Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Martyball (2012)

By Marty Schottenheimer and Jeffrey Flanagan

Marty Schottenheimer is one of those football coaches who probably will be underrated by history. He was a successful head coach by just about any standard, ranking with the all-time NFL leaders in victories with 200. Schottenheimer won wherever he went, more or less, including a couple of memorable runs with the Browns and Chiefs.

But there's a hole in his resume, which is obvious to just about everyone. He never made it to a Super Bowl, let alone won one. We tend to remember NFL champions. Therefore, it's easy to lump Schottenheimer with a coach like Chuck Knox, another man who won a ton of games wherever he went but fell just short of a ring.

Knox produced a very good autobiography when he was done coaching - for a guy who never said much, it turned out he had a lot to say. Schottenheimer tries a different approach with his "autobiography," "Martyball." It doesn't quite work out as well.

The basic problem centers on the book's approach. Schottenheimer opted not to write the book with a co-author himself. Instead, he decided to work with someone who wrote the book from the third person. The ex-coach certainly cooperated with Jeffrey Flanagan, and it sounds like he was helpful in making sure that family members and other friends chipped in as well.

The book, then, becomes something of a hymnal of praise for Schottenheimer and his career as a coach. Sometimes it's others doing the singing, and sometimes it's Flanagan himself. But it's relentlessly positive, to the point that the reader knows pretty quickly what's going to be coming for the 300-plus pages.

Now, let's be clear that Schottenheimer certainly deserves some credit for a fine career. I have no doubt that he has influenced many top players and coaches over the course of coaching days. It's a story of success, but this sort of writing approach takes away some of the drama in the story. As in, he deserves to tell his story, but it's easy to wonder where the drama is.

There are some good stories told along the way, at least, and some of them come from the family. Marty's wife Pat comes across as a particularly interesting and fun. There's a great story that how Marty met Pat on the bench and went to her house to pick her up for their first date ... and he didn't recognize her when she came to the door. They obviously patched things up pretty quickly.

There also are reminders of how life gets in the way of people's jobs, even for football coaches. The famous "fumble" involving the Browns in the AFC Championship game is remembered by the Schottenheimers as the night they came back from the game - and one of their sons had to have his appendix out.

Books like this are fairly common. Fans of Schottenheimer, and they are many, will enjoy it, because it's a quick read and good-natured. You can easily see family members handing them out as gifts. Still, "Martyball" is not going to be a keeper for the rest of us.

Three stars

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