An often stellar anthology examining the impact of coaches, with contributors Francine Prose, John Irving and John McPhee, among others.
Sportswriter Frank Deford profiles Marquette basketball coach Al Maguire, a man of extraordinary color and velocity who works a grand con of madman/fool to get the most out of his squad. Irving honors the wrestling coach who counseled him to become a student of the sport to compensate for his shortcomings. “Talent is overrated,” he told Irving. “[T]hat you’re not very talented needn’t be the end of it.” Charles McGrath, former editor of the New York Times Book Review, writes that Aunt Gert was his best golfing coach. On the green, she kicked his butt with short drives while teaching him that calm and humility go a long way, even if he was too testosterone-laden to listen. (He listens now, and Aunt Gert still hits the ball square.) McPhee offers a cool, elegant portrait of Princeton’s Willem van Breda Kolff, who felt “that mere winning is far less important than winning with style.” And it is not surprising that Buzz Bissinger was asked to weigh in on the subject, with the recent success of his book-turned-movie Friday Night Lights, though here it is a tribute to his baseball coach, and a backhanded one at that: “I remember him in the way that memory is most useful, through my own psychological needs, which is also to say that much of what I do remember may not even be accurate.” Novelist Prose, in a superb, subversive entry about the gym coach she couldn’t stand, reminds us that not all coaches are heroes. “Most of my early teachers were helpful,” she concludes, “but Miss G. was not.” Other contributors—John Edgar Wideman, George Plimpton, Robert Lipsyte—share equally memorable stories.
A solid, entertaining collection recognizing great coaches, and a Beelzebub or two.