Sunday, April 30, 2023

Review: Once a Giant (2023)

By Gary Myers

Everyone who cares about sports has that one special team in his or her past. Maybe it was the team that justified the faith of their fans with a championship. Maybe it was an unexpected season that came out of nowhere. Maybe it was a team from the fan's youth that lured him in for a lifetime of rooting for the laundry. 

No matter how objective he had to be as a reporter while covering the 1986 New York Giants, Gary Myers obviously has fond memories about the 1986 New York Giants and their players and coaches. Admittedly, it was the end of a long run of failure for the Giants, who won a title in 1956 and then took a little more than 30 years before duplicating that accomplishment. Even so, it's the personalities that count here.

It was only natural that Myers wanted to revisit that particular group of me. Therefore, "Once a Giant" comes across with a touch of sweetness in terms of nostalgia and in personal relationships. The book also fits in nicely with the "Whatever happened to ..." theme that has been propelling book sales for years. 

Any discussion about that Giants' team must start with its coach. Bill Parcells almost lost his job in the early 1980s, but held on long enough to see the team succeed. He was a big enough personality to keep his band of characters in control and willing to play hard for him. A master manipulator, Parcells' mind games often worked wonders. If he needed a little advice on X's and O's along the way, his top assistant coach was Bill Belichick. As we know now, Belichick eventually went to the New England Patriots ... and certainly is in the discussion as the greatest coach in NFL history. 

Any discussion about the players starts with Lawrence Taylor, the legendary linebacker for the teams of that era. If he's not the greatest defensive player in NFL history, he's in the argument. Taylor did everything hard - partied hard at night, used drugs recklessly, etc. It's hard to know how he good he might have been had he stayed on the straight and narrow - in other words, if he was the football equivalent of Mike Pence. Probably not as well. Somehow, L.T. pulled it off. 

Then there's the quarterback, Phil Simms. His career had some interesting ups and downs, but he was ready to blossom during the mid-1980s. Simms saved the best day of his football life for the biggest day of his life - the Super Bowl in 1987. Simms played an almost perfect game in leading New York to a win over the Denver Broncos. 

There were plenty of other stars here. Mark Bavaro was a tank of a tight end. Harry Carson was a Hall of Famer at linebacker. Running back Joe Morris had the year of his life with 1,516 yards rushing. And so on down the line through the various starters and role players. 

Myers' prior relationships with the principals come in handy here. It's almost as if everyone involved couldn't wait to tell stories about those teams. Yes, there are moments about the games, but there are also stories about the relationships among the team members. There are tales about nights out that ended in the parking lots of Giants Stadium on Saturday mornings as players wanted to make sure they'd make a road trip. It's surprising how honest the players were about that era of their lives.

The author also emphasizes the way that the players stick together, even all these years later. Some of the team leaders check in on the rest of the squad, more than 35 years later. Not surprisingly, many of those players have physical problems that have bothered them for years, and sometimes they need help. Often a teammate or coach has been there to provide. Even Parcells is willing to get his checkbook out when one of the boys needs support.

Myers has been around football for decades, and at times this feels like he's emptying out stuff from his notebooks that has been accumulated over the years. Maybe this could have been slightly more organized, but it might be more fun this way. It's also easy to wonder if other championship teams have maintained similar bonds over the years. It's easy to do that these days, between alumni weekends and autograph shows. 

No matter. There are certainly many fans in the New York City area who will never forget that 1986 Giants team, and will always cherish their memories. "Once a Giant" will offer a chance to feel a flood of emotions about that group's past and present. It ought to be a big, big hit in the New York City area.

Four stars

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Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Review: The Last Enforcer (2022)

By Charles Oakley with Frank Isola

Charles Oakley seems to be famous by association. 

That might be the biggest takeaway from his autobiography, "The Last Enforcer."

Oakley played basketball with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls from 1985 to 1988. Jordan was rather famous by then, but you couldn't call them "MICHAEL JORDAN AND THE CHICAGO BULLS" yet. They hadn't started winning championships by then. 

Oakley missed all of the fun in Chicago because he was traded to the New York Knicks. There he was part of a team that came close to a title in the mid-1990s, but couldn't quite finish the job. "Oak" did stay 10 seasons in New York, the longest tenure of his career. 

Oakley also grew up in the Cleveland area, but he's not the biggest basketball export in the history of Northeast Ohio. That title belongs to LeBron James. 

