March 24, 2010

Books That Influenced Me

Jumping on the bandwagon, inspired by Chris Brown's

(In no particular order)
1-Redwall by Brian Jacques. If it weren't for fantasy literature, and especially this series, I would be a VERY different person. I was an early reader and always loved it, but this series launched me into the realm of devouring books and eagerly anticipating the next one. The first time I stayed up past 11pm was when I just HAD to finish the first book of the Redwall series because I couldn't wait to experience the finish. Hugely influential book in my life.
2-The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. Recent read, within the last year, but this book just exploded my conception of how to coach and how to approach competition and personal effort. I cannot recommend it enough to coaches, athletes, and PEOPLE.
3-Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger. Kind of a cliche, but I loved this book nonetheless. Excellently written, perfectly executed with great depth and analysis of almost every aspect of that football season. Reveals the ugly, the good, and the insightful. Not for the faint of heart, however.
4-Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Good Lord, what a book! Hugo LOVES his characters, he writes them with passion and fervor and empathy as he tells a remarkable tale that spans several decades of a man's life and explores many, many deep issues, the central of which is the nature of redemption and forgiveness. I love this book, it took me a long while to read because I had to stop, chew on what I'd just read, absorb it, think about it, before I could allow myself to move on. Not because it was difficult, but rather because it was SO GOOD that I had to savor it. Probably my favorite of all time.
5-The Malazan Book of The Fallen by Stephen Erikson. Technically 10 books, but it's my list, so deal with it. Erikson is an amazing author who creates fantastically interesting and deep characters, along with an entire universe that is never fully explained, but revealed as the stories go on. The first book, Gardens Of The Moon, is a labor to get through, but it's worth it. Erikson shows such discipline as a writer that the main focus of the series doesn't even appear until the THIRD NOVEL, with at least 1100 pages in the first two. After college, I'd been pretty burned out on reading for fun, what with being an English major and all, but this series restored that love to me.
6-The Bible. I'm a born-again Christian (OH NO HE SAID IT!) and the Bible has been an amazing thing in my life. I don't read it as much as I should, which is unfortunately a bit of a meta-statement about my faith, but it's a journey, not a destination. Wonderful parables and stories, the best selling book of all time!
7-A Love Worth Giving by Max Lucado. Written for Christians by a Christian pastor, Lucado uses the very famous passage of I Corinthians 13:4-8 (Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails.) as a starting point for a series of essays about the nature of love in a Christian setting and how we can use God's love for us as an example in our own lives.
8-A Season Of Life by Jeffrey Marx. Excellent read, another that I'd consider a must-have for football coaches. Examines what it is to be a man, what our roles as coaches is, and tells a beautiful story about a man's reunion with his fairly estranged father. Touching book, easy read, no reason not to do it.
9-Norton Anthology Of Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare, always have, always will. I can't really single out any one thing, but some of my favorites: A Winter's Tale, R&J, King Lear, Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Henry series, it goes on... Fantastic storyteller and writer, I've never read a play by Shakespeare and been disappointed by it. Hell, I even liked Shakespeare In Love (movie) because of all the references/tributes/nods to famous lines and events in his life and stories. Plus Gwenyth Paltrow reminds me of a girl I went on a few dates with.
10-The Dragonlance series by Margret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. Total fantasy lit nerd, one of the better fantasy lit series made, chubby childhood, roll them together and you get me! I'm no longer chubby or a child (I like to think fit and young adult) but the other two are still true and, like Redwall, I read the shit out of these books. Somewhere in my parent's basement are BOXES of books from this series that I read several times. Hell, I still remember important lines of dialogue and it's been like, a decade and a half.

So there.

March 16, 2010

Book Review: Football's Eagle and Stack Defenses by Ron Vanderlinden

Buy This Or You're Dumb
It's really about that simple folks. I don't care what your defensive system is, 3-3, 3-4, 4-3, 4-4, Bear, Variable UFO Defense of Doomination, this book has something in it that you'll read, re-read, and realize that it's not only good, but it can help you. I read it in about 2 days, which is saying something because it's not a light book at 248 pages which are largely dense, technical football writing. It's not a book of diagrams and whatnot, it's friggin' WRITING. It's cheap, it's thorough, it's one of the best football books written in a long time.

