Bruce Arians Insights on QBs

downloadBruce Arians deserved a better writer than Lars Anderson to discuss what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.  The book is a mess in a lot of ways with side trips in the middle of chapters that don’t necessarily related to the topic at hand.  There is a good book in here somewhere.

With that said, Arians has a lot of important points to make about what it takes to be an NFL quarterback.  Here he profiles those he has worked with most closely: Peyton Manning, Kelly Holcomb, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Carson Palmer.  All are very different quarterbacks but with a lot of the traits Arians looks for in an NFL signal caller.  Unfortunately, a lot of the chapters start meandering into other topics, but nonetheless they are great vignettes about some of the best quarterbacks in the league and one primarily a backup quarterback (Holcomb) who Arians got the most out of.

What is the most important attribute for an NFL quarterback?  First, it’s brains.  To be successful in the NFL a quarterback doesn’t have to be the best athlete on the field, but he probably has to be one of the smartest.  The ability to watch film, read defenses in fast paced live action, and get the ball where it needs to be with accuracy and velocity ultimately is the key.  But football smarts is essential to success regardless of other factors.

You also must have heart.  The willingness to take a big hit to get the ball off, the willingness to play through pain, and the willingness to prepare hard and do what it takes to maximize potential.

You have grit, which Arians defines as “handling success and failure equally”.  You can’t get too up and down over wins and losses but have to compartmentalize and move on to the next game.  If a QB throws an interception or a pick six (an interception returned for a touchdown), the QB can’t get rattled but has to move on to the next play.

And you have to be leader.  An NFL quarterback must be somebody others on the team look up to as an example and want to play with.  And all the traits above set that example.

From athletic point of view obviously an NFL quarterback has to have decent arm strength but it doesn’t have to be a rocket.  Accurate throws to all parts of the field are what set quarterbacks apart.  And the quarterback has to be athletic enough to avoid rush and move around in the pocket, what many call “pocket presence”.  You don’t have to be the best athlete just athletic enough.

As Arians notes, a lot of big armed, athletic quarterbacks have failed in the NFL because they did not posses these traits.

The other interesting part of this book is how some potentially great quarterbacks lack the maturity to play quarterback in the NFL.  Arians was with Baltimore when they scouted Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning as their first NFL draft pick.  Arians walked around both players’ campuses incognito and just asked around about what people thought of them.  Everybody had good things to say about Manning and nothing bad, while nobody had anything but bad things to say about Leaf.  So that ingrained in Arians a clear lack of leadership and we see what happened to Ryan Leaf.

Overall this was an interesting book about NFL quarterbacks, just annoying disjointed and unorganized at times.

The Quarterback Whisperer: How to Build an Elite NFL Quarterback

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The Real Brett Favre

51zqcudgjnl-_sy346_.jpgJeff Pearlman has written several books that peel the varnish off and gives us a glimpse at the real lives of sports stars.  This book about the life of Brett Favre is no exception.  It reveals the great, the good, the not so good, and the bad.  It’s all here.

This biography of Favre does a great job of filling in his childhood, high school, and college days which many people are not as aware of.  Brett started out as a prankster and living life hard (or to its fullest) and he never really quit.  The book details his rise in the National Football League and offers many anecdotes about his behavior, both good and bad, but also about his unbelievable play on the field.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Brett Favre is his almost Jekyll and Hyde nature.  He can be unbelievably kind to young fans and those in need, but unbelievably cruel to some family members and teammates.  His practical jokes sometimes went a little too far bordering on meanness.  He is a good family man but also a philanderer.  He basically behaved, even as a superstar, like a juvenile with too many hormones and too little brains.   He also became addicted to alcohol and painkillers while in the NFL.

Another interesting aspect of the book is Farve’s father Irv and how he really latched onto Brett’s fame and fortune and started living out his own dreams through his son.  He also was a philanderer and spent a lot of time around the team, in bars, and bragging about who his son was.  I didn’t know much about Irv until this book.