So recapping, we have a guy who played with Michael Jordan, spent a decade in New York, and knows LeBron pretty well. I'd say that's enough to get someone a book contract. Oakley succeeded, working with sportswriter and media personality Frank Isola. It might not be enough to produce a top-notch book, though, at least in this case. 

Oakley came out of Cleveland with a reputation for playing football, but he was a good enough to earn a hoops scholarship at Virginia Union. That's an historically black university with a good basketball heritage. Charles became a Division II player of the year, which made him something of a sleeper in the NBA draft. The Bulls grabbed him essentially in the first round (a trade was involved), and he quickly became Jordan's guardian of sorts on the court. If you wanted to mess with Michael, you had to go through Oakley. No wonder Jordan wrote the foreword.

It was surprising, then, that Oakley was traded to the Knicks for center Bill Cartwright. The deal worked for Chicago, as the titles indicate. But Oakley and his new team had to go through the basketball wilderness to reach some good times. He had a similar role in New York to his spot in Chicago - maintain law and order. Charles was good at it; I think his teammates felt secure playing along side of him. 

Oakley fit right in with the Knicks' new style when Pat Riley arrived as coach. New York played tough, physical ball in those years, which wasn't exactly pretty to watch but could be effective. The Knicks came within a game of a title in 1994. But they couldn't take advantage of a window opened by Jordan's brief retirement in the mid-1990s, and soon fell away from the list of title contenders - especially after Riley jumped to Miami. 

From there it was on play six more years in four different cities - Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Houston. He played until he was 40 - quite impressive. 

Throughout the book, Oakley comes off as someone who played with an edge to his game, and who did what he thought was necessary. The problem is that he doesn't seem to be particularly good at drawing lines ... and staying behind them. Too often, Charles took an extra step in the form of a punch or slap in an attempt to solve a situation during games. 

There's also an attempt to settle some scores, and explain why he's not getting along too well with certain people from his past. Let's just say Charles Barkley and Charles Oakley don't mix well together, even now. Oakley's career ended in 2004 - almost 20 years ago - but there's still some anger there. Some of it is directed at James Dolan, who was part of a celebrated incident in 2017 that saw Oakley arrested during a game in Madison Square Garden. The subtitle talks about "outrageous stories" from Oakley, but it's tough to say if many of the tales fit that description. Oh, there is some name-dropping of entertainment celebrities along the way if you like that sort of reference. 

It's a little surprising that there's not more about what Oakley has been doing since his playing days ended. There are a few references to his time as an assistant coach, which only lasted a season. What's he doing now? He's tied to some businesses that don't come up here. 

There are those who appreciate what Oakley did for his teams over the years - displaying muscle and a willingness to stand up for his beliefs. Those people will come away relatively entertained by "The Last Enforcer." The rest of us probably won't be so enthusiastic, and will come away with the idea that this should have been written 10 years ago.

Three stars

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Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Review: Black Ball (2023)

By Theresa Runstedtler

History books sometimes can be broken into two distinct classes. There are those that are researched from the start without preconceptions, and then conclusions are drawn from the available information. Then there are those where the author has a preconceived notion going into the research, and goes about the business of trying to prove that point.

"Black Ball" seems to fit better into the latter category.

Theresa Runstedtler is the author in question here, and her book, "Black Ball," is about the rise of African Americans in the NBA and their efforts to make the league and the sport more equitable. This is a somewhat underexamined area, so the publication is welcome. Runstedtler has a distinguished academic background, since she has a PhD and teaches at American University after a stint at the University at Buffalo. She is on target enough with her assessments to make her efforts worthwhile. Still, there are issues with the book and its contents that are somewhat troubling. I found myself frequently stopping to ponder the implications of what I had just read. 

Race and basketball over the years have had a complicated relationship. The first Black to play in the NBA arrived in 1950 - three years after Jackie Robinson debuted for baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers. The numbers slowly increased from there to the point where Blacks were in the majority on the team's rosters. But even so, while the stars were disproportionately Black, the reserves often were disproportionately white. The Boston Celtics were the first NBA team ever to start an all-Black team (1964). That era where the league's teams were located in the East, Midwest and West Coast; no one even tried to put a franchise in the Deep South until the St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta in 1968.

Along the way, there were growing pains. Runstedtler explores some of them in the cases of Connie Hawkins, Spencer Haywood, and Oscar Robertson. Hawkins, a legendary player from New York City, was slightly touched by a gambling scandal while in college in the early 1960s. He was blackballed from the NBA without any sort of due process for several years. It was a clear injustice, and it took until the end of the decade for Hawkins to land with the Phoenix Suns.

