Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Won Three or More Championships

Sports books can sometimes disappoint me.  Biographies of players are often loaded with information that is off the mark. Things that are too trivial to be of interest.  And then there are broad coverage books that survey way too many players or events.  It is kind of impractical to write a survey work on most anything in sports today because that's essentially what you get online.  Sports books I like provide a fairly close look at their subjects, but avoid the trivia and keep moving quickly towards a conclusion.  I don't always need a lot of information on an athlete or coach, but I'd like to know what they are about--how they operated in their environment, and what contributions they made.  I don't need to know their human failings. If I read a football book, I want to read about the football life or lives of the people in the book.  I think the better sports books focus on sports. I think a book that say looks at the tortured soul of an athlete is not really a sports book as such.

When Patrick McCaskey and I talked about the Pillars of the NFL  project, we thought about how deep we should go in covering the ten top NFL coaches that are the subject of the book.   Writing about 10 coaches was going to be difficult.  Patrick wanted to focus on championships--after all these coaches were defined by the three or more championships they won.  He focused on the winning years. But I also wanted the book to tell the entire history of each coach, so he did.

We also wanted to cover pro football history as it related to these great coaches.  When examining the football lives of George Halas, Curly Lambeau,  and Guy Chamberlin--you are looking at the earliest of days of pro football.  Each one of these men brought to the game their own history as well--and it was told.  Pillars talks about Halas leaving the University of Illinois for military duty at the beginning of World War I. Curly Lambeau rubbed shoulders with Notre Dame greats  Knute Rockne and George Gipp.  That's discussed.  Guy Chamberlin came back to his family farm after his remarkable career and we ask our readers to look out on the farm with him. 

We also wanted our readers to connect with each coach early in his chapter.  So we came up with the idea of a kind of "you are there" opener.   Poetic license was needed of course, because except for George Halas, the author was not around to personally experience the exploits of these great coaches. But the openings serve to bring the reader eye to eye with the coach who is the topic of the chapter. 

When you cover ten coaches, how do you write about the interesting athletes who played under them,  We created a feature that listed key players for each coach and gave the reader a sentence or two on them.  And how do you make sure you covered the coaches achievements--we added a "Contribution to the Sport" section, a Timeline, and a Highlights feature.  Patrick also came  up with overall champions and championship lists. 

We also wanted to illustrate the book in some significant meaningful way.  We asked Bill Potter to draw illustrations of each coach for our chapter openings.  Bill's style is reminiscent of the biographical montages that were seen in newspapers many years ago. 

Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Won Three or More Championships is now available here