So, What's It About?
Imagine if you could buy the basic, nuts and bolts knowledge needed to install and coordinate a defense that's flexible, multiple, and fairly simple. This is your chance to do that. It's no Tony Franklin System for defense, but it IS quite excellent for gaining a very functional understanding of exactly how Vanderlinden's scheme works. He gives you a thorough explanation of how they set and dictate the fronts, how that overlaps with the coverages, and how people's run responsibilities play out. Not only that, he gives you very easy to understand directions regarding how his defense would defend common run plays versus the different fronts that he runs.
That alone would be good stuff, very valuable for everyone's growth as a coach, regardless of scheme. But what I really, really like is he gives a pretty sweet explanation of coverages, techniques, and defensing some common routes that might be an issue. I'm the first to admit that my knowledge of DB play is quite limited. This gave me some really great insight into HOW some coverage components work, from a schematic and a technical perspective. I'm no DB guru now, but reading that was quite helpful for me personally.
Lastly, Vanderlinden explains a few of his favorite blitzes. I love blitzes, I love blitzing. One of the things I grew to love about running a 3-4 defense was how damn flexible it was for blitzing and blitzing creatively. Being a football coach, I love to steal, and Vanderlinden's got some good stuff. He explains them pretty thoroughly, which is cool, but he also explains a lot of his thought process behind them and when/why he uses them. Getting insight into the mind and motivations of one of the best coordinators around is precious information and he offers it readily.
Oh, there's also a fairly extensive section on technique for positions.

So, What You're Trying To Say Is...
First, buy this book. Second, read this book. Third, ???. Four, Profit!

March 1, 2010

Understanding Youth, Society, And Crime: The Wire

If Snot Boogie Always Stole The Money, Why'd You Let Him Play?
The Wire (, created by former Baltimore Sun crime reporter David Simon, is arguably the greatest TV show of all time. This isn't just me saying it because I happen to be a huge fan of it. It's been in the discussion for years by a lot of people who are much, much smarter than me. There's a class on it offered at Harvard University. President Obama lists it as one of his favorite shows to watch. My pot-head, tie-dye wearing, bike to school 16 year old TA raves about the symbolism, parallelism, and cinematography of it. It has a universal appeal to just about anyone. It's most prestigious award was a WGA award for best drama in 2008.

It's A Thin Line Between Heaven And Here...
So what's it about? EVERYTHING. The show is remarkable in that it operates on layers and levels that I've personally never seen before. My best description goes something like this: The Wire is about the way that drugs in Baltimore infect and influence life on every level, from the street corner 'hoppers' to the mayors and senators, and in a variety of settings. One of the most interesting things about the five seasons of The Wire is that in each season, creator/producer David Simon chooses a new focus to examine. In season 1, we get to see the role of technology in the pursuit of drug traffickers, season 2, the role of the docks and dockworkers, season 3, the influence of drug money on politics and business, season 4 (arguably the most important season, in my mind) the role of youth in the drug game, and season 5 examines the role that the media plays in this whole drug 'war'.
The plot is excellent, never predictable (, and the show is fantastically acted. The strength of Simon's drama, however, comes from his characters. This is true of his other works too, Generation Kill had some fantastic characters (based off of real people, but excellently presented nonetheless). The Wire features an amazing assortment of characters, a few of my favorites:
  • Omar - Frequently quotable stick-up artist who makes a living knocking of drug dealers' safe houses and stashes. Also, a gay black man, which makes him an outcast in just about every way in the black community of Baltimore.
  • Jimmy McNulty - The ultimate good guy who doesn't wear white. McNulty sleeps around, drinks excessively, lies, manipulates, the whole she-bang. But, McNulty is "natural po-lice" and is ultimately the one responsible for the whole series.
  • Stringer Bell - One of the heads of the Barksdale drug empire, Stringer is refined, well-kept, and determined to treat drugs as a business. A highlight moments feature Stringer lecturing two of the workers at one of his fronts about the difference between an elastic and inelastic product or consulting his professor about economic strategy that he then puts to use in the drug game.
  • Bubbles - Transient drug addict who works as a CI for the BPD. Bubbles has one of the few happy endings in the series, but also goes through probably the worst torments, too. Brilliantly portrayed by Andre Royo, based on a real person that Simon met while working at the Sun.
And All The Pieces Matter...
So why am I talking about The Wire on a football coaching blog? One, it's that good. It really is. Two, I think that watching the fourth season is a great exercise in reminding us as coaches how important we really are. Our wins and losses and various battles we fight are important, no doubt, but the most important thing we can do is keep kids from turning to other things. Season four shows us what happens to kids in bad situations who don't get the important, positive, nurturing and supportive MALE leadership necessary in their lives. It shows us what happens when kids are given options in what they should be doing with their lives. If you can watch season four and not feel a little more motivated to be there for your boys a little more, to provide that much more of a role model, to sacrifice just a few more moments to make sure that they're taken care of, well, I'm at a loss for words. It's powerful, enthralling, and relevant.
Watching seasons 1-3 in order to be well informed while watching season 4 isn't crucial, but c'mon, it beats the hell out of basketball season :)