Haywood was a member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic basketball team who decided to turn pro well before he was scheduled to graduate from the University of Detroit - which was against the rules at the time. It seems he wanted to help his mother, who picked cotton in Mississippi while raising 10 children. The NBA wasn't interested at the time, but the rival American Basketball Association was.  Haywood jumped to Denver of that league in 1969 before trying to move to Seattle of the NBA in the 1970-71 season. That led to a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court before Haywood won the right to play in the NBA whenever he was able to do so. The book offers good summations of both cases.

Both Hawkins and Haywood deserve credit for winning those battles. It's important to note that similar cases were going on in baseball and football at the same time. As the money involved in pro sports grew in the 1960s and 1970s, players no longer felt forced to take whatever the owners would give them. The particulars and success rate varied by sport, but the players slowly inched forward.

Several of those inches came in 1976. Robertson's name was at the top of a lawsuit that delayed a proposed merger between the NBA and ABA for several years during the 1970s. The argument was that having two teams/leagues bid for players' services had increased their salaries, and it should be illegal. Once the two leagues had worked out the particulars of the merger, they had to have the players sign off on the deal before everything could be wrapped up. That essentially led to the beginning of free agency and the salary system we know today. 

After covering the rise of the black player's influence on the style of the game (frequently in the air and always flamboyant) and the curious case of deputy NBA commissioner Simon Gourdine (who found that a Black man could only rise so far in NBA management), Runstedtler concludes with a couple of chapters on what could be called supplemental discipline. In other words, what happens when a player gets into trouble on and off the court? That covers measures taken by the league when fights break out during games, and when players are caught by authorities in cases involving drugs. 

This is an area that has caused headaches for all of the pro sports over the years. However, the NBA's issues might have been more visible - particularly when a majority of its players are Blacks and thus giving the league some image problems with some sponsors. The extra discipline imposed by the league concerning fines and suspensions usually could be only appealed by going back to management to reconsider - not a winning formula for the players, and one that was duplicated by other sports. Racism may have played a role in some of those decisions, but in spite of Runstedtler's efforts it's tough to measure its degree of influence. 

As you may have guessed at this point, the framework for the book sounds like it goes down an interesting path. But Runstedtler takes a number of odd little turns along the way that left me wondering about where a particular viewpoint came from. For example ...

* The author attacks NBA writers for not picking a Black coach as the NBA coach of the year in 1975 for the second straight year (Ray Scott of the Pistons won the award in 1974), even though both coaches of the NBA's Finalists were African American. Phil Johnson of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, a white man, won the award in '75. Coaching trophies often go to the leader of a team that exceeded expectations by the greatest margin, which is how Scott won it in '74. It seems like the same standard was in play in '75 for Johnson.

* Runstedtler is critical of references to the NBA's toughest players as "enforcers," while similar descriptions of counterpoints in the National Hockey League are "policemen." That has certain implications in a majority-Black league and a majority-white league. The problem is that anyone who has been around hockey knows that the tough guys in the NHL are called "enforcers" far more often than "policemen." 

* Runstedtler seems still angry that Robertson wasn't offered some sort of coaching job once his playing days were over in the NBA. A problem with that argument is that those days ended right in the middle of the players' lawsuit over the ABA merger. "The Big O" probably was considered radioactive to many owners after the expensive settlement came in 1976, and we don't know if he even wanted to go down that road of coaching. Besides, success as a player doesn't always correlate to success as a coach.

* Speaking of the merger, Runstedtler still seems to be upset that it took place because of the effect on player salaries. The catch there is that if the two leagues hadn't come together through that agreement, the ABA might not have been around at all in the fall of 1976. The league was down to six teams at that point, and it might not have been worth it to stay in the basketball business.

One other area of concern concerns the treatment of the media along the way in the book. Admittedly, the columnists and sports editors of newspapers and magazines in the 1960s and 1970s were mostly old, conservative white men. Their viewpoints usually reflected that fact, backing up the status quo on a frequent basis. In hindsight, it was not their finest hour. 

However, throughout the book the author chooses to paint everyone in that group with a wide brush, without even quoting a few major columnists of the day to back it up. We have to take her word for it. There are a few disturbing quotes from Basketball Times, a weekly newspaper that started in the late 1970s, but that's about it. If viewpoints about the dangers of allowing college basketball players to leave school early for the pros, it should have been easy to print a few. 

