Reflections: 'Blood, Sweat & Chalk'
In the past three weeks, I have done dozens of interviews with radio stations, websites, blogs and print media as part of the publicity for my book,
A book is a finished product; unlike a column on a website, there's no going back to add or subtract material. Yet in talking about
(Background: My intention with the book was to describe the evolution of various iconic offenses and defenses, by telling the story of the coaches who created -- or, more correctly, popularized -- them and in simple terms, the way in which these systems work. An excerpt was posted on si.com and you can read it
The questions, and the answers.
Almost every interviewer has asked this question, and, I'm not going to lie, it's impossible to answer with any authority. Football is a relatively complex activity and coaches are constantly tinkering with the deployment of the 22 bodies on the field. There have been countless evolutionary leaps in the past 110 years since governmental intervention helped outlaw the Flying Wedge and created the basics of the modern game of football.
But I would go with
Which brings us to....
Yes, the question is usually that vague. And fair enough. There's no doubt where football has gone in the past, say, 40 years: From the run to the pass. As
I do. As I explain in
One of the best moments in reporting the book was going from Coryell's home to the public library in Friday Harbor, where I copied some 50 pages of the playbook. (Don didn't want to just give away the playbook's pages, so we stood next to the copier, dropping in quarters, old school). I volunteered to drive the SUV from Don's house back downtown to the library and ferry, because Don's knee was sore after recent replacement surgery. He was incredibly thankful that I volunteered to drive; I can't overstate how nice Don was to me, and how privileged I feel to have done the last significant interview of his life with him.
One of the interesting things is that almost every football program in America that throws a modicum of passes now has a pass route tree. Was Coryell's the first? As I say with everything in the book, there's no way to be sure. But I would argue that his is the most enduring.
Going back to question No. 2. Because of the proliferation of the passing game at all levels, I'm going with Darrell (Mouse) Davis on this one. Certainly Walsh and Coryell were more important figures at the highest levels of the game.
But at the time when I sat down with Mouse at a breakfast joint near Portland State in the fall of 2008, the spread offense had taken over just about every level of the game. There were many different spreads, but whether you were talking the four-wide Patriots with
And as I sat down to poached eggs with Mouse, I still wasn't sure how we got here with the spread. Then Mouse took me first backward, and then forward. Backward to Ohio high school coach
Afterthought: Mouse Davis, who will turn 78 on Sept. 6, is the offensive coordinator at the University of Hawaii.
That's a dangerous question, but let's be honest: The book is 256 pages and 22 chapters. It could be triple that. Before the process even got rolling, I tried to make a list of offenses that should be in the book (West Coast, Zone Blitz, wishbone), and then started adding from there. But I figured out pretty early in the game that I wasn't going to get to all of them, at least not get to all of them in a way that allowed me to tell some stories, too. And that was the goal.
Enough whining. The next book will include the ''T'' formation, which was significant to the middle of the 20th century. When I was at Chiefs' training camp earlier this month,
True, football coaches guard their secrets. But it turns out that's really only when you're asking them about this weekend, or this particular team. When you ask them about history, even recent history, they are actually a very forthcoming lot.
Example: In the fall of 2008, when the Wildcat was first hitting the NFL (it had been around in high schools for a decade, thanks to
There were numerous other examples. Coaches went out of their way to give credit to previous generations from whom they had learned or stolen. They were generous in explaining the intricacies of complex offenses and defenses so that I could further explain them to readers.
Even those that were gone -- Warner, Nelson, Lombardi, Walsh -- left behind road maps that were easily and fascinatingly followed.
That coaches and athletes like talking about their jobs more than their lives, and we probably don't ask them enough about their jobs and too much about their lives.