Britain Covey stood in the meal room with his Philadelphia Eagles teammates when we spoke. It’s the only 10 minutes he could carve out from the team’s preparation for the Super Bowl this Sunday. “I hope you can hear me OK,” he says over the sound of teammates talking and plates and silverware clinking.The details of Covey’s athletic career, as told by members of his family, are undeniably extraordinary. At 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, he was never an obvious pick for a future NFL player. He was told he was too small to play high school football, but by junior year he was starting quarterback. After high school, he was told he was too small to play college ball, but became the all-time punt return leader for the University of Utah and helped lead his team to the Rose Bowl. Now, in less than a week, he’s about to have a Super Bowl debut. Britain gives some credit to his grandfather, Stephen R. Covey, for these surprising successes. “My grandpa used to say, build on your strengths, and then organize to make weaknesses irrelevant,” Britain explains. “I’ve been told ever since I was in eighth grade that I was too small. So I applied that quote, built on my strengths, and organized to make my weaknesses irrelevant.”
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Britain Covey (18) runs past Tennessee Titans running back Dontrell Hilliard during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Philadelphia. Matt Rourke, Associated Press
Britain Covey’s career in Philadelphia
Britain was not drafted but instead entered the NFL as a free agent. He went through what he describes as clawing and grinding his way before accepting an offer from the Philadelphia Eagles. He was placed officially on the practice squad and not the active roster. However, he was elevated to the team’s active roster shortly thereafter, and now he’s headed to the highest echelon of professional football. “People overlook you,” Britain says. “And yet, while I’m small, I have certain abilities that very few people have. I would try and become the smartest player possible so that my lack of size wouldn’t even matter. My size was irrelevant because I was so smart with how I would use my speed and my body.”His family is more impressed with what he’s doing off the field. His father, Stephen M.R. Covey, tells me Britain views sports as a vehicle that allows him to give back. Last week he visited a handful of elementary schools in Philadelphia. “Most of those kids had no idea who Britain was,” Stephen says. “But he was there representing the Eagles. He tries to have a positive influence.”“Life is not about accumulation,” Britain tells me, citing another one of his grandfather’s teachings. “It’s about contribution.” The Covey family leadership gene
The self-help genre is often viewed as trite or simplistic, if not outright cringeworthy. Can a few simple platitudes or bits of good advice really solve people’s complex problems? But the Covey family — including their Philadelphia Eagle — has come to stand as something of a counterpoint. Stephen R. Covey preached his “7 Habits,” but increasingly his family is forming a sports and self-help dynasty by living them.
Utah wide receiver Britain Covey (18) is congratulated after scoring against Ohio State in the 108th Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1, 2022.Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Britain likely inherited his athleticism from Stephen R., his grandfather, who excelled in sports. However, an injury at a young age caused him to pivot to business and academics. After a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in England, where he met his wife Sandra who was singing with the Tabernacle Choir, Stephen went on to study at Harvard Business School. His family expected him to become part of the family business — ownership and management of the Little America hotels. Stephen shocked his parents when he told them that he was instead pursuing a career in academia. He started teaching organizational behavior at Brigham Young University, but after teaching for five years, he was called to be a mission president in Ireland in 1962.When Stephen returned to BYU he published his first book “Spiritual Roots of Human Relations.” His classes grew wildly popular and had to be moved to a larger building on campus to accommodate the number of students who enrolled. Stephen’s son David tells me that while his father loved teaching, after a while he began to feel limited and desired to take his message to a larger audience. After 26 years as a faculty member, he left BYU and put his house and family cabin up for collateral to form his company Covey Leadership in 1983. His children remember him treating the transition like a family adventure. Stephen R.’s son Sean explains, “He was under a lot of stress but you wouldn’t have known it. He was always pretty steady.” Sean says his father and his mother believed the venture would be successful.As a professor, he developed a presentation on effectiveness and leadership that he taught to his students. After forming Covey Leadership, he taught the presentation to employees at various companies. The presentation later became “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey.