The most quoted media source from the era is Black Sports magazine, which lasted for most of the 1970s and probably was more influential than popular. It is certainly good to hear reporting and commentary from a group of writers that were far more diverse than those from the mainstream media at the time. Runstedtler adds to that with some comments from writers from Black newspapers. Those reflections have their place in the story. Even so, it would have been nice to hear more from other viewpoints. I'd guess that by the Seventies it would have been far easier to find sports writers who wrote about the changing relationship between league and its players without having a pro-league bias. (By the way, I would guess that most sports media members of today definitely lean toward the side of the players in a majority of labor disputes.)

Runstedtler was smart enough to include part of a column by the late Leonard Koppett, who in his professional life proved that "intellectual sportswriter" was not a complete contradiction in terms. He wrote about what a new economic system might look like. It's also odd that no one from the present is asked to look back on past events here in an attempt to add to the perspective that time provides. In other words, it would have been great to hear from someone like basketball writer Peter Vecsey.    

"Black Ball" has received some very good reviews from the usual outlets so far. If it has helped prompt talk of race and basketball in an open setting, it ranks as a positive development. But some of Runstedtler's viewpoints and techniques lead to conclusions that are sometimes difficult to accept, and that takes the book down a notch.

Three stars

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Friday, April 14, 2023

Review: Phil (2022)

By Alan Shipnuck

An interesting character, this Phil Mickelson.

He can be funny, smart, mysterious, petty, giving, loyal, cocky and generous - all in the same week, or so it seems. But Mickelson is always exciting, always competitive, and always fun. 

That combines to make him a good subject for a biography. Alan Shipnuck has put the pieces together as best as he could in his book, "Phil." The result is a book that puts all of those traits on display. Shipmuck may not be sure how the pieces come together - as if anyone, including Mickelson, could figure that out. But the publication, like its subject, is rarely boring.

Golf fans have been hearing about Mickelson for about 30 years. He was really good at the sport since his teen years, and was very successful in college. Phil's level of talent was first on display on a big stage in 1991, when he won a professional event as an amateur. No one does that - at least since then. 

Mickelson's attitude was on display during a top amateur tournament in that era. Shipnuck recounts how early in a match-play event, his opponent had a long, long putt for par while Mickelson had a much shorter putt for birdie. Phil conceded the par, and then confidently rolled in the birdie putt. The opponent was destroyed mentally and went down meekly in the match. No one does that, period.

Mickelson eventually turned pro in 1992 and had some success on the tour. The stumbling block usually came in the four major championships, which proved elusive. Part of the problem was that a fellow named Tiger Woods turned up, and he was often in the way. It was interesting to ponder what a life without Tiger might have been like for Mickelson in terms of success in that era. Then again, no one was staging any telethons to help Phil out financially. 

Mickelson also was a gambler on the course. Sometimes the safe way is the best way when a golfer is faced with trouble, but Mickelson preferred the thrill of taking a risk. That quality, and an accompanying issue with keeping his drives somewhere near the fairway - sometimes came to bite him. The title "the best player never to win a major" was almost invented for Phil in that era, but he lost it forever in 2004 when he won the Masters - with an in-character birdie putt on the final hole, no less. Drama frequently has followed him like galleries do.

Perhaps surprisingly, Mickelson's best quality on the golf course proved to be durability. The major titles eventually started piling up, reaching six as of 2023. He became the oldest player to win a title in 2022 when he captured the PGA title. Sure, Woods wasn't as competitive as he was used to be in that time, thanks to a life that Shakespeare couldn't do justice to chronicle. But you still have to play against those that are out there, and Mickelson has done that. He surprised almost everyone in the 2023 Masters with a second-place finish at the age of 52. Who knows what might happen in the next few years?

The results are interesting, of course, but how Mickelson did it is even more interesting. Shipnuck talked to a ton of people for the book, and he wisely starts out by asking many of them "What's your best Phil Mickelson story?" There are more than 10 pages of the answers, and they are all great. Throughout the book we read about a man never met an autograph he wouldn't give, never met a business deal he wouldn't ponder, and never saw a bet that he didn't think he could win. Shipnuck does explore the gambling side of Mickelson, even though it's tough to get a grasp on that shadowy subject. He's danced to the edge of problems a few times, it seems, but survived the encounter. We'll see how his luck holds in that sense.

The book received some publicity when it amplified some comments Mickelson made about the Saudi golf league. He was quoted as saying he hoped it would be leverage to improve the PGA tour, with Shipnuck publishing the comments even before the book was published. However, Mickelson ended up taking nine figures of money to jump to the LIV tour. At this point, the full story remains to be written. 

