Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Book review: Halberstam on Belichick

While it's halftime at the Rose Bowl, I thought I'd put in a quick, good word for David Halberstam's book, "The Education of a Coach," on Bill Belichick.

Belichick is one of the most private, guarded sports celebrities, and it seems logical that it would take a writer of Halberstam's credentials to get him to open up in the least. While Belichick doesn't appear to give the author a lot of direct material, the master reporter goes out and gets it, covering Belichick's early life, his time as a high school and college player, and then his rise from a Colts assistant who studied film and wasn't paid for it, to the heights he's achieved now.

Along the way, Belichick learns the lessons that make him such an effective coach. From his father, a Navy assistant coach, he gained an appreciation for hard work and an understanding that coaching was largely an unglamorous profession, but those with a passion for the game would get their own reward from it. He also learned to study film -- playing it back again and again to see a greater view of the game. From his high school football coach, he learned that the coach needed to be an authority figure, lest he lose the respect of his team. From his prep school coach, he learned how to balance a roster and bring new players into the fold (Andover had four-year students mixing with one-year, postgraduates on its team each year). He learned how to handle different types of personalities. In college, he honed his skills at critical thinking and problem solving at Wesleyan University (a rival of my alma mater, Bowdoin). And on his ride through the NFL, he learned that he could be himself, a passionate and intelligent man, and players would respect him for it and realize that he would help them be successful.

Ironically, Belichick seemed to gain the least from the man whom he worked with the longest, Bill Parcells. The two had complementary skills and temperaments, but mostly each realized he needed the other for success. It was a professional relationship and it eventually had to end. Belichick learned how to be a head coach the hard way in Cleveland, where he struggled, and then ultimately succeeded in New England, where he has a supportive, smart owner, a protege in player personnel and several among his assistants, a team cast in his image, and a quarterback who shares his burning desire to win and be a team player. The book is a quick read and a fun one. I highly recommend it.

As for the game, the story so far is Vince Young. He is in complete command, running the ball and passing it. Both teams have hurt themselves with mistakes, which often happens early in a big game. I look for the second half to settle down and produce a classic. USC must get some pressure on Young and force him to at least make quicker decisions. Texas has played it almost perfectly on defense, limiting Matt Leinart's deep throws. The Trojans need more creativity in their play calling to soften up the Texas coverage. We'll see what happens ...



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