Friday, January 11, 2019

My Take on Ian O'Connor's Belichick: A Review

Ian O'Connor's Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time is billed as "the definitive biography of the NFL’s most enigmatic, controversial, and yet successful coach." Because I'd mentioned it in an earlier blog post, I wanted to follow up with my take on the book now that I have finished it.

My starting point is an observation taken from sports journalist Jane Leavy's book about Mickey Mantle. My 2011 blog post about the Mick stated:

Mantle, like many American heroes, is a flawed man. His time in history was a period of innocence in which the sportswriters knew he was a man different from his iconic image. In those days the sportswriters could lose their jobs for writing some of the things they knew, Leavy notes. And today sportswriters might lose their jobs for not writing about what they knew. We live in a different time, a time of innocence lost.

My take on O'Connor's bio of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is that the author seems to have made it his agenda to bathe the man with tar, dig up as much dirt as he could find, throw shovelfuls onto the tarred man and see how much sticks.

OK, there's plenty of praise, but 100% of the time, every story of winning or brilliance or nearly anything positive that occurs in his life is immediately followed by a hurtful barb. Were all these barbs really necessary? In the end the reader is left to wonder if the author really believes the title of his own book, that this man is the greatest coach ever.

A majority of the reviews for this book were positive, but I also like to check out the negative reviews, as they are sometimes on point. Here were a few one star reviews that I do not think were far off the mark.

Peevish, Petulant, and Puerile
This book is a hatchet job, pure and simple. Ian O'Conner is a hack journalist with an axe to grind. Don't waste your money.

Waste of time...
Here's an idea when writing a book, have a point, it's makes it so more Interesting for the reader. There's absolutely nothing new in this book. 500 pages of rehashed transcripts from three games to glory and a football life. Pathetic effort! Ian get your second-rate ass back on the bus to the minor leagues where you belong.

Not a valid source of information
This author never even interviewed Belichick for this book. Well known amongst fans that lots of these info are unconfirmed rumors. Ian O’Connor is at the bottom of any list for actual insider information about Patriots and Belichick.

These are pretty unkind cuts, even though it is apparent that the author did a lot of legwork. My problem goes back up to the Jane Leavy observation. I did not see it necessary to dig up every gripe ever made and weave it into the story. For example there were players who got traded who did not want to leave, but in a salary cap world, someone has to make hard decisions. BB made them. The guys who got traded grumble and it is in the book.

I'm not suggesting that we revert back to the former days where heroes' foibles and feet of clay were denied or varnished over with three coats of paint. It just seems that there is never a missed opportunity to pinch and prick the Pats' coach.

The Spygate story is extensively covered, and to O'Connor's credit he shares the extent to which many coaches have gone to great lengths, many of them ethically questionable, to find an edge. One amusing one was how Chicago Bear coach George Halas put itching powder in the soap of the opposing teams' locker room.

This section of the book does seem to go on forever though.  And then there's Deflategate. Hoo boy.

What impressed me most about both books--this one and Halberstam's--was how each showed Belichick's commitment to the Patriots being a TEAM.

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This past week I wrote about one of the insights I gained from O'Connor's book, which I turned into the acronym WWAUA, or What We Are Up Against. (You can it read it here.)  There were some additional insights as well that I didn't recall reading in the Halberstam book. And since this book is many years later, it does break down the details of several more big games in a way that makes them come alive for you again. He's a good writer. For my taste, the author too often came across as mean-spirited.

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Related Link
David Halberstam's Education of a Coach
Books by David Halberstam

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