What I’ve been reading

Coaching Football’s 46 Defense, by Rex Ryan. That’s  the link to the (five hour) DVD Rex made while at the University of Cincinnati. I just ordered book by Ryan and Jeff Walker on the 46 defense; I assume more of the same, but I’m a book guy. Either way (and not a surprise given his lineage), Rex knows all there is to know about this defense.

Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, by Ray Bradbury. I can’t write like Bradbury — he of Fahrenheit 451 — but this exuberant, infectious screed about the joys of writing makes me want to try.

Distress Investing: Principles and Technique, by Martin Whitman and Fernando Diz. This book is neither exuberant nor infectious, but it does a surprisingly good job explaining the nuts and bolts of workouts, liquidations and Chapter 11 and the effect that has on a company’s securities (stocks, bonds, etc.). As interesting (or as dry) as it was, it is of more academic than practical interest to me — I won’t be buying any syndicated loans participation rights for myself any time soon. (I’m more of an indexer myself.)

The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life, by Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff. As far as primers on game theory go, this one is much better than Rock, Paper, Scissors, but there’s nothing particularly new here either and — after a furious train ride where I read about half of it in one sitting — I haven’t touched it in a month. I will finish it, eventually. (Or so I tell myself.)

Selected Tales and Sketches, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne was always just ever-so-slightly wordier than I liked (an ironic criticism coming from me, no doubt), but these little stories are a pleasure to read, especially if you only have a few minutes.

The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk. Excellent, melancholy — essentially what you’d expect from Pamuk. Although he is older, the characters here felt younger and less ironic than in his prior books.

And finally,  a question: In the last few months there have been a spate of books professing to bring football knowledge to the masses —The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays, the Jaworski/Steve Sabol book and Sports Illustrated Blood, Sweat & Chalk: The Ultimate Football Playbook: How the Great Coaches Built Today’s Game, Tim Layden’s book, being two of them. I’ve flipped through them and read excepts, and though Layden is an excellent writer and Jaworski a guy I generally respect (at least in the context of his narrow football worldview), I find myself unable to pick them up; life always seems too short. Am I missing out? Are they enjoyable and informative romps through football history? Or are they aimed at a sub-Smart Football audience, the fan who has watched for years but never really bothered to learn the difference between a blitz and a zone run. Let me know.

  • Brian Burke

    The second half of Art of Strategy is much better.

  • Hey Chris,

    I really enjoyed Tim Layden’s book. (Did a podcast with him about it around the time it was released: http://www.blatanthomerism.com/2010-articles/august/podcast-blood-sweat-and-chalk.html.)

    He definitely takes a more historical approach, using anecdotes and interview material to illustrate both the concepts behind different strategies as well as the circumstances that gave rise to the schemes. It’s worth reading for the chapter on Coryell alone.


  • Paul


    As a 26-yr-old football fan, I liked Layden’s book a lot, for the same reason that AK did. The anecdotes and historical context made it worth the read. As someone who has only recently started diving deeper into the history of the game, I didn’t know why it was originally called the 46 defense, I had no idea who Mouse Davis or Tiger Ellison were, etc., so I found it very informative.

    The X/O component is pretty basic. I didn’t really pick up anything new, but everything was explained clearly. I think it would benefit from a few more diagrams.

    Overall, I’d recommend it to anyone that has a genuine interest in the history and personalities behind the game we know today. Some of the stories are fantastic, and I’ve never run across them anywhere else.

  • Duece

    The Rex Ryan book is very good for anyone interested in the bear, or adding the bear package to their defense. We were giving up an avg. of 411.3 yards per game in our first 3 games and an avg. of 37.5 points per game and last week we held our opponent to 211 yards of total offense and 12 points. His book is very detailed, and does a good job describing things in a “lower level” perspective. I think it is an excellent book to add to your library if you a defensive coach.


  • DrB

    Definitely enjoyed the Ryan book.

  • Coach H

    Read the excerpt from Blood, Sweat, and Tears in Sports Illustrated about Don Coryell. I liked where he was trying to go with the book from the excerpt, but it contained many inaccuracies so that has turned me off from spending money on it.

  • Doug E

    Pat Kirwin’s Take Your Eye Off the Ball is excellent. Reads like his radio show (Moving the Chains) trying to bring real football knowledge to the masses.

  • Brad

    I really liked the Tim Layden book. I bought it in an airport and read it while flying around. Its a nice mix of different things. It has enough of the X/O information to keep who like that involved, but really it focuses more on why teams switched to different schemes. Its nice if only for the interesting interviews and anecdotes. While I think its aimed much more to the general football fan who wants to know more about the game, its interesting in how it shows the progression from one system to another to another, and why those coaches made the switch.

