What I’m reading (and watching)

Pistol Offense DVDs, by Chris Ault, and Coaching the Spread Offense, edited by Earl Browning (same guy that does the Nike COY clinics). I just ordered these so I can’t yet give full reviews just yet. The Pistol DVDs by Ault are self-recommending, though if you’ve seen them, please let me know your thoughts. The table of the contents of the book can be found here; I take it that this book includes old Nike COY clinic articles/talks packaged into one volume. Again, any insight is appreciated.

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, by Alice Schroeder. This book is better than I expected (all 832 pages!) though I suppose that is both evidenced by the fact and maybe because I read it in non-linear fashion: I expected to only read the parts I cared about so I began when Buffett joined the hedge fund of his mentor Benjamin Graham, but found myself backtracking and then finishing the book straight through, as Buffett went from local Nebraska stock-picker to the buyer of entire companies he is today. Buffett comes across as a genuinely nice guy, enjoyable to be around, and slightly but affectionately odd,. Yet the lesson I primarily learned was that you don’t become the richest guy in the world without being obsessive, and that includes obsessiveness to the point of neglect of your family. Buffett isn’t a bad person, but obsessed with money and more interested in his own business dealings than with really anything else in life, and it’s clear what he wanted from a wife was more caretaker than anything else, as evidenced by his bizarre yet amicable separation from his wife who hooked him up with one of her own friends to be her successor (Buffett would still go to public events with his legal wife, Susie). Tom wrote a review of The Genius, which is about Bill Walsh, and said it reminded him of the Snowball. I had the same reaction, though in the opposite direction. About the Walsh book, Tom observed: “After finishing the book, and including the description of Walsh’s open and notorious adultery (see Buffett above) and general neglect of his family, I’m starting to firm up my belief being a great football coach is incompatible with the rest of humanity is about. Walsh was, comparatively at least, acclaimed for his interest in stuff other than football, but his obsession with the game and its tumults is at odds with that reputation of his.” It’s likely that this kind of obsession is not only a hallmark of successful coaches, but many professionally successful people as well.

Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices, by Noah Feldman. I don’t necessarily recommend this book to those who aren’t predisposed to book-length works about Supreme Court justices, but the subjects here — Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson, and William O. Douglas — are as good as it gets as far as judicial biographies go. Hugo Black went from former Ku Klux Klan member to civil rights champion; Robert Jackson began as a country lawyer and ended up maybe the greatest Justice on his Court and the chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials; Felix Frankfurter, a Harvard law professor and close confidante of Roosevelt, was known as a leading liberal scholar and architect of the New Deal, but once on the Court became known as one of the more conservative justices while the Court marched forward on civil rights and the first amendment; and William O. Douglas was, well, unlike anyone else, as described by a fantastic review by Judge Richard Posner (ignore the title of the blog post here; the article was originally published in the New Republic):

I met justice William Douglas, the longest-serving member of the Supreme Court, when I was clerking for Justice William Brennan. Douglas struck me as cold and brusque but charismatic–the most charismatic judge (well, the only charismatic judge) on the Court. Little did I know that this elderly gentleman (he was sixty-four when I was a law clerk) was having sex with his soon-to-be third wife in his Supreme Court office, that he was being stalked by his justifiably suspicious soon-to-be ex-wife, and that on one occasion he had to hide the wife-to-be in his closet in order to prevent the current wife from discovering her. . . . Douglas turned out to be a liar to rival Baron Munchausen, and a great deal of patient digging was required to reconstruct his true life story. One of his typical lies, not only repeated in a judicial opinion but inscribed on his tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery, was that he had been a soldier in World War I. Douglas was never in the Armed Forces. The lie metastasized: a book about Arlington National Cemetery, published in 1986, reports: “Refusing to allow his polio to keep him from fighting for his nation during World War I, Douglas enlisted in the United States Army and fought in Europe.” He never had polio, either.