Finally the book of course talks about Favre’s incredible Hall of Fame football career.  Despite the prankster attitude he took football seriously and clearly loved playing the game.  He had one of the best arms in NFL history but his biggest downfall, as the title of the book suggests, was he was a gunslinger.  He often took chances he shouldn’t have so in addition to the many passing records he holds, he also holds the record for most interceptions in a career.  I would argue that Green Bay would have won more than one Super Bowl had Favre not had a tendency to throw interceptions in the playoffs.

The details about his move to the New York Jets and then the Minnesota Vikings after Green Bay Packers got fed up with the uncertainty of whether Brett really would retire or not is well told here.  There was a lot of drama in Green Bay around Brett’s departure and he didn’t help matters by playing into the drama with his coy indecisiveness for a few years.

The only fault I have with the book overall is there really isn’t much that is new here except some of the interviews conducted during the book.  But a lot of what is chronicled here is mostly already known.  The book does a nice job of pulling it all together go and weaving together the narrative of Brett’s life on and off the field.

Review of The Mannings

This book about the Manning family is execrably written, so much so that I frankly wanted to quit reading the book because it was horribly annoying. There are way too many times the author imputes emotions to individuals when he has no idea what the person was actually feeling. Worse, he constantly makes juvenile analogies that are trite to the point of making the reader cringe. It is a very amateurish writing style and a rather amateurish book.

While this is an advanced reading copy, two other items that were irritating is in one chapter Archie’s father is 5 foot 6, and in the next he’s 5 foot 7. In most instances it’s his father’s words, “just be a nice guy,” that drove Archie and his nice guy charm and demeanor, one that was not fake or a put on. But in one instances this is attributed to his mother. These are trivial in terms of the overall narrative, but noticeable and distracting nonetheless.

With that said the book did have some redeeming qualities which, overall, made it barely worth reading. First, I never fully understood the level of fame that Archie Manning had throughout the South, especially in his home state of Mississippi and adopted state of Louisiana. He was nearly a household name after his college stint at Ole Miss as its starting quarterback. Second, the book does an excellent job of describing how Archie’s stern but beloved father and his suicide drove Archie to want to excel on the field and in life, and later how it drove him to spend as much time as he could with is sons and tell them how much he loved them. Archie’s background and family history in a small Mississippi town to become regionally famous paints a clear picture of how Archie handled himself when in the pros, a very good quarterback playing for a horrible team. He kept his head up and marched on.

The book also does a good job of telling the story of Cooper Manning and how, while not a great athlete, would have very likely had a solid college career as a receiver at Ole Miss and how his discovery of a spinal condition that forced him to quit football drove his younger brother Peyton to strive to greatness and professional football to fulfill Cooper’s unfulfilled dreams.

Peyton’s personality has a hard worker, studier and leader comes through strongly in the book as well. His vast knowledge of football, football history, and studying the playbook are legendary. The contrast with the demure Eli Manning is very interesting. Much has been made of Eli’s laid back demeanor, shyness, and some would argue lack of leadership. But it turns out that Eli has been shy and laidback since he was a child. And he never studied football, at least its history, like Peyton did. But he has been successful in his own way nonetheless.

The insights into the personalities of the Archie, Peyton, Eli, and Cooper, along with their family history are very interesting and shed a lot of light on this famous football family.

I do have a few more complaints about the book, however. This book seems to be more about Archie Manning than this two football playing sons. Peyton Manning gets a lot more airtime in detailing his recruitment to the University of Tennessee and his years in college and the pros than Eli. Eli, in some respects, especially his college and professional career, seem almost an afterthought.

Two controversial issues that did not get enough detail or interpretation include the sexual assault allegations about Peyton Manning when he was at Tennessee, and the “forced” trade of Eli Manning from the San Diego Chargers to the New York Giants when he was drafted number one overall by the Chargers.

In the first instance the author does, again, a very amateurish job reporting the incident. He basically takes some things he heard in the media and throws them in the book to check off the box. And some of what is stated in the book is disputed in other media outlets. It’s a really sloppy job of reporting the event.

And very little is detailed about all the behind the scenes actions that lead to Eli being traded from the Chargers to the Giants after he was drafted, with Archie and Eli essentially saying he would not play for the Chargers. Odd given the Chargers were not that bad of a team at the time. There is a big gap in the book on this issue.

