Guts and Genius tells the saga of the three heads coaches that truly did dominate the NFL in the 1980’s. The author walks through the football lives of Bill Parcels (New York Giants), Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49’ers), and Joe Gibbs (Washington Redskins). Between these coaches, through the 1980’s into the early 90’s, they won 8 Super Bowls and left an indelible print on the NFL.
There are a few key common themes that tie these coaches together besides their winning ways.
First, they were football savants. While each had their philosophies and systems, especially Walsh with the West Coast Offense, they were also flexible enough to adjust their approach to meet the strengths and weaknesses of their own teams and that of their opponents. Of the three Walsh probably has the most long-term impact on the game with this short passing game designed to stretch the field horizontally and allow playmakers to get the ball in space and move the ball the down the field. He also left a much more extensive and successful coaching three than Gibbs or Parcells.
The second theme is leadership. While each coach had extremely different personalities, they each found ways to connect with and motivate their players to play as a team and achieve more as a unit than they could as a collection of individuals. They each formed lifelong connections with many of the key players and coaches during their eras.
A third theme is that each started off slow trying to rebuild moribund franchises and had many insecurities and self-doubt. Even when they were successful, the stress and insecurities almost doubled because the standard was always winning the Super Bowl. Anything else was almost considered a failure.
Finally, and most disturbing, is the extreme stress and unfathomable hard work it took to accomplish the perfection each chased. Reading about the extreme stress each felt to win it all, with Gibbs basically living at the football facility to such an extent he missed his sons growing up, and the health, mental, and physical toll football took on these men is profound.
While there is probably nothing profoundly new in this book, it was extremely well written, told in a concise, efficient, and lively prose, and frankly it is hard to put down. For some reason, at least for this reader, it even provoked emotion and remembrances of the great teams these men led. And while it goes from one coach to the next from chapter to chapter, that approach worked very well here, and facilitated understanding how these coaches interacted with each other, their teams, and how their journey’s unfolded.
I found this to be a very interesting and worthwhile read.