At one point, some thought Mickelson was going to be "The Next Nicklaus," as in the next more-than-great player. Instead, he turned out to be "The Next Palmer" - someone who developed a huge fanbase with a swashbuckling style and a personality to match.  "Phil" tells that story well in a book that will consumed quickly and easily for those have an interest in the subject. 

Four stars

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Monday, April 10, 2023

Review: Role of a Lifetime (2023)

By Larry Farmer with Tracy Dodds

The idea in the game of basketball is to score more points than the opposing team and win the game, one way or another.

There might be no better expert on how to do that in the college game than Larry Farmer.

The former UCLA standout played in 90 varsity games during his college career. He lost one of them. Let's repeat that - he went 89-1 in college. Even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor at the time) didn't do that well, settling for a mere 88-2 during this three varsity seasons at UCLA. 

Farmer wasn't the biggest star on his Bruins' teams. That distinction went to Sidney Wicks followed by Bill Walton. But he was around in the middle of a UCLA dynasty - 10 titles in 12 years - that won't be duplicated anytime soon if ever. That gives his memoir, "Role of a Lifetime," an easy introduction to those who want an idea of what those teams were like. 

Farmer was a little bit different than many of the other players at UCLA then. He was from Denver, and something of a late bloomer. But Farmer's play as a senior caught the eye of the coaches, and he was recruited to come join the rest of a squad that for the most part was led by Southern Californians. After sitting out his freshman year, which was required back then, Farmer saw his role increasingly grow as he gained experience. Larry moved into the starting lineup at times as a sophomore, and the team won a national title with only one loss all season. 

Then Walton, Jamal Wilkes and Company showed up, and the team really came together. The Bruins went undefeated over two years, and rarely were even challenged. Those two seasons gave those UCLA players a claim as being a part of the greatest team of all time. They certainly are in the argument. Farmer did a little bit of everything for those teams, and you always need a guy like that around. 

There's not a great deal of drama in most of the story of those teams. Still, Farmer has some tales about legendary coach John Wooden. Larry certainly still sounds thrilled that he got a chance to play for him back in the day, which as far as I can tell is a rather common reaction among all who encountered the veteran coach. Some of the teammates are well known too, of course, and it's fun reading about them too. For those readers who enjoyed every win and championship, this is enough to justify the purchase of the book.

Farmer comes off as a great guy who isn't willing to say a bad thing about those who joined him in that era. That includes Sam Gilbert, a slightly notorious booster of the Bruins who was known to lend the players a hand when they needed it. Farmer relied on him a great deal, even renting an apartment of sorts from him at one point. Some NCAA regulations were bent a bit along the way, eventually leading to probation for the Bruins. Even Wooden admitted that he should have kept a closer eye on Gilbert's actions.

Farmer wasn't a high draft choice in the NBA and ABA, and couldn't make the Cleveland Cavaliers as a rookie - perhaps due to a crowded roster. Farmer headed back to Los Angeles to work as a graduate assistant coach at UCLA under Wooden. That was a good education on how to be a coach. Farmer slowly worked up the ladder in Westwood under Wooden and his successors. He was named head coach at UCLA in 1981. 

Farmer recites the details of a great many games from that era, one after another, and it's a little easy to lose interest. The Bruins went 61-23 during his three years as head coach, but it sure sounds like UCLA's athletic department hadn't really adjusted to the idea that the sport's talent base had become more balanced and dynasties were difficult to construct and maintain at that point. (Duke probably came the closest.) Besides, the university was put on probation for a while due to past mistakes. That didn't help the team's efforts to go back to something resembling the glory days. Farmer tried his best and did pretty well, but it's a high bar to clear - even though Farmer did convince future Hall of Famer Reggie Miller to come to UCLA. They even lost some early-round games in the NCAA tournament, which hadn't happened very often in the relatively recent past. 

By the end of the third year, the Bruins' athletic department was trying to force a couple of UCLA players from the past on him as an assistant coach. Farmer was feeling that pressure, and soon threw his hands up in the air, and resigned - leaving three more years of a head coaching contract behind.

And the book essentially ends right there, since it is billed as Farmer's story concerning UCLA. That's really too bad, because there is more to Farmer's life than that - much more. Larry went to Weber State for three years and didn't win. He went on to such stops as Kuwait, Loyola of Chicago, the Golden State Warriors, Western Michigan, Rhode Island and North Carolina State in supporting roles, and did some television commentating as well. Coaching in Kuwait from 1988 to 1990 and 1992 to 1997 (the Gulf War was in between) might have been worth a few fascinating chapters on its own. 

