Five years after his first book, Gridiron Genius, Michael Lombardi returns and this time he’s “setting the record straight on the coaches, players and history of the NFL”. Formerly GM of the Cleveland Browns, Director of Pro Personal with the Philadelphia Eagles, and an executive with the 49ers, Raiders, Broncos and Patriots, Lombardi is certainly well qualified for such record-straightening.
Two-thirds of the book focuses on Lombardi’s Top 100 players of all time. For this list, he says, he went back to the original game tape and compared players as if he was setting out a draft board. The result is five categories of player: The Everlasting; The Excellent; The Exceptional; The Extraordinary; and The Elite.
Most of the rest of the book is devoted to coaches and coaching. Lombardi offers his ‘White Oaks’ – the five coaches who set the stage for all the others, as well as his Top 10 coaches. Two guys make both lists, which seems a little odd. Alongside that, there are diversions in the development of the game on TV and suggestions for how to evaluate potential Hall of Famers.
It’s a mixed bag that sort of justifies the book’s title, but not quite. It’s readable and easy to dip into, but it lacks a clear identity.
Michael Lombardi is a former NFL general manager and three-time Super Bowl-winning executive who has worked for the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders. He currently appears on TV, radio and podcasts. His first book was Gridiron Genius (2018). Football Done Right is his second book.
“The profession of coaching today owes its debt to five white oaks – noteworthy and formidable coaches —of yesterday; whose roots extend far and long, made it possible for many who came after them to benefit through their innovation and hope. Today’s modern explosive offenses, dominated by star quarterbacks like Tom Brady (before he retired), Patrick Mahomes Il, and Josh Allen, can thank these coaches for challenging the game’s decades-old strategies and ultimately revolutionising the sport. Even decades later, these oaks continue to influence every coach in football.”
“Had ‘Slinging’ Sammy Baugh or Otto Graham been given the same protection rules as, say, Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes today, the advancements in the game would have happened much quicker.”
“I expect to see the time, before many years, when forward and lateral passes will make up the greatest part of the offense, with the running attack just something to fall back upon. The wide-open, chance-taking game is the style the fans want to see. The day of having a fullback plunge into the centre of the line for a yard or two at a time is rapidly passing.” — Francis Schmidt
“Any coach that wanted to establish the run was full of shit, as he has to establish the pass if he wants to win,” [Sid Gillman] once said.
Reviewing Gridiron Genius, I said that Lombardi combined material that could only be written by an insider with generic punditry that can be found on any of a dozen websites. Sadly, Lombardi’s second book leans further into the latter and offers even less of the former.
As mentioned above, the bulk of the book is Lombardi’s Top 100. Perhaps his list is better researched than others, or perhaps Lombardi has better judgment, but so what? In the end it’s just another list. Whether Mike Ditka was better than Steve Largent might be a fine barroom debate but let’s assume Lombardi’s answer (Ditka was better) is correct. What’s the value of knowing that?
There are player evaluation insights to be found in Lombardi’s write-ups on these guys, so one justification might be that he’s telling us what made the great players great. Maybe. For me, there isn’t enough there to justify pen portraits of 100 players. I’d be more interested in reading Lombardi’s thoughts on evaluating a receiver, for example, in which he could draw on examples from the greats. Perhaps that’s less marketable than Lombardi’s Top 100, though.
One final gripe: the book’s authority is undermined by woeful editing. Ray Lewis was apparently by the “Baltimore Raiders”, someone is “rebuked” when they were actually “rebuffed”, and the players in Lombardi’s Top 100 are introduced with numerous stats – Pro Bowls, yardage, Super Bowls, etc – but who they played for or when they played. Every book has mistakes but there was a striking amount in Football Done Right.
Any of two dozen talking heads could have written this book. If you enjoy takes on who’s the best at this or that, this will suffice. But it feels lazy. To put it in Lombardi’s player evaluation terms, this is someone with game-changing talent who seems content to merely go through the motions.
Shane Richmond, Pigskin Books
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