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What makes a coach great? How do great coaches turn a collection of individuals into a coherent “us”?
Seth Davis, one of the keenest minds in sports journalism, has been thinking about that question for twenty-five years. It’s one of the things that drove him to write the definitive biography of college basketball’s greatest coach, John Wooden, Wooden: A Coach’s Life. But John Wooden coached a long time ago. The world has changed, and coaching has too, tremendously. Seth Davis decided to embark on a proper investigation to get to the root of the matter.
In Getting to Us, Davis probes and prods the best of the best from the landscape of active coaches of football and basketball, college and pro—from Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney, and Jim Harbaugh to Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim, Brad Stevens, Geno Auriemma, and Doc Rivers—to get at the fundamental ingredients of greatness in the coaching sphere. There’s no single right way, of course—part of the great value of this book is Davis’s distillation of what he has learned about different types of greatness in coaching, and what sort of leadership thrives in one kind of environment but not in others. Some coaches have thrived at the college level but not in the pros. Why? What’s the difference? Some coaches are stern taskmasters, others are warm and cuddly; some are brilliant strategists but less emotionally involved with their players, and with others it’s vice versa. In Getting to Us, we come to feel a deep connection with the most successful and iconic coaches in all of sports—big winners and big characters, whose stories offer much of enduring interest and value.
Davis (Wooden: A Coach's Life) gives readers an intimate insider's perspective on what it takes to succeed in high-stakes coaching positions. The answer, he believes, lies in the ability to convert disparate individuals on a team into a cohesive "Us" through what Davis calls a PEAK profile: persistence in tasks, empathy for players, authenticity in style, and knowledge of craft. Davis interviewed nine coaches (all men) who fit that profile, and devotes a concise chapter to each one. He takes readers into the coaches' personal lives; for example, Urban Meyer's anxiety and health issues forced him to temporarily retire as head coach of the University of Florida football team, but his "sabbatical taught him the importance of living a balanced life and conserving energy," and he later shared these lessons with his players. Many coaches brought knowledge from previous jobs or experiences: Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney credits his brief tenure as a commercial real estate developer with helping him understand how to oversee a large operation, while Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo learned the value of hard work and attention to detail as a kid tending the counter in his family's shoe repair shop. This refreshing look into the complex lives of coaches will appeal to an audience far wider than hardcore sports fans.