#Reviewing Football Books

The Genius of Desperation: The Schematic Innovations that Made the Modern NFL by Doug Farrar

Doug Farrar’s book is a detailed discussion on how football evolved over the decades. His book begins in the early years of the NFL in the 1920s, and takes the reader on a tour of the major innovations through the modern era. Farrar details how specific individuals from Vince Lombardi to Sid Gillman through Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick.


The lessons I take from this book are the similarities in the evolution of warfare and evolution of professional sports. While the nature of both war and football remain constant, the character, or how they are fought and played continually change. This may be from advancements in technology, changes to the rules, or the rise of an individual who thinks on a higher plane. Further, as a nation or team gains a competitive advantage, other nations and teams soon catch up, which leads to further evolution and innovation.

Secondly, The Genius of Desperation chronicles the innovators of football. In this respect, the evolution of the game was dependent upon men who saw the game differently. Again, I see similarities to evolution in military thought. Military history is often traced back through various individuals who saw the world in a different light than everyone else. Evolution in warfare is more than new technologies. It includes new thoughts on how to fight wars. From Alexander the Great, to Fabian, through Napoleon, Jomeni, and Clausewitz to Grant and Sherman, to the modern day thinkers such as Boyd and Warden.

Farrar’s book is a worthy edition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in football, sports, or organizational leadership.

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

                Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers offers his thought on leadership. Each chapter or section of the book is no longer than two or three pages. Each is an insight into how he ran his organization. Walsh delivers his lessons learned on leading people, and transforming an organization from a rock bottom loser to a championship dynasty.

The Score Takes Care of Itself is more of a business and leadership book than a sports book. The book offers nuggets of wisdom that translate directly to how military leaders run organizations, and how military planners can think about courses of action within tactical, operational, and strategic planning. For example, in talking about planning, Walsh talks about how he became the first NFL coach to script plays. Indeed, thoughtful planning, according to Walsh was a key ingredient of the 49ers dynasty. More than just thinking through the first ten or fifteen plays of a game, Walsh developed plays for a verity of contingencies or scenarios that would arise in a game. This is directly translatable to contingency planning with built in branches and sequels that operational and strategic planners develop in the military.


In terms of leadership, Walsh discusses how he would demand excellence from everyone in his organization. From the star quarterback to maintenance crews, Walsh wanted perfection from everyone. Further, Walsh identifies that the best leaders know when to put feelings aside, and to make decisions that are best for the organization. These types of decisions come often in military leaders careers when handling men and women who don’t perform to expected standards. Leaders must always balance what is best for an individual against what is best for an organization. Ideally, they align, but often enough they do not.

Another aspect to Walsh’s leadership the teaching aspect. Walsh tells us that true leaders double as teachers. Indeed, Walsh was a product of Paul Brown, and then mentored a number of coaches who became a part of the Bill Walsh Coaching Tree. This translates to military leadership too. Every leader in the military is just passing through. We are judged on how well we prepare the next generation of leadership. If follow-on generations of leadership fail spectacularly in the next war, the current generation has only themselves to blame.

Walsh also cautions against leaders ignoring “the bottom 20 percent. Walsh sees that the performance of the bottom 20 percent will also determine success or failure of an organization. The star quarterback and wide receiver are dependent on the offensive guard earning the league minimum, or the back-up running back. Walsh advises leaders to pay attention to this cohort, as there are always times when the bottom 20 percent will be called upon to act in a decisive moment.

This is another book that leaders in all professions can look to as a guide to running small or large organizations.