Platitudes from Football's Sean Payton and Pete Carroll
2 Stars (for both books)
The Good: Payton and Carroll's entrance into the football coaches literary guild is marked by their own manifest lack of humility, which certain fans of gridiron lit will find thoroughly amusing.
The Bad: While Payton is prone to contradiction, Carroll's book fails to deliver any real insight into the current scandal that has engulfed the USC football program.
The Bottom Line: Ultimately, Payton seems the wiser man and manager. After winning the Super Bowl with the Saints last season, he does not boast of a potential repeat. Carroll, on the other hand, invites readers to watch him ressurrect the Seahawks—a team which will be luck to break .500
Win Forever: Live, Work, and Play Like a Champion
By Pete Carroll with Yogi Roth
Portfolio, 240 pp, $25.95
Home Team: Coaching the Saints
and New Orleans Back to Life
By Sean Payton and Ellis Henican
New American Library; 304 pp, $24.95
One of the great advantages of coaching muscular young men who may not have read many books is that you can get away with retailing slogans as "philosophy." And since football fans and publishers assume anyone who can lead a team to a championship must be an organizational genius, such philosophy is easily marketable between hard covers.
This odd corner of the literary world includes compendiums of football realpolitik, like The Score Takes Care of Itself by the late coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Bill Walsh. It also spans the inspirational, such as former Indianapolis Colts coach and vocal Christian Tony Dungy's recent The Mentor Leader. Mostly, though, these volumes—and their titles—read like raspy-voiced Vince Lombardi screaming matches. In bookstore aisles, Do You Love Football?! by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden goes head-to-head with How Good Do You Want to Be? by University of Alabama coach Nick Saban.
This year the coaches' literary guild welcomes works by two new authors: Sean Payton, coach of the New Orleans Saints, and Pete Carroll, the recently hired steward of the Seattle Seahawks. Their works are very different, but they do share one characteristic—each author's unstinting admiration for himself.
In Payton's case, the strutting begins with the double-barreled boast in his book's subtitle: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life. Most of us know about the Saints' Super Bowl championship last season, but few outside the Payton household had until now realized he was personally responsible for the resurrection of southern Louisiana. Carroll revels in the tale of how he stumped an audience of generals and admirals by challenging them to state their individual philosophies in 25 words or less. Unlike those sloppy military types, Carroll has his wisdom standing at attention and even capitalized for convenience. He calls it the "Win Forever" philosophy and is happy to draw a pyramid showing how you, too, can gain a "competetive edge." (Apparently people who Win Forever don't have to worry about Spelling Correctly.)
Is there anything to be learned from this pair of self-adoring coaches? Oddly, yes. The key is realizing that both books are like trick plays, with lots of misdirection calculated to lure the unwary reader into jumping offsides. If you keep your eye on the ball, however, you'll begin to see real management secrets emerge. Here are five truths in coach-friendly language that you can learn—but you'll never see on the cover of either book.
I. RULES ARE FOR THE LITTLE PEOPLE.
Payton boasts about breaking a National Football League decree by serving alcohol on team flights. He also explains how, against NFL rules, he tried to get champagne smuggled into the locker room at the Super Bowl. No big deal? Maybe, except this is the same guy who tells us a few pages earlier that he looks for "players with the character to know right from wrong and to conduct their lives by that knowledge."
II. IT'S ALL ABOUT ME.
Payton mentions a game late in the 2009 season after the Saints had already clinched the top seed in the conference playoffs. He faced the choice of playing the game to win or, as he concluded, rest his starters for the post-season. It may have been prudent, but Payton's rationale is suspect. "Naturally, if you're the broadcast crew for that game, you don't want to have to look through your flip card to see who's in the lineup," he writes. "Well, tough. I couldn't give a rat's ass about the interest level you and everyone else have in this game. It means nothing to me or our team." You tell 'em, Sean. That's the way to treat the fans who ultimately pay a considerable portion of your salary.
III. WHEN IN TROUBLE, CALL A TIME-OUT.
This summer the NCAA levied crushing penalties against the University of Southern California for violations committed under Carroll's watch. In statements since then, Carroll has maintained he didn't know anything about the money that star running back Reggie Bush was said to have received. Although the allegations have been around since 2006, Carroll doesn't address them. In fact, the guru of Win Forever has few specifics in his book about battles for prized recruits or, for that matter, football strategy. He prefers to dwell on windy generalities about being "in the zone." The lesson here? When trouble busts loose, look away.
IV. CLICHÉS KICK BUTT.
As John Maynard Keynes once observed, it's better for your reputation if you fail conventionally than succeed unconventionally. Coaches live this truth and plot fresh ways to serve up clichés. Carroll takes this strategy to alarming levels, mixing up Esalen-era pop psychology with Woody Hayes-vintage aphorisms. His players should perform with "a quieted mind" but "no whining, no complaining, no excuses." And, oh yeah, arrive early for meetings.
V. WINNING IS FLEETING.
If either Carroll or Payton has a surefire formula for winning, he employs it only sporadically. Carroll flopped in two previous stints as an NFL coach, first with the New York Jets and then with the New England Patriots. Payton has a Super Bowl ring as well as a losing season and a .500 one. So why are we reading their musings? Because memories are short. Every year, in every league, someone has to hoist the trophy—but just ask Super Bowl winners like Mike Holmgren or Brian Billick how difficult it is to capture a second title.
Championship football coaches, like hot mutual fund managers, should keep in mind that everyone gets humbled. That's why Payton seems ultimately the wiser man. He concludes his book with the Saints' victory parade and makes no promises about what comes next. In contrast, Carroll invites the reader to watch him work his magic on a Seahawks team that will be lucky to break .500 this season. In a world where nobody wins forever, he's setting himself up for one hellacious fall. Let the games begin.