Leading on and off the Field: Timmy Newsome on Life after the Dallas Cowboys
Playing your best game when the world is watching is one thing, but leadership also happens in those hidden acts of service we perform each day—and Timmy Newsome, former running back for the Dallas Cowboys, excels at both. After playing football for America’s Team under iconic Coach Tom Landy, he went on to launch and lead Newtec Business Solutions while serving as an advocate for youth empowerment.
In this Q&A, the 2021 College Football Hall of Fame nominee shares his insights into leading, learning, and giving back in the game of life. The below contains excerpts edited for clarity from our Zoom conversation, which you can see here on our YouTube channel.
Timmy, let’s start with the obvious question. What was it like playing for the Cowboys?
It was a wonderful experience. When I was coming out of college, I really didn’t think they were going to draft me. In fact, there were a couple teams interested but I didn’t think the Cowboys were interested. One of the things that’s remarkable about them is they used to send me a lot of promotional material, and I’d say most of it was of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. My allegiance was to the Green Bay Packers until I started getting all of those centerfolds from the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders! But seriously, I was lucky to go later in those rounds of the NFL draft and they let me in, and I was a very happy man.
They knew a good thing when they saw it. And you’re right about those cheerleaders…my son now has those same cheerleaders pictures on his wall! When talking about what makes a team great, we know good coaching is also a big part of it. You played under the legendary coach Bill Hayes in college. How did he impact your life?
He’s a very positive person. When I was at Winston-Salem State University, the facilities weren’t the best in the world, but in spite of that, he always put a positive spin on what we were trying to do athletically. Eighty percent of his conversations with us was about being positive and staying positive. So, in spite of that environment, we were able to win a lot of football games because of that positive attitude.
It’s hard when you look at a competitor with so many resources and you wonder, ‘How do I compete with that?” I’m hearing that a positive attitude from the leader really does make a difference.
Oh, It’s huge. I would look around and see the despair, but when I would go out on the football field or listen to him in a meeting, it was not something he ever talked about or discussed. He was only focused on the mission and that was to win football games, so that’s what we were able to do.
What about during your time with the Cowboys era under Coach Landry? And were there any teammates who made an impression?
When I got to Dallas, it was a little bit different because everyone is so extraordinarily talented. I was a runner in college and I ran a lot. I was kind of like Dorsett was when he was in college, so we were both kind of doing the same thing. But when I got here, he was a premier runner, so I had to take another role. They moved me to fullback, which was a position that requires a lot of blocking and pass receiving…and so I blocked for him a lot. It was a little bit of an adjustment, but when I understood what my role was, it was easy for me to get into it and understand how to support the team in that way.
What was unique about your career is you pursued your studies in computer science while you were playing professional football. Is that right?
Yes. In those early days of professional sports, the salaries weren’t nearly as abundant as they are now. For example, my base salary my rookie year was only $30,000. And in the off-season when I was working in technology I was making about 30 percent more than that. So, it was something that we all did—not just me. A lot of guys did other things in the off-season to supplement their salaries playing professional sports. It wasn’t until the early 90s that those salaries really began to escalate. But during the 1980s, we really needed second jobs to support our families.
Yes, but not everyone has a second successful career like you. That’s pretty remarkable. Did you see any commonalities between the game you played and this focus of study with computers?
Well, interestingly enough, when I was in college, I soon discovered a lot of commonalities between football and computer science. They are both mathematical. If you ever listen to plays being called in a huddle, it’s basically a mathematical formula, and every guy has to decipher that formula and decide what they need to do for that instance. Computer science is much the same way. It’s a very cryptic language and you have to decipher what it is…so they were very similar in that nature.
So when you look back on your football career, obviously you have tons of accolades and you’re still getting recognition. Do you have any regrets you would like to share?
Athletically, the only regret I have is I wasn’t able to be that premier runner for any sustained period of time. But let’s give credit to Tony Dorsett. He never got hurt, and so he was always available on Sunday afternoon. I used to joke with him to take the weekend off and he would never do it. He was extremely durable, and so I was never able to get enough carries in any particular game…But having said that, I caught the ball a lot and provided some key blocking for him, and I also did some real tough running yards between the tackles. So, it’s not all bad. But if I look back I would have liked to have had the opportunity to carry the ball about 25 or 30 times just once in my career.
Well, sure. But clearly you aren’t somebody to focus on what wasn’t. You moved far ahead and into a new career. Tell us about Newtec Business Solutions.
While I was playing football, as you know, I was a computer programmer-analyst. What we did then was sell automated teller machine software to financial institutions. Once I retired, I decided to open up my own business called Newtec Business Solutions. What we do today is provide managed services for the unified communications products and services industry. We take telephone systems and software and integrate them, kind of like a call-center environment, so that people can transact business with their clients and stakeholders.
