The pressure of coaching in the NFL, and particularly its effect on families, is a recurring theme in football books. Bryan Burwell’s biography of John Madden notes that one of the reasons the coach decided to retire was when he realised he couldn’t remember how old his children were. Peter King, in Inside the Helmet, writes that Jimmy Johnson “doesn’t remember birthdays, not even those of his two sons”. Coaching Confidential is no exception. Gary Myers writes:
“Joe Gibbs picked up a lifetime supply of Redskins Park points for all the times he slept in his office, especially in his first stint with the Redskins. He spent the early part of the week staying over in his office and would make it home late in the week. As he walked out the door, his wife, Pat, would hand him a tape of all the latest news and updates on what was going on with their two young sons. He would play the tape in his car.”
Coaching Confidential collects some of the stories of obsessed coaches, from those like Joe Gibbs and Rex Ryan, sleeping in their offices in a bid to save one more hour, to Dick Vermeil who drove himself to burn-out and left the game for 14 years.
Myers also covers Sean Payton, who helped cover-up a ‘bounty’ program that saw New Orleans Saints players earn bonuses for injuring opponents. “He always seems to start humble and turn arrogant,” an unnamed coach says of Payton. Then there are the entwined stories of Tony Dungy and Andy Reid, both of whom had to cope with the death of a son – the kind of tragedy that puts a football obsession into perspective.
- Further reading: Gary Myers interview
Each chapter effectively stands alone but some figures recur and stories interlink. Daniel Snyder, the Washington owner figures in the chapter about Gibbs, who has to hold his team together following the killing of safety Sean Taylor, and in a later chapter about firing coaches. In the 20 years that he has owned the team, Snyder has had more head coaches (seven) than winning seasons (six).
Bill Parcells crops up in multiple places, too. He features in the chapter about Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who discusses the coaches he has employed, and has a chapter to himself on his use of ‘mind games’ to get the best out of players. He would build a player up or cut him down depending on what he thought was most necessary. Not every player welcomed that approach but, perhaps surprisingly, few doubted that Parcells had their best interests at heart.
Another figure who has a central role in more than one chapter is John Elway. He features first as Broncos quarterback under Mike Shanahan and later as general manager of the same team, while his coach, John Fox, transitions from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning.
Hardcore fans will know many of the stories here already, though there’s some fun to be had in the retelling. It’s hard to get tired of hearing about Bill Belichick’s bizarre resignation as “HC of the NYJ”, for example, no matter how many times you hear it. And Myers often brings in new facts or insightful quotes. Coaching Confidential is an enjoyable and quick read for anyone who wants a better understanding how coaches manage such a demanding job.
Photo: Keith Allison