Stephen received numerous rejection letters before, finally, Simon and Schuster agreed to take a chance on an unknown author. In fact, Simon and Schuster had rejected the manuscript twice already. It took an especially scrappy agent named Jen Miller, who wrote “7 Reasons Why You Need To Take Another Look At 7 Habits,” to the publisher. The document finally convinced the publisher. The book, finally published in 1989, has sold 40 million copies worldwide. Sean explains that “7 Habits” is a distillation of wisdom in literature and self-help tactics, synthesized into a usable and accessible framework. It took a couple of years for the book to take off, but once it did, Stephen’s business grew exponentially. It grew so quickly that management struggled to manage the incoming cash. “They were making a lot of mistakes,” Sean tells me. He joined along with his brother David in 1994 to help right the ship. Their oldest brother, Stephen M.R., has held leadership positions in the family enterprises since the late 80s. Stephen M.R. headed the effort to merge with Franklin Quest in 1997 and FranklinCovey became a publicly traded company. His book, “The Speed of Trust” would become a New York Times bestseller.“We think we’re the most trusted leadership company in the world,” Sean says.Stephen R. sat on the company’s board until his passing in 2012. “In our home, retirement was like a bad word,” Stephen R.’s daughter Cynthia Covey Haller tells me. “Retirement means you quit and don’t contribute.” She remembers her father teaching that one should never retire from contributing.Primary and Secondary Greatness
Cynthia remembers a father who made every child feel like his favorite, a real feat for a man who had nine of them. “When we were together, we had all of his attention,” she explains. “We weren’t just a glob of names — we had our own relationship with him.”She also remembers her father and mother working as a team. Stephen R. and Sandra had a ritual — every day when he was in town, they would ride a little motorcycle through the hills of their Provo neighborhood. They called this time “talk it over,” discussing the events of their days, the lives of their children, politics, or whatever was on their minds. When Stephen was traveling, which he did often for speaking engagements, he and Sandra would talk on the phone two or three times a day. “Neither of our parents was perfect,” Cynthia says. “They both made mistakes. But he tried to live what he taught harder than anyone we knew.”Stephen R.’s children remember their dad taking calls from rom many heads of state including U.S. President Bill Clinton, but never being affected by the fame. “My dad used to talk about primary greatness and secondary greatness,” David tells me. “Primary greatness is about your character, the kind of person you are. Secondary greatness, he would say, is about money and status — credentials and accolades. And he would say that primary greatness is more important than secondary greatness.”
Stephen R. Covey and his wife, Sandra Covey, are pictured at the opening of the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo on Aug. 23, 2007.
Sandra, who was interested in the arts, also became a force behind giving away some of their secondary greatness. For example, the large arts center in Provo bears the family name. But each of the Covey children with whom I spoke remembers their father teaching life is about contributing and giving back. It’s something he taught posthumously by donating all of his wealth. This came as a surprise to David, who read the news in the newspaper. But he’s fine with his parents’ decision. “It’s their money. And that’s what their life was about. About serving and contributing.” After Sandra’s death in early 2020, the Covey children were charged with selling their parents’ 21,000-square-foot home — listed for $6.9 million — and donating the proceeds to charity. The siblings decided to donate half of the money to Bridle Up Hope, Sean’s charity founded in honor of his daughter Rachel whom he and his wife tragically lost in 2012. Rachel loved horses and found hope through equestrian training that helped her battle depression, and the charity provides an equine-assisted learning curriculum to help young girls battling anxiety, depression, abuse or trauma. The other half was divided among the siblings to give to charities of their choosing. Donations have been made to support wounded veterans, education, and other causes Stephen R. and Sandra were passionate about. Stephen R. Covey’s lasting legacy
Britain and his cousins called Stephen R. “Papa” and knew him to be a goofy, funny grandpa who liked to pull pranks. His grandfather died when Britain was 15, before he had the maturity to understand his grandfather’s impact on the world. It was only when Britain was serving his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile and strangers would burst into tears upon seeing his name tag and tell him what his grandfather’s book meant to them that he started to understand.“I attribute everything to my family. I understand the privilege I have had and I’ve been so fortunate to grow up in the family that I have,” he tells me. “I can’t separate any success in my life without first naming the predecessors and the teachings and the stability my family provided. It’s really helped me to know how blessed I am.”
Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) returns a kick off for a touchdown during to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News