Book Reviews


The Education of a Coach

by David Halberstam

Review by Richard Sheppard


New England football coach Bill Belichick gets the full "genius" treatment from well-known contemporary historian (and Belichick's Cape Cod neighbor) David Halberstam. Halberstam's pedestal-ing of the admittedly perfectionist and successful Belichick gets tiresome after a while; the guy is a football coach, not a world-saving humanitarian. Belichick's edge comes from his preparation and ability to spot solid team and role players. All of Halberstam's attempts to make the game of football read like rocket science are overblown. Granted there's some scheming involved, but football is essentially a game where you want big, fast, strong players who are paying attention. Belichick's work ethic and knowledge are admirable, but as an unassuming guy himself, probably thinks that the halo Halberstam is trying affix on his head is a bit much. Yes Bill B. understands the nuance, and prepares like the devil, but in the end, even he himself recognizes the outcome of football games can be maddeningly chancy. Especially in the Age of NFL Parity. 

And don't even get started on the "blurb" right on the cover by that shoe-lift-wearing sports commentator Bob Costas: "Belichick to Halberstam may be football's best combination since Montana to Rice." Kindly pass the puke pouch on this comparison. Halberstam, faced with a guy who only reluctantly let the book be written in the first place, has no choice but to hammer and hammer and hammer home Belichick's work-ethic, as a substitute for football secrets. He interviews those closest to Belichick and reveals that they, too, are one-dimensional football junkies extraordinaire. In fact, unless you really really love football, the entire cast will bore you to murder with their nomadic coaching tales and descriptions of colorless football drudgery. Coaches schlep from coaching gig to coaching gig, part of an occasionally inspiring fraternity; essentially they are engaged in finding a place where they can be well-paid grown-up kids. Halberstam discusses in great detail Belichick's "genius" for the game, but don't expect any "inside" insight. There's an occasional general discussion of football-ese. But Bill, a taciturn type, wisely keeps his methods to himself. Therefore, you will not learn much about the nuts-and-bolts of football schemes. NB - the New York Jets hired their most recent coach, Eric Mangini, primarily because he is a "Belichick disciple." One fears the exaltation that a future Halberstam-like author will bestow on Mangini if he is even remotely successful.