Farmer comes off as a truly good guy and a good teammate, and there's very little anger here at all. In this case, that translates to lot of praise and not much conflict. This might be enough for the UCLA fans (and I was one in that era) who want a little insight into those teams. Some of the reviews on Amazon read like rhapsodies in tone. For the rest of the basketball-reading audience, "Role of a Lifetime" probably won't work nearly as well. 

Three stars

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Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Review: Swagger (2022)

Jimmy Johnson can be a difficult personality to love. 

After all, this was someone who jumped from coaching the University of Miami (Florida) after a great run of success to the Dallas Cowboys. One of his first actions after taking the job in Dallas was, as someone put it, to fire his wife. He thought that he had to increase his commitment to work upon joining the NFL, and the only way to do that was to get a divorce. 

Love, no. Maybe that's why I got my copy of this book at a thrift store for $2. But respect, yes - at least on the field. 

Johnson was, by any definition, a heck of a coach. He won a national championship in Miami. He won two Super Bowls (and was in good position to win a few more) in Dallas. He reached the playoffs a few times in Miami, even though he eventually came to the conclusion that he never would win it all with the Dolphins for a variety of reasons.

Johnson is 79 years old now, almost a quarter of a century past his days as a coach. But he can still stir up some emotions in others. That's what happens when people read "Swagger," Johnson's book about his days as a head coach.

Let's start with the title, and that's a good word to be associated with Johnson. He defines it at the very end of the book this way: "Swagger is confidence. You're confident that you're going to kick somebody's ass. That's what swagger is."

More often than not, Johnson backed up those thoughts with his actions. If your team beat his team, you knew you had defeated a football squad that was well-prepared.  

It's always been that way. Johnson speeds through his coaching career in this autobiography, taking some brief turns along the way. He started his association with football as an undersized defensive lineman at Arkansas, using speed instead of strength to cause problems for offenses. He took that philosophy into the coaching ranks. Johnson started as a head coach at Oklahoma State in 1979, where he soon turned the team into a consistent winner. 

Then it was on to Miami, where the Hurricanes started with an 8-5 record. From there, the team went 44-4. Johnson recruited some of the best players in the nation, and let their personalities come through as long as they played disciplined football. It worked well. 

Johnson might have been happy at Miami indefinitely, but then Jerry Jones - a teammate at Arkansas - came back into his life. Jones had just bought the Dallas Cowboys, and immediately dismissed legendary coach Tom Landry in favor of Johnson. Talk about a tough act to follow. Johnson needed some time to sort out his roster; a trade of Herschel Walker for a barrel of draft choices helped. By the third season, the Cowboys were in the playoffs with an 11-5 record. Dallas won titles in Years Four and Five.

As we know now, Jones and Johnson didn't live happily ever after. Jimmy's side of the breakup is told here. He seems to assign most of the blame to Jones, who apparently wanted a bit more of the credit of the rise of the Cowboys. Johnson admits he was starting to burn out from all of the intensity he had expended on the job, and they parted ways. The coach went back to South Florida to calm down; the owner won one more Super Bowl with many of Johnson's players before the team faded into irrelevance in terms of title talk for a quarter-century. 

Speaking of following legends, the Dolphins called Johnson when Don Shula announced his retirement after one of the greatest coaching careers in football history. Jimmy had Dan Marino, which was a good starting point. But Marino was at the stage of his career where he could still play but was past his prime. Johnson soon figured out a replay of his success in Dallas wasn't going to happen. After a 62-7 loss in the playoff, Johnson said, "I have no more left to give," and retired.

Since retiring from coaching, Johnson has kept some ties to football through broadcasting. He's part of the panel that does the pregame show for Fox's NFL broadcasters. Johnson still keeps in touch with a variety of football people in that role, along with staying in contact with players and coaches. He wraps up the book with a few observations about the college and pro game today. Johnson also tells the story of his son, who had a fierce battle with alcoholism. 

Johnson and co-author Dave Hyde seem to have wanted the book to come across as something of a fun conversation over a few beers while watching the ocean go by in South Florida. It's not too deep, but Johnson answers many of the questions that fans might have about his coaching days. The man knows how to tell a story, even if his ego is still healthy and on display.

Therefore, "Swagger" works quite well in accomplishing the goal of leaving the reader entertained. Even fans of the teams that Johnson coached against will bring themselves to liking it ... even if they feel a little guilty about it in the process. 

Four stars

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