“The Thursday Speeches: Lessons in Life, Leadership and Football from Coach Don James” by Peter Tormey, Ph.D.
Football (American), college, coaching
November 23, 2014
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Don James was the coach for the University of Washington football team from 1974 to 1993. In that time, he took a program that was in shambles and in three years, he led the Huskies to their first Rose Bowl in thirteen years and later was coaching the team to the 1991 national championship.
Unlike many coaches, James didn’t hold his biggest pre-game pep talks or speeches just before the game. Instead, he would give the team a speech on the Thursday before the game and gave them the time off before Saturday. In these speeches, James would not only talk X’s and O’s, but also give many life lessons to the young men about topics such as leadership and attitude. A former player, Dr. Peter Tormey, obtained transcripts of many of the coach’s speeches and put them together in this book that not only gives the reader insight into Coach James’ personality, but also lets the reader into the types of lessons he regularly gave his players.
The book is divided into four main sections, each with distinctly different themes. For readers who wish to read mostly about the sport of football, then Part I will be their favorite section as it chronicles the Huskies’ march to the Rose Bowl. Part II is where life’s lessons will be described through the various subjects of Thursday speeches spanning the entire length of James’ coaching career with Washington. To learn a little more about the man himself, Part III contains segments from interviews with James. Finally, Part IV consists of tributes from various people, from his daughter to current Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
The variety of these topics is what really sets this book apart from others about football coaches. By using his speeches instead of stories from other people, Dr. Tormey captured the true personality and spirit of the coach in a unique manner. I really enjoyed Part II with how the coach would present a theme for a good lesson to his players and yet at the same time make sure they were aware of what they needed to do to win that week’s game.
The only drawback to the book that I had was the punctuation used in the coach’s speeches. Because these were direct transcripts of the speeches from James’ handwritten legal pads (as explained in the introduction) there are some grammatical errors and a heavy use of exclamation points. As a reader, I found these to be a distraction while reading. However, this was done in order to capture the true spirit of the speech. While it made for slightly tougher reading, I could feel the emotion of James as he delivered those speeches and in that sense, it made for a richer experience.
This book is one that would be enjoyed by not only college football fans, but also readers who want to see a different method to get across the common lessons that coaches give young athletes such as leadership and proper attitude. “The Thursday Speeches” is certainly a different approach to that time-honored tradition.
I wish to thank Dr. Tormey for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Pace of the book:
At first I found reading each of the speeches a little slow because the theme for each one was different. But once I was used to the pace of the speeches and the punctuation, it read much smoother.
Do I recommend?
College football fans, especially those living in the Pacific Northwest, will enjoy this collection of motivational speeches by the legendary coach. The fact that the book is written by a former player of James’ program will make it even more special to those readers.
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