Review by Budd Bailey
The bookstores have a very big selection of books on leadership, mostly in the business sense. Not all of them have connections to the sports world, but the percentage is surprisingly high. The best coaches sometimes sit down with a co-author, dash off some general statements that probably fit into the common sense department, mix in a few stories from his life’s work, and sit back and wait for the royalty checks.
The problem is that they usually aren’t too interesting. That’s why “Getting to Us” is a very pleasant exception.
Seth Davis is a nationally known writer and has done some broadcasting work with CBS, particularly around the NCAA tournament. He’s obviously good at what he does. Someone who had heard some of his interviews on top coaches told him he had the makings of a book on leadership. Davis decided that friend was right and got to work.
The result may not inspire you to lead your troops, business or otherwise, into battle. It’s simply a heck of a good read.
Davis starts out with the premise that the best coaches are trying to build a small, successful community – one that has people thinking they are part of “us.” Along those lines, he uses an acronym – because it’s not a book on leadership without an acronym. In this case, it’s PEAK – persistence, empathy, authenticity, and knowledge.
Then it’s on to the coaches. Davis may have started with a list of candidates for potential chapters, and then weeded them down on the basis of who would talk at length and who would be interesting. In any event, he chose nine great subjects: Urban Meyer, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Boeheim, Geno Auriemma, Doc Rivers, Brad Stevens and Dabo Sweeney.
There are occasional references to “getting to us” and PEAK along the way, but don’t worry about it. These stand alone nicely as profiles of interesting people that would be welcome in any quality magazine. The stories of the way their rising to top of the profession reminded me of musicians. Yes, you need talent to move up the ladder. But sometimes there are sacrifices made along the way, and a couple of wrong turns would have turned most of them into anonymous assistant coaches somewhere, or a salesman of some sort. They all had plenty of drive, but often needed a break or two to reach the pinnacle.
I can almost guarantee that you’ll learn something about all of these coaches. Come to think of it, for example, I don’t think there’s been a more insightful piece on Boeheim written anywhere. While some of the stories may be familiar to fans of a particular coach, the tales should be unfamiliar and thus striking to many. The best example of that was Sweeney, whose parents split up in high school and left him and his mother essentially homeless for some time. There are plenty of “behind the scenes” stories here, particularly about how tough it is to be a coach and also be part of a family. Even the good ones struggle to find a balance.
Davis wrote a couple of excellent books on the 1979 NCAA basketball final and on John Wooden in the past; the Wooden book probably will be the definitive word on that subject. “Getting to Us” is good in a different way. You’ll enjoy every word.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)