What I’ve Been Reading: American Assassin

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4Oct 2018
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What I’ve Been Reading: American Assassin

I was walking through that rare, hard-to-find thing called a “book store” a couple months ago. I like to buy used books, which are extremely cheap, but I also like to support book stores. So I walked past the bargain books section and saw an author and a title that interested me: Vince Flynn’s American Assassin. It brings together two things I like: Americans and, uh, the mystique of assassins. For $4.99, what could go wrong?

Well . . . the dialogue, for one. Every time I read one of these military/special ops novels, the dialogue is terrible. Maybe witty authors aren’t drawn to these topics. Everything Vince Flynn thought was clever seemed to come from the mind of a 19-year-old community college student.

The fictional story is about Mitch Rapp, a former big-time Syracuse lacrosse player who decided he wanted to go kill some bad guys. Naturally, he’s a prodigy who’s really good at punching and kicking and shooting things. He’s so good that his new boss hates him, because he’s just some punk kid who comes in all cocky and stuff. You know where this is going:

Bad guys get killed.

Yes, it’s predictable. No, it’s not clever. But I still might rent the movie, because Mitch Rapp (played by Dylan O’Brien) gets bossed around by Michael Keaton’s Stan Hurley, and Michael Keaton is awesome.

6Sep 2018
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What I’ve Been Reading: The Road to Ann Arbor

There aren’t a ton of perks to being the author of Touch the Banner, but one of them is the occasional chance to get an advance copy of a Michigan-related book. One of those chances popped up a couple weeks ago when I received a copy of Tom VanHaaren’s new (and first!) book: The Road to Ann Arbor, which was released yesterday on September 4.

The Road to Ann Arbor is a piece separated into chapters detailing the stories of how many Michigan greats (and some guys still making their mark) were recruited to Michigan. Each chapter is dedicated to a lone player, and many of them are from the pre-Rivals and pre-Scout eras. All-timers like Mark Messner, Desmond Howard, and Jarrett Irons lead all the way up to Rashan Gary and Aubrey Solomon.

If you’re reading this site, you’re probably pretty familiar with how recruiting works here in 2018. You see it develop on Twitter, you see the commitment videos, and you see players pick a hat at All-America bowls. In the days of yore, recruiting was done by sending out surveys (not requesting Hudl film) and sending handwritten letters (not trendy Photoshop edits). It’s funny and nostalgic to see how much times have changed, but the attitudes are the same among the players. Jarrett Irons, for example, knew he was a big-shot football player and had some demands for anybody recruiting him.

Among my favorite anecdotes are stories of Bo Schembechler, Chris Spielman, Mark Messner, and Desmond Howard. (Yes, I said Chris Spielman.) High school highlight films of those players aren’t widely available like they are now, so it’s fun to read about their high school exploits. For example, I wasn’t aware that Howard was a high school running back and safety before becoming a superstar wide receiver at Michigan.

Overall, The Road to Ann Arbor is just a good, fun piece of Michigan nostalgia. It’s uplifting to read stories about kids’ dreams coming true, especially from a time when football recruiting seemed more pure. It was about relationships and football, not necessarily TV deals, flashy uniforms, and making a big splash. And TomVH has a way of conveying Michigan stories without being too sappy. If you’re a fan of TTB, I think you’ll enjoy it.

12Jul 2018
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What I’ve Been Reading: The Perfect Pass

Not many books make me want to spring into action, but reading The Perfect Pass by S.C. Gwynne made me immediately want to start watching some videos, doing some research, and drawing up plays. That’s because it concentrates on the development of the forward pass in football, but in particular the Air Raid offense, which was originated by Hal Mumme. Mumme had some influences (LaVell Edwards at BYU, Bill Walsh of the 49ers, etc.), but he synthesized a lot of different passing concepts into what has proliferated across college football. Even though Mumme couldn’t keep his own success going, Mike Leach (currently at Washington State) coached with Mumme and a lot of successful teams (Oklahoma, West Virginia, the New England Patriots, etc.) run Air Raid concepts.

Hal Mumme is such a strange case study. I knew of him back when he was coaching at Kentucky, but even his record-setting offenses didn’t win a ton of games. Despite his influence on the game of football and allusions to his system constantly, he has faded into obscurity. Even after reading a book about him, I don’t really know what the guy looks like (I’m about to Google it). But based on some of the things I read, I’m interested to tweak some of our concepts and practice techniques, because they make a lot of sense.

I also recommend:

  • Swing Your Sword by Bruce Feldman and Mike Leach: This is a great resource on Leach, though it concentrates heavily on the troubles he encountered at Texas Tech.
  • Talking Football podcast with Coach McKie: I’ll be honest that I find Coach McKie to be a little bit annoying, but I like the subject of his discussions. He’s a high school offensive coordinator who loves and runs the Air Raid, but he talks to a lot of different coaches about various offensive (and some defensive) philosophies.
8May 2018
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What I’ve Been Reading: Top of the Morning

I haven’t posted one of these in a while, but I had a chance to finish Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter recently. Top of the Morning tells the story of the race for domination – or at least a solid lead – in Nielsen ratings for morning shows. It mainly focuses on Today and Good Morning America, and I never realized before reading that Today held such a commanding lead in the ratings for 16 straight years. A large chunk of the book is dedicated to discussing the awkward transition from Ann Curry to Savannah Guthrie, as well as the audience’s growing frustrating aimed at Matt Lauer – and that was before Lauer’s sexual harassment stuff came to light. Meanwhile, Good Morning America‘s struggles were outlined over the years, but Stelter’s treatment of the likes of Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos is almost fawning. I can’t tell if Stelter had a bone to pick with Today or if he was just being a straight shooter, but the modern GMA lineup could do almost nothing wrong.

I’ve never been a morning show enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination, and usually it’s just background noise to me, if it’s on the television at all. Before I started reading the book, I couldn’t have even told you whether Lauer was on Today or GMA. But I am interested in underdog stories and seeing how people succeed when not as much is expected of them. It was interesting to me that two of the major players in GMA‘s turnaround were not traditional reporter types, while Today employed people who were always in front of the camera reporting news. Robin Roberts was a renowned basketball player and then worked at ESPN, while Stephanopoulos was in the political realm before taking the full-time TV gig. Sometimes, maybe there’s an advantage to being an outsider.

Other books I’m reading right now:

11Feb 2018
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What I’ve Been Reading: Personal by Lee Child

I’m getting closer and closer to finishing the Jack Reacher series. After reading Personal by Lee Childs over the past week or so, I have three more to go. In this one, instead of stumbling into a hairy situation, Reacher gets drawn back into duty by one of his older superiors from the armed forces. A rogue sniper is on the loose after being released from prison, and Reacher was the guy who sent him there in the first place. Reacher travels to Arkansas and Paris and England in the hopes of finding the sniper.

I felt like the book lost some steam toward the end. One of the villains sounds like a James Bond character, and another one of the villains is almost totally absent from the whole book. He’s discussed ad nauseum but barely makes an appearance. Finally, the big twist at the end is a little too contrived and not fleshed out very well. If it were a movie, you would think, “I thought the movie was over, and then it kept going for another 10 minutes.”

What have you been reading lately?

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