The book concludes with Peyton’s ultimate retirement after Super Bowl 50 and does decent job of describing the proud Manning family and the difficulty but inevitability of Peyton’s decision.

While this book has some redeeming qualities, that it’s poorly written and structured makes it a bit frustrating. The Manning’s deserved a better chronicler of their journey.

http://amzn.to/2b7eGZY

 

 

Insightful Biography of Pete Rozelle

51IPLozaTfL__SX346_BO1,204,203,200_Pete Rozelle as the Commissioner of the National Football League is an iconic figure and the epitome of what a sports commissioner should be.  He had multiple sides to his personality. He was a hard edged fighter with compassion.  He had a love for the game, compassion and empathy for owners and players, and managed to keep the billionaire club of NFL owners in check.

This biography of Pete Rozelle does an outstanding job of chronicling his life, with most of its focus on his traits that made him an outstanding NFL commissioner.  Despite being a compromise candidate for Commissioner, he seemed born for the job and was literally was the bridge to the modern NFL.

One of his biggest accomplishments was recognizing the importance of public relations and he used his skills in that area to lift the NFL from the shadow of college football and half empty stadiums to become America’s favorite sport.  He cleverly recognized the extreme importance that television would become not just for exposure for the game but revenue as well.  Even more important was developing the profit sharing model where all teams would get an equal share of the revenue to ensure some degree of competitive balance across teams.

He also faced many intricate controversies which he managed mostly well.  The NFL suffered a great deal of labor unrest and despite some difficulties in that area he laid the groundwork for what has been, until now, a long period of labor peace with the NFLPA.  He worked diligently in the merger of the NFL with the AFL which created a vibrant professional football league, but later staved off the upstart USFL.  His greatest nemesis was Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders, who constantly sued the league, including winning the right to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles.  Layer on the drug scandals of the 1980’s one can argue he navigated the NFL through some of its toughest times.

Rozelle’s legacy ultimately is his successfully moving the NFL into the limelight eclipsing all other American sports in popularity, especially leveraging the exposure and revenue generated by television.

This biography is well written and organized and its brevity and economy of words is refreshing.  Anyone interested in the history of the NFL should certainly read this biography.

Rozelle: A Biography

An Excellent Inside Look at What It’s Like to Coach in the NFL

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.

Collision Low Crossers: Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football

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An “Interesting” Inside Look at NFL Coaches

coachCoaching Confidential provides an inside look at some of the more prominent coaches in the NFL of the past few decades. While there is nothing groundbreaking or particularly new in the book, I still found it to be interesting reading. And there were at least a few background stories that were new to me which I enjoyed learning about.

Much of the book, but not all, seems to be a little Bill Parcel’s centric as there are chapters on Sean Peyton and Bountygate, a Parcells disciple. There are also chapters on Robert Kraft and his relationships with Bill Belichick and Parcells (along with Pete Carroll). Then there is a chapter about Parcells and his motivational techniques. That is not necessarily bad, but he looms large in this book.
What really got the book off to a good start for me is the story around Sean Peyton getting suspended for Bountygate. While all football coaches at the professional level, almost by definition, must have a huge ego, Peyton is depicted as somewhat obnoxiously conceited. On the other hand, it also details how he put together a Super Bowl winning team from the detritus of a woeful Saints organization already bad but devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Another chapter goes into detail about Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll, and Bill Belichick and their relationship with each other and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. As most know Parcells left the Patriots after clashing with Kraft over control of personnel and a few years later Belichick jilted Parcells and the New York Jets to become head coach of the New England Patriots replacing Carroll. Being a Patriots fan I already knew much of the detail behind this. The videotaping incident also got its fair share of attention in this chapter, and is probably the first real source describing how Kraft felt about it.

This is followed by yet another chapter on Parcells and his motivational tactics…aka…mind games that he used to motivate players. Some of the anecdotes were quite funny.