  • Coach Hag

    The 46 stuff is all good. 4-5 years a go I used it 1000% of the time. We use it with a 3-4 now.

  • Bob

    A few observations on a book worth reading:

    1.The Layden book is up to his literary standards but remember he is a reporter, not a historian. The more recent developments of the last ten or twenty years have the benefit of interviews with the participants. More distant developments are blurred by selective memories and hand-me-down anecdotes.
    As an example,Don Coryell was not shy about suggesting he invented the whole “Air Coryell”concept including numbered passing tree routes. Neither was Sid Gillman, though he used other terms to describe it.The friends of Coryell and those of Gillman have done neither a favor by diminishing the contributions of the other to what Gillman-protoge Al Davis calls the Big Pass game. Apparantly Gillman thought no one ever saw Hamp Pool’s playbook (which he got from Clark Shaughnessey, including the numbered pass routes and letter designations of x and y receivers) which Pool published as “Fly-T Football” and left behind when Gillman inherited his office at the Rams. Coryell always downplayed the cross-fertilization of his staff at San Diego State and Gillman’s staff (including Davis)when they shared the same stadium. The results were, if not revolutionary, a major contribution to passing pffense.It was not unlike the colaboration of Halas with Shaughnessey before he left for Stanford. The results were similar.

    2.You ought to write a comparison of your divide concept and Air Coryell’s “F post.”

    3.Like most contempory writers Layden calls all old direct snap offenses “the single wing,” as if they were all sprung from the same roots — a discription Yost would found offensive and Rockne would have laughed at. Warner would be even more amused.

    4.Finally Layden’s discription of the “invention” of the zone read concept completely omits any reference to what we all saw (if we are over 30) with our own eyes in 1992 and 1993. Bobby Bowden, Mark Richt, and Charlie Ward won a national title and a Heisman trophy by reviving an old concept from Rockne’s Box offense that Bowden had learned at Alabama and Samford. They just did not slap a label on it.
    Layden does note that Rich Rodriguez and his quarterback at Glenville State were experimenting simultanously with a similar concept.Four years later Rodriguez and Tommy Bowden hooked up and took the zone read to Tulane and Clemson. The rest is history, but we ought to remember what Urban Meyer says in his jacket blurb, “Coaches today are getting too much credit for formations and offenses that were dreamed up years ago.”

  • The Layden book is good, but wait for paperback. Mine came with printing errors all over the place. Probably below the level of most of your readers, but interesting histories nonetheless.

  • Brad

    Yeah, there were a ton of printing errors in it.

  • Patrick

    Blood, Sweat, and Chalk admittedly contains a lot of printing errors. It also doesn’t engage with too much depth the actual “X’s and O’s” of the various schemes, the descriptions are often brief, and in many cases ancillary. The book’s focus is more on the characters and context. For example, in explaining the 46 defense, you learn what the safety does mostly because Layden is telling the story of how the defense got its name.

    At the same time, I enjoyed it. It’s neither difficult nor slow to read. And it was mildly reminiscent of When Pride Still Mattered, in that it provides a valuable glimpse into the history of the game for someone eager for that.

  • On the 46….the book is excellent and the first couple DVDs go over pretty much what the book does. What is interesting is that on some of the later chapters of the video series (total of 6+ hours) filmed in the 90’s, it becomes apparent where all developments in defense have come from. (The series) chronicles coverage and pressure from the 70s through the 90s and how much of the variations (Buddy) Ryan used spawned the pattern matching (more than just banjo) and fire zones of today. I suppose it is just nostalgia for folks over 30 to see how the young Ryan and father protege, Gregg Williams, remain at the forefront of defensive trends today using the same principles used in the 80’s.

    Jeff Walker has a bible of a book in the 40 nickel, I never realized he also had a 46 book.

  • Danius

    I enjoyed Layden’s book, as a long-time fan who now wants to gain a deeper understanding of the game. Most of your site goes over my head (not a complaint, just a reflection of my level), while I actually wish that Layden gave more technical detail, as opposed to anecdotal history (which was nonetheless interesting_.

    I also read Kirwan’s, “Take Your Eye Off the Ball,” which was helpful. But what I’d really appreciate is something intermediate — more technical than those books but not yet as difficult as your site.

    Meanwhile, I’m training myself to watch football more carefully. It’s a slow learning process, but the wonderful thing about football is that there is so much there — not to mention that it’s always changing.