Self-Indulgent Post of the Week: Take Your Eye Off the Ball

Tag: what I’ve been reading

18Jul 2019
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Self-Indulgent Post of the Week: Take Your Eye Off the Ball

What I’ve been reading: I just finished reading Take Your Eye Off the Ball by Pat Kirwan. Kirwan is a former NFL coach and staffer who worked with, among others, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick. I’ve been asked before what a good book is for beginners, and this is probably the best one I’ve read for that purpose. It’s a little elementary if you’re a hardcore fan or an experienced player/coach, but there are still some good stories in there, even if they’re spread out a little bit. If you’re getting into football or don’t really understand offense, defense, roster movement, the scouting process, etc., I highly recommend it.

What I’ve been watching: Black Mirror on Netflix. I just finished season two. This isn’t a new show or anything, so you’ve probably heard of it if you have Netflix, but it’s a very thought-provoking look at the future of technology use and the direction our society is headed.

What I’m looking forward to: Going to the gym. The off-season is a great time for me to get into shape. (Conversely, the season is a great time for me to get out of shape.) Now that I have time to work out between football meetings, workouts, etc., I’m in better shape than I have been in a long time. I used to do a lot of cardio, but right now I’m just eating healthfully and lifting a lot of weights. Exercise has always been a big part of my life, but it’s hard to get in a good workout when you’re supervising a football team and doing other football-related tasks. Naturally, I do a variety of exercises, but I’ve been doing a lot of deadlifts lately.

What are your answers to these questions?

13Dec 2018
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What I’ve Been Reading: Brad Thor

After football season ended for me, I was able to relax and get a little bit of reading done. Right away I knocked down two Brad Thor novels, which I thought would be fun. I was right. I bought The Lions of Lucerne over a year ago based on a recommendation but I hadn’t got around to reading it, and when I was halfway through, I stopped by a local used book store and happened to come across Path of the Assassinwhich is book #2 in the series about Scot Harvath.

The Lions of Lucerne is about secret service agent Scot Harvath, who’s on duty when terrorists attack the President of the United States and his daughter. Naturally, Harvath is a former Navy SEAL and knows everything about everything, so he goes from Secret Service agent to rogue commando in an effort to hunt down the perpetrators. It’s a fun and wild ride that takes Harvath across the Atlantic. I had not known this previously, but author Brad Thor previously hosted a traveling show, and he seems to try very hard to incorporate his knowledge of foreign (and domestic) geography. I guess it adds authenticity to an extent, but it’s kind of like that annoying name-dropper you met at a party once. (Side note: Kirk Ferentz was an annoying name-dropper when I saw him at a clinic a few years ago.) Aside from that, the pacing of the story was done very well, and the ending was mostly satisfying.

I say “mostly satisfying” because some of the loose ends were not tied up at the end of The Lions of Lucerne, but Thor went back to them for Path of the Assassin. I thought Thor’s style was similar to that of Lee Child’s in the Jack Reacher novels, but while the Reacher novels ping-pong back and forth throughout Reacher’s life and are only loosely connected to each other, Thor shows more continuity by building on the previous story. Path of the Assassin connects the terrorist organization from book one, and the events from the first book are mentioned numerous times. While you can reach any Reacher novel without having read another, you would be missing big chunks if you didn’t read the Harvath novels in order.

As of this writing, I’m three-quarters of the way through book #3, State of the Union, but I will probably be finished by the time this publishes.

What have you been reading lately?

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.