There are two chapters devoted to very dysfunctional relationships that eventually blew apart. The first is the Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson saga in Dallas. The other is the Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan, John Elway troika in Denver. A love triangle it was not. Elway hated Reeves and Reeves didn’t love Elway too much either, or so it appears, and Shanahan was the guy in the middle who eventually took over for after Reeves was fired. Elway basically had Reeves run out of town but it remains unclear Shanahan’s role in the situation. Reeves thinks Shanahan stabbed him in the back, metaphorically. Of course Shanahan eventually got two Super Bowls in Denver.

There are also chapters on Joe Gibbs return to the Redskins under Dan Snyder (nothing new here), Tony Dungy’s “lost” Super Bowl after getting run out of Tampa Bay followed by his eventual Super Bowl win with the Indianapolis Colts (likewise, nothing new here), Brian Billick of the Baltimore Ravens getting fired unexpectedly (nothing new here), and Dick Vermeil and his burnout with the Eagles and subsequent return many years later to coach the Kansas City Chiefs, then the St. Louis Rams, and his retirement from the Rams after their Super Bowl win (again, nothing new here).

And we get a glimpse in the last chapter of the world of REX…as in Rex Ryan. Rex Ryan stories are always fun to read because he is such a goofball.

Overall, this book is a quick and enjoyable read if you are an NFL fan. The only drawback is much of these details had already been reported before but there is enough new information here to make it worth the read.

Coaching Confidential: Inside the Fraternity of NFL Coaches

 

The Galloping Ghost: A Well Done Biography of Harold “Red” Grange

GrangeThis is a very well done biography of Harold “Red” Grange, a seminal figure in the history of professional football. He literally burst onto the scene has a halfback at the University of Illinois and is considered one of the greatest college football players of all time. The highlight of his college career was scoring four touchdowns in one quarter against Michigan in 1924, which made his name nearly a household word. By the time his college career was over his name recognition in the United States was, for that era, like a Michael Jordan. His college career spanned from 1923 to 1925 and in those days it was the sportswriters and newspapers that were preeminent in conveying the sights and sounds of sports, which was not without a bit of hyperbole. Sportswriters like Grantland Rice did much to make Grange into a larger than life figure, and another sportswriter dubbed him “The Galloping Ghost.”

Grange is likely in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as much for what he did to bring recognition to pro football as he is for what he did on the field. In the 1920’s college football was very popular and seen as an honorable and “amateur” endeavor. Pro football was seen as grimy, violent, and filled with ne’er do wells and ruffians. Many did not want Grange to sully his name and reputation by playing professional football. But with what might be the first real football agent, C.C. Pyle and Chicago Bears owner George Halas, Grange signed a hefty contract to play with the Chicago Bears in 1925.

Grange brought immediate legitimacy to pro football and was a major draw at the gate. One of the most ridiculous although lucrative activities was a 19 game barnstorming tour in 67 days. That is on average a game every 3.5 days! Playing such a violent and physically demanding game on a schedule like that borders on insanity but Halas and C.C. Pyle were thinking about the gate receipts not the health of the players.

After a contract dispute C.C. Pyle and Grange formed their own league and Grange’s team was the New York Yankees. That lasted all of one year. And unfortunately in 1927 Grange suffered a serious knee injury, and of course back then sports medicine was crude. From the accounts in the book it may have even been an ACL tear but after sitting out a year Grange went back to the Bears and played through the 1934 season. But he doesn’t appear to be the same player as he was before and often played only a few downs in games just to appease crowds who came to see him play.

Grange’s was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its inaugural class in 1963.

After his career Grange did a variety of jobs including speaking engagements and sports broadcasting.

There are two very interesting aspects of this biography that the author does a good job of exploring.

One is the impact that Grange’s name recognition and image had on the reputation of pro football. It was very significant. The author reminds us just how famous Grange was in the 1920’s because of his football exploits. He was able to parlay that into a lot of endorsements as well. He was one of the most widely recognized sports figures of his era.

Another is C.C. Pyle. He clearly was a bit of a con man but played the role of Grange’s agent well and seems to have treated Grange fairly in their business dealings. It would appear that he is the first player agent in pro football but I am entirely sure of that. At the very least he was the first prominent one.

Overall this was a well done and very interesting biography of an iconic figure in professional football.

The Galloping Ghost: Red Grange, an American Football Legend