What did I do on my summer vacation? I fought the lawn and the lawn won. Watched about four hundred kid's baseball games. Ate ice cream. Any other goals were too lofty for me, but I did get plenty of reading done. Every summer since I was a kid, I have devoted more of my summer time to reading and less time to television. I have come to realize that there's really nothing ever on, despite the hundreds of channels Charter brings to my home.
Summer is a time for reading. Schoolteachers give out summer reading lists which are generally ignored. Newspapers list the best "beach novels" with which to pass the sunny hours. Most fans would be surprised to learn that coaches are avid readers. During the relative quiet of summer months, between the Spring Game and two-a-days, the gridiron gurus love to curl up with a good book or two. What should be on the list?
Steve Spurrier famously (infamously?) reads Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Pat Riley, of both NBA and hair products fame, is also a student of the general's ancient Chinese secrets. Wall Street's Gordon Gecko, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and Red China's Chairman Mao were also devotees of the little book. Although I suppose that crew could make for a fascinating dinner party, I find more common ground with their opponents. No disrespect intended toward the old boy (or to Visorboy) but I think we can find better books for our list.
Current Washington Huskies (former Notre Dame / former Stanford) coach Tyrone Willingham always has a summer reading list for his players about success stories and champions. He's been recommending It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong.
Mike Leach devoted summer 2006 to reading everything he could find about pirates. Summer 2005 was also spent devouring books about pirates; in fact, he's pretty much always reading about pirates. New England Patriot legend Bill Belichick faithfully re-reads his late father Steve's classic 1962 book, Football Scouting Methods. Belichicks père et fils have donated a library full of over 800 football coaching books to the U.S. Naval Academy.
Recognizing the esteemed place reading has in coaching circles, I propose a reading list for the ambitious coach. There are just a few more summer days and nights, but it's never too late for self-improvement.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. For the coach who is reeling from a bad season, a dose of Scarlett O'Hara's indomitable spirit may be just the fix. Confronted with "Hey coach, you only won three games last year.", the HC can reply, "I'll think about it tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day!".
On the Road by Jack Kerouac. This one is good for those lower tier or Division I-AA coaches who have to sacrifice their teams as the homecoming lamb in exchange for the big dollar payoff their programs need to survive. Traveling tales and askew views can help these coaches develop a counter-culture mindset. Kerouac, by the way, was a running back at Columbia before injury and the beat generation led him down a different track.
Friday Night Lights by H G Bissinger. A cautionary tale of what can happen when football means too much in people's lives. Odessa Permian's story is played out on hundreds of fields and at hundreds of schools.
I am Third by Gayle Sayers. The autobiographical source for the movie Brian's Song, Sayers not only relates the story of his relationship with Bears teammate Brian Piccolo but he also reveals the emotional saga of his rehabilitation from a severe knee injury.
Corps Values: Everything You Need to Know I Learned in the Marines by Georgia Senator Zell Miller. It wasn't kindergarten that taught Miller how to dedicate himself to the concept of team and the importance of having a cause.
The Alchemist by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. OK. I admit it is chock full of voodoo mysticism and New Agey hokum, but the emphasis on a person's ability to create their own path and to visualize and achieve their goals is worth wading through the other stuff.
There are two books that I would caution my favorite coach never to read. Suffice it to say that I don't recommend for summer reading any of the volumes from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket and I really can't support further exploration of Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm.