaker since retiring from the NFL, and that’s where his passion lies. He speaks in front of teams of all kinds. Sports teams and corporate teams are included because according to Mecklenburg, “So many people out there don’t understand teamwork. It’s about replacing the ‘me’ with ‘we’.” Mecklenburg says that’s how a successful group functions. His motivation for writing the book was to have these lessons at an arm’s length well after his speeches are over.  

“A lot of people listen to me speak, and are fired up, but it fades as time goes on”, he says.  

Heart of a Student Athlete goes into detail about key components to a well rounded student athlete. These include: Courage, dedication, desire, leadership, forgiveness of the self, and goal setting. The book is not just about football. Mecklenburg also talks about his childhood, hunting, and his family.

He says, “The vast majority of pro athletes are well-rounded athletes as well as well-rounded people.”

When I asked him what advice he would give to a student athlete who isn’t the best player on the team, but still wants to be a leader, Mecklenburg broke leadership down into “The 4 C’s.” These include 1. Community (the team is important to you, it’s a ‘we’ instead of ‘me’ philosophy), 2. Commitment (how commited are you to the team’s passion), 3. Consistency (maintaining the enthusiasm and team’s beliefs), and 4. Clarity. None of these things say anything about talent, yet it’s often these sorts of leaders that make a team successful.

Mecklenburg has plenty of experience implementing these lessons. He’s coached his own childrens’ sports team at many levels, and he’s seen it play out at the professional level.

One of the big keys to the Broncos success this season is a shift in attitude from “me” to “we.” Jay Cutler was more concerned about his stats, and that doesn’t suit a Josh McDaniels’ type offense.

Mecklenburg said that this new Broncos approach “is more about ball control and low risk passing. It’s a pedestrian, grind it out kind of offense. The team wanted to get away from the run and gun style to limit mistakes.”

The off season moves were about “getting people to buy into the system, and bringing in leaders. It was more about bringing in the character guys”, he says.

The two consistent losses after the bye week can be easily explained according to Mecklenburg. During the bye, teams evaluate other teams to see what weaknesses can be exposed. Baltimore had the same bye week as Denver and used their time to notice Denver’s defensive tendencies. They saw that the Broncos were rotating guys into their defensive scheme very quickly. That’s why Joe Flacco ran the no huddle offense, even though it’s uncharacteristic of the Ravens. The Steelers saw the Ravens were successful with this, so Ben Roethlisberger went to the no huddle as well. They also found some weaknesses in the Broncos offensive line. The season is so long that it’s all about making adjustments as you go along. The teams that can do that successfully make it far into the playoffs.

To get back on track this week against the Redskins, Mecklenburg says, “They’ve got to protect Orton. He’s gun shy. He got so beat up in Chicago that when he starts to feel some pressure, that throws his game out of whack.”

A second way to get back on track according to Mecklenburg is to “Run the ball more effectively. Peyton Hillis needs to get involved more and a shift in the blocking scheme could be effective, so we’re not so one dimensional.”

There is still a lot of season left, but I wanted to ask Mecklenburg if he could compare this year’s squad to any of the former Broncos’ Super Bowl teams. He said they’re similar to the 1989 squad because they “cleaned house” before the season started. A lot of old guys left and they brought in a lot of rookies that could make an impact immediately. They went to the Super Bowl in ’86 and ’87, but feel apart in ’88. When that new infusion of talent came in, they got back to the big game.

Who says change is such a bad thing?

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