Thursday, December 8, 2016

McCaskey Covers Greatest Coaches on NFL History

Pillars of the NFL covers the 10 greatest coaches in the NFL. For a good strong work on football history, I suppose we could have started with players, teams, or coaches. We decided to start with coaches. Author Patrick McCaskey is the grandson of George Halas and he suggested how we could choose the ten greatest coaches of all time and I thought his idea was brilliant. We chose the 10 coaches by who had won the most NFL championships. 


As we got into our project, we were creating at history of the NFL. It may not have been a perfect history, but reading our book, people would have a good sense of just how the league began, how if functioned in the early days, and how it became what it is today.

We were creating a model that reflected our best efforts towards features and an organization that would work across time because the coaches were from different periods of time. 

We came up with the idea of starting off with a brief "you are there" piece to bring the readers attention to starting out by seeing the coaches as human beings and getting them interested in what makes them tick. For Halas we chose the College All Star Game of  1963 when the Packers lost to the College All Stars. For little known coach, Guy Chamberlin it was difficult.  But the thing I love about Chamberlin is that he was a great coach and a great football player. Chamberlin was a Nebraska farm boy who thought professional football was going to die out. So when his playing career ended and he lost a coaching job, he did not pursue any further jobs in the league.  He went home approaching middle age and settled in.  In our "you are there" section, we imagined his coming back home and looking out on the Chamberlin Gage County farm at the start of another chapter in his life. [After Pillars of the NFL published, Patrick McCaskey spoke about the greatest coaches at the Gage County Historical Society in Beatrice, Nebraska, the area where Chamberlin was raised]

These little present tense clips take a few seconds to read and are very brief, but we thought them worthwhile: The confident Lambeau out on a field in Green Bay; Paul Brown in a classroom; Weeb Ewbank in his office after talking with a players mother; Lombardi at Saint Norbert's College testing his and his players' patience in his endless pursuit of perfection; Noll in his living room at the end of his playing career; Walsh at a critical point in a Super Bowl XXIII; Gibbs at a critical point in a Super Bowl XXII; and Bill Belichick on the practice field being instructive and demanding physical as well as mental play.

After the present tense introductions, the coaches early years and school years are briefly covered. And when we get into their pro careers, we cover briefly their playing career (for those who had one) and their coaching. For some like Brown, following a career that spanned high school, college and pro coaching (in 2 leagues and on 2 NFL teams from the start of the franchises) was difficult. Covering 10 coaches and knowing that readers will not want to get mired in the details, the challenge was always trying to determine how to cover the facts without killing the story. We include a list of key players, which looks innocent enough, but was not easy. At the end of each coaches chapter, we include his contributions and timeline. And more than most sports books, we used endnotes throughout. Covering coaches that include some born over a hundred years ago is not a piece of first-source work (interviews with the coaches and players, etc.). It involved a lot of use of written sources and articles. We tried to include most of those as we prepared the manuscript.

Covering each coach was like researching and  writing a separate book for each one. There was no shortcuts although the written materials are short and sweet.  We also did one other thing that we thought was significant.  We hired a friend of mine, Bill Potter, to draw illustrations of each coach. I have my favorites, but Bill draws in the style of those newspaper artists who would create multi-posed biographical montage that summarizes someone's achievements in a short space.

Pat loves football stats so he also gave us some tables that summarize championship stats. And we also included an 19 page index.

Sometime after we far along on our Pillars book, ESPN created a web site where materials were posted on the Greatest Coaches in NFL History. The site confirmed that we were creating a work that many people were interested in. 

You can enjoy Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by purchasing it from Amazon.  The book is 432 pages in all, paperback, 2014, 6" x  9". If  you would like to purchase quantities of the book, write me at lmj.norris@gmail.com.