Apart from being a flagrant liar, Douglas was a compulsive womanizer, a heavy drinker, a terrible husband to each of his four wives, a terrible father to his two children, and a bored, distracted, uncollegial, irresponsible, and at times unethical Supreme Court justice who regularly left the Court for his summer vacation weeks before the term ended. Rude, ice-cold, hot-tempered, ungrateful, foul-mouthed, self-absorbed, and devoured by ambition, he was also financially reckless–at once a big spender, a tightwad, and a sponge–who, while he was serving as a justice, received a substantial salary from a foundation established and controlled by a shady Las Vegas businessman.

Feldman’s book is not quite as juicy but it places the justices in historical context and contained lots of good anecdotes that I wasn’t aware of. It’s not a long discursus on constitutional law, and is thus is quite accessible.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays, by Joan Didion. Self recommending. I like Didion’s earlier stuff more than some of her admittedly more personal work later, though it is excellent as well.

  • Dave

    Douglas was a bad man and a mendacious judge.

    And I don’t think being called an “architect of the New Deal” is a sobriquet worthy of admiration.

  • joe

    Are you one of those crazy polymaths that reads five books a week and makes all us poser intellectuals feel bad about ourselves?

  • tractor

    About Warren Buffet / Bill Walsh.

    “It’s likely that this kind of obsession is not only a hallmark of successful coaches, but many professionally successful people as well.”

    In a previous life I was a football GA at 3 different major programs. Wow, does your statement ever ring true. More than once I sat through a video session with a coach who ran a single play over 60 times. 60 times!!! I would literally stick my ballpoint into my thigh to stay awake. Not kidding. (No stone left unturned? No. How about getting more skilled at your ability to prioritize your time and observational abilities so that you may glean what is to be gleaned in a reasonable fashion within a reasonable time.)

    The idea that you can have a fair chance at having a “normal” family life while being a major college coach is a stretch at best.

    I am currently involved in a study of contextualized “leadership”. I know, “YAWN”. Not going to bore anybody with that one. Just want to say that I am learning that there really is an alternative to the obsessive model of leadership. Balance can be achieved, but it has to be pursued.

    In short, we have to become obsessed with being balanced. (Too bad that our society STILL thinks that means we have to cue the new age zen fountain in the background. Balance is still not manly enough, especially in football.)

  • Henry

    tractor I think you bring up some great points. I think that most of us coaches strive for balance on offense between running and passing. But we need to have balance between or personal and occupational lives or else we could end up like Urban Meyer with heart problems.

  • dazz

    Does _Scorpions_ deal with FDR’s threatened “packing” of the supreme court? Maybe his most anti-democratic move from a checks and balances standpoint, but in a way helped to ensure a whole new level of democracy through upholding the right of unions to organize and the constitutionality of the New Deal via the commerce clause etc.

    And it all took place thanks to the steel industry’s “little Siberia” and the steel workers organizing a mill in Aliquippa Pennsylvania — also one of the most significant small cities in producing football talent in American history (Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Ty Law, Sean Gilbert, Darelle Revis, etc all from that tough steel town.)

  • Pat


    Really enjoy the blog. If you are looking for additional DVDs to look at, there is a new set out on “The Show Gun” Offense – the Muskegon High School / Grand Rapids Community College pistol / veer combination that you previously wrote about. The link is here: http://theshowgunoffense.yolasite.com/

    Again, really enjoy the blog.

  • Jordon

    Many thanks with the info, happen to be looking some days and nights just for this.

  • Will

    Just received Scorpions this year and will take your review to heart. Judge Posner needs to leave Baron Munchausen alone. Has the man no shame? Baron Munchausen is a saint!

  • Chris:

    Love your wit, humor and thoughts! Keep up the good work.

    Have you read or commented on “Scorecasting” by Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim?

    Good stuff and right up your alley!


  • hturner3280

    Chris, I was wondering if you’ve had a chance to finish the Nevada Pistol DVDs yet. If so, how would you rate them?