You’re obviously very strategic, and you’re a great systems thinker and a great leader. For those of us who can’t follow the technical side as well, I know you have so much practical value in what you bring to businesses. Can you unpack that a little bit more for any business owners or entrepreneurs who might benefit from your services?
I like to pride myself on being able to provide value to prospects and our clients. I really love the certification aspect of learning new things like IBM, Cisco, Dell, and Lenovo, and staying current with new technologies. The value we bring to the table is we can take a lot of technologies and merge them cohesively into one central unit, to where it increases efficiency and reduces the errors a business would normally have without those technologies…[Essentially] we make it possible for people to transact business and play as if they are a major corporation.
Who are your target kinds of companies?
It depends. I have a client that’s only a two-person office but they may have revenue in the millions. And then I have customers at 150 employees. It varies, so…we look at a particular customer and see what kind of software need they may have, and then we try to tailor that particular software to the needs of the customer. We do an analysis to determine the best fit. That’s how we start that process.
In this, I’m hearing your same philosophy that I heard the day we met at the youth empowerment luncheon. You strike me as somebody who’s very interested in making entities and people better, especially youth. What drives you in that work?
My mother was a school teacher, but aside from that she was always community-service focused. I learned a lot from watching her doing certain things. Whenever anyone came to see her and asked her for assistance, she would always say, “Make sure your child stays in school.” One day, I asked her, “When you provide these services you don’t charge anything. Why?” She said, “Because one, we don’t need the money and two, I want to make sure that their child is learning and stays in school. That’s my contract to them.” She was really philanthropic in helping those other parents make sure their kids were doing things they needed to have a really good education. And so I saw that growing up, and just tried to amplify a little bit of it as I began to matriculate through college and later on in my professional life.
Your mom would be so proud of you! Is she still with us?
No, she passed in 2009.
Well, I just lost my mom recently and I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes you don’t think at the time how much they’re influencing you and you look back and realize you’re just following what they showed you. Clearly your mother made a big impact in your work.
Yes. Clearly. A lot of what I ended up doing at Winston-Salem State University, and being able to overcome that adversity, I learned from my parents. My father was an automobile mechanic and a farmer, and so I spent a lot of time working with him and seeing how he operated his businesses. And we would talk a lot. He loved football. It was a sport that I didn’t particularly like growing up. Baseball was my sport, but then he sat me down and talked to me about the opportunity that I could have and not to blow it, and so I tried not to….Without question, my parents were quiet supporters of me. For example, my mother only saw me play football in high school maybe once. She saw me play in college probably three or four times. And she would only come watch me play professional football maybe once a year. But they were always there to provide guidance if I asked for it.
On the youth empowerment front, what’s the biggest issue that has you concerned here in DFW—or anywhere—about the future of youth in America?
Well, obviously education is at the forefront. There’s a huge digital divide between people who live in poverty and people who live in affluence. We’re experiencing that now with the pandemic. People are trying to go virtual, but there’s a problem with that because people who live in poverty don’t necessarily have those tools to do virtual learning. And even if they did, people at home may not have the skillsets to do the instruction that a school can do…That’s a very tough issue, and it’s one that is going to define who and what we are, certainly in the next few months as schools begin to reopen.
It’s devastating to know already that Dallas is the highest in economic inequality in the nation. We have a divide in so many ways…and now we have children that, even if they lag by one year, materially their whole education and future could be affected. I’m glad somebody like you I paying attention to that.
I belong to an organization called Children at Risk. We just released a statement concerning this issue. From that vantage point, we are trying to make sure the people who are responsible for making decisions understand the critical nature of the digital divide, and people who are living in poverty. Hopefully as we move through this process, we find creative ways not to leave that segment of our economy and the youth behind so we can continue to look at ways to help them during this period.
It sounds like you know how to partner with groups to get things done. Do you have any final words for those who want to be like you—be a leader, make a difference? What guidance do you have for us?
I think the thing that is important is to stay focused, and not get too distracted by the noise that is inevitably moving in and out of our lives, and by things that are inconsequential. That’s hard to do, but it’s important….I read a lot, and I take what I read and try to digest what’s important to me. Even though technology was not what I intended to do coming out of high school, I soon realized that it was the future, and so I found a way to love it, where when I started out I did not really love it as much…You know, people talk about sports and athletes with a certain reverence, but what they don’t realize is what we do when the cameras aren’t on. There are a lot of things we do that we don’t particularly like to do but it’s a means to an end. And so, if there’s something that’s going to be productive that we can do that we may not like, just understand that there is an end game that’s going to be very fruitful if we just stay focused to get there.
For more of Timmy’s insights into leadership, empowerment, and legacy, check out the second half of our Zoom conversation here on our YouTube channel.