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100 Years of Champions

#100Pac12 Alumni: Lt. Gen. John F. Goodman

Nov 20, 2015

As part of the Pac-12’s Centennial celebration, the Conference is highlighting Pac-12 student-athlete alumni who have had tremendous success off the field of play—in their careers and in their communities.


Lieutenant General John F. Goodman  
Arizona State Football '67
Currently: Advisor and Subject Matter Expert with the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

Lt. Gen. John F. Goodman has spent his life serving his country. He learned the lessons of commitment, integrity, selflessness, and responsibility from sports at a young age and carried those lessons all the way up to the rank of Lieutenant General in the United States Marine Corps. 

“Sports help you develop a more deeply defined sense of essential character traits: you learn who you are, what you stand for, and most importantly, you learn to be part of something bigger than yourself,” said Goodman. “You have to set aside your individual wants and desires, they have to be subordinate to your team.”

Goodman was a three-sport athlete in high school and extremely talented in baseball, basketball, and football. When asked about his decision to eventually play quarterback in college, he noted that he didn’t choose the position. While in high school, he would have rather played running back, but the team needed him at quarterback, and Goodman’s lifelong practice of answering the call of duty began.

“It was what the team needed, what the school needed, and what the community needed,” Goodman said.

Goodman was recruited to play football by almost every single school in the Pac-12 and had dreamed of going to USC. But his mother had other ideas, and wanted him to attend Arizona State, so Goodman eventually ended up committing to the Sun Devils to play both football and baseball. “She was right of course,” Goodman said of his mother’s push for Arizona State.

Being a college football quarterback taught Goodman an extraordinary amount about leadership and honor. “You lead by doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because someone is watching you,” Goodman said.

From incredible leadership during high-pressure game situations, to practices that tested his mental, moral, and physical courage, college football was a great way to prepare for the daunting challenges that Goodman would face in his military career.

“Collegiate athletics taught me what a commitment was,” Goodman said. “You don’t really realize what commitment is at that age. Athletics taught me to represent my community, school, and country with courage and integrity and to always strive to do better the next time.”

When Goodman returned from his last final exam in Tempe in the spring of 1967, he had received a letter that began with the words “Greetings from the President of the United States.” It was a draft notice and Goodman was headed to Vietnam. 

Before that letter came, Goodman had already received another “draft notice” of sorts, this one from the New Orleans Saints. But of course, that would have to wait.

While in the Army, his first combat tour was in the Republic of Vietnam as a member of a long-range reconnaissance patrol team. He earned a Bronze Star with "V" Device, the Soldier's Medal, and the Purple Heart while in Vietnam. He transferred to the inactive Army Reserve in 1969.

“I was extremely proud to be a solider,” said Goodman. “I learned a lot about leading a small team when it wasn’t just about scoring a touchdown, it was about completing a mission where people might get killed. It gave me a whole new sense of values and responsibilities.”

Upon his return from Vietnam, Goodman played briefly for the Saints before injuring his clavicle and retiring from football. His next job was at H&R Block, but he quickly found that the corporate world was not his cup of tea.

“I didn’t like working for somebody,” Goodman said. “I needed to be working toward something more important than myself or a bottom line.”

So without telling his wife, he joined the United States Marine Corps in 1971. Following his commissioning, he became a Naval Aviator and then worked his way up through several levels of training and assignments all over the world, spending a total of 37 years in the Marines and logging more than 4,100 hours in tactical jet aircraft.

Goodman says that one of the life lessons he learned from service was how much you can truly respect other people. “Your life and your mission all depend on this person next to you; it teaches you to value people in and out of combat,” Goodman said. 

At his highest post, Goodman was the Commander of the Marine Forces Pacific: the United States Marine Corps service component of the Pacific Command, the largest field command in the Marine Corps. The Pacific Command covers all of Asia and beyond, accounting for more than 50 percent of the world’s surface area.

“Being selected to lead an organization is such a heady thing,” Goodman said.

Not only was he tasked with managing a $6.5 billion budget and 95,000 Marines, he was also in charge of running their communities, managing everything from libraries to fitness centers to schools.

Throughout his 37 years of service, one of the things that Goodman most remembers is the change in attitude that the American people had between his time in Vietnam and his time in Kuwait in the early 1990s. 

He recalls walking into a restaurant in Oakland in uniform right after coming home from Vietnam and being called a baby killer. About 25 years later, when he came home from Kuwait to his house in Quantico, Va., his entire yard was outlined in American flags as a tribute to his service.

“The country had learned that soldiers, sailors, and Marines don’t make policy; they had learned to separate national policy from the people who had been sent to war to represent them,” Goodman said. 

While he was still on active duty, Arizona State invited Goodman to attend at a Legends Luncheon in which they honored Sun Devil quarterbacks from throughout history. At that luncheon, he was asked how college football helped him later in life. 

He answered that one of the greatest lessons he learned from athletics was how to be pushed beyond your limits and still be held responsible for what you’re expected to do.

Goodman told the story of being in a war zone with four other men when a booby trap was set off. Three of the five men were killed and Goodman and the other survivor were seriously injured. But he was able to carry the other man out and they both survived. 

“I can credit my athletic experience with saving my life,” Goodman said. “Athletics made you define who you are and what you stand for. At every practice they push you beyond your limits, and test whether you have the courage to do what you have to do.”

After retiring from the Marine Corps, Goodman has served as Director of the U.S. Department of Defense's Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance and as the Chairman of the Board of Advisors for Tactical Edge.  He currently is an advisor and subject matter expert with the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

The Pac-12 wishes to express its sincere gratitude for the service of Lt. Gen. Goodman and the countless other Pac-12 alumni who have bravely served our country.

In the words of Goodman himself, "it was an honor to represent this country and in that role there is only right and wrong, otherwise, you didn’t represent the American people the right way.”

Lt. Gen. Goodman has surely represented the American people, and the Pac-12, the right way.