This is an excellent book about what it’s like to be a coach in the National Football League. While the author was embedded with one team for the 2011 NFL season, the New York Jets, it still provides some great insights into the world of the NFL and its coaches. While there may be some nuances and differences across teams, the major themes are likely very consistent across the league.
Even better, the book is extremely well written and entertaining as well. It does a great job of not only providing thematic examples of what it’s like to be a coach in the NFL, but brining the personalities of the players and coaches to life as well.
The main theme of the book is just how hard coaches work and what gruesomely long hours all coaches put into their profession. This is nearly a 24 hour a day job during the start of training camp through the end of the season, and there’s not much rest in-between either. Being a coach in the NFL is a major commitment and a sacrifice for not only the coaches but their families as well. They literally live football and often wind up sleeping in the facilities. From player evaluation, game planning for the next opponent, installing the game plan during the week, dealing with player injuries and personalities, it is simply an all-consuming job. You have to really love football to adopt this lifestyle.
Add to the long hours the pressure of winning is tremendous. The NFL is a win now league and losing teams generally have quick turnover of head coaches and their assistants. Winning is a tonic that brings joy, but short-lived, while losing it torturous.
Another significant theme of the book is the schism between the defensive and offensive sides of the balls, even between coaches. So much goes into the offensive and defensive game plans and installing them with the players that the coaches of these squads do not interact that often. Sometimes it can even get a little heated if one unit is performing significantly better than the other, which often happens with the Jets who have a great defense but at best a mediocre offense. That tension certainly existed for the Jets to some degree, and I have heard it existing on other teams as well. It is not entirely surprising that this schism exists on teams but it is intriguing.
A third theme, and I am sure this is where it probably varies more widely depending on the personality and approach of the head coach, is how much control or involved a head coach might exert on any specific aspect of game planning. The head coach is supposed to be a big picture game planner and let his coordinators do most of the intricate work on the game plan for their units. Rex, being a defensive coach, has his particularly defensive philosophy and might be more hands on there, but on the offensive side, while having a ground and pound approach, leaves more in the hands of the coordinator. Of course there are some coaches who essentially are their own offensive coordinator and call the plays. It is all a matter of what a head coach wants to take control of and what he is comfortable delegating. For the Jets, the offense did not perform so well, eventually lead to the ouster of Brian Schottenheimer, the offensive coordinator.
Another theme is just tension on the team generally between players. Again, this is probably something that exists at different degrees on other teams. For example, we know there was some tension between quarterback Mark Sanchez and receiver Santonio Holmes that eventually blew up into the public sphere, which is alluded to here. And older players trying to adapt to new roles is also an underlying theme.
Another interesting aspect of this book was simply reading about the personalities of the players. The intelligence and studious nature of Darrell Revis goes a long way in explaining why he is so great at his position, and the sometimes slovenly approach of an Antonio Cromartie explains why such a great athletic talent is sometimes so inconsistent. Having a serious minded winner like Revis can have a positive influence on those less inclined to be such students of the game and why they often bring not only talent but leadership and a positive example to the team as well. These types of players can be as valued by what they bring to the team off the field as by what they do on it.
Much is also made of how immature Mark Sanchez is and how frustrated the coaches were with his inconsistent play and turnovers. Again, it seems like the immaturity factor has a lot to do with the sloppy, inconsistent play and underperforming on the field.
Yet another major theme is the pain of losing. The rollercoaster ride of winning and losing and the difficultly of keeping coaches and players positive and not letting a string of losses knock the wheels completely off is an important function of the head coach and his staff. The Jets did not make the playoffs after the 2011 season and being used to winning that is hard to take. And it puts coaches’ jobs at jeopardy. And as we have seen since this book was written, as of 2015 all the coaches and the GMs are gone because they never turned the team back around.
Finally the General Manger’s role is discussed. Tannebaum is an interesting case. Of course he is responsible for player personnel and contract negotiations but he also has to work well with his coaches and scouts and be a problem solver during the season. All GMs are going to have their own philosophy’s and style and Tannebaum tried to fit in and help where help was needed during the season while dealing with player issues and personnel as they came up.
Overall I found this to be a well written and fascinating look at coaching in the NFL through the prism of the personalities and quirks of the New York Jets and recommend it to any serious NFL fan.