Monday, December 30, 2019

Final review of 2019 - "Lords of the Gridiron"

2019 was a memorable year in sports, both for the games on the field and in the publishing world.  There were many excellent books I read and it is only fitting to cap off the year with one of those excellent books, this one by an author whose work I have enjoyed before.  Using a similar winning style he used for two hockey books, Matthew DiBiase has written a great book on college football coaches.  Here is my review of "Lords of the Gridiron"  

“Lords of the Gridiron: College Football's Greatest Coaches” by Matthew DiBiase

Football (American), coaching, history, biographies, memoirs

Publish date:
September 1, 2019

342 pages

Rating: to
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)

Sports fans, no matter which sport, always love to debate about who is the greatest – the greatest team, the greatest player, the greatest coach, and so on. Author Matthew DiBiase has contributed to the discussion in hockey with two previous books on NHL coaches and general managers.  These were both excellent books and he has written another outstanding book in the same manner, this time ranking the best college football coaches.

The formulas DiBiase used for his hockey books would not be effective for measuring the success of college football coaches, mainly because of the extensive changes the sport has undergone in its 150 year history.  Giving some credit to one of the most famous users of sports analytics, Bill James, DiBiase developed an intricate formula to account for a coach's successes and failures such as conference and national championships, bowl records and overall season records.  However, because of changes in how some of these are determined over the years (such as the national champion – pre-AP polls to AP and Coaches polls to the Bowl Championship Series to the current College Football Playoff, the current proliferation of bowl games and how the status of some of them change from 'minor' to 'major' bowl games), the formula takes some different factors as well so that coaches from all eras of the sport get a fair shot.

As for the actual rankings, like with his previous books, DiBiase starts at #1 and works his way through the top 50.  All top 50 coaches have their accomplishments listed at the top of their chapters, followed by an excellent short biography or memoir, based off not only extensive research but from interviews with players, colleagues, family members or the coaches themselves. It doesn't matter how the information was gathered or which coach is being portrayed, each chapter is full of good information and entertaining stories.

Coaches from all eras are honored as one of the top 50 and it doesn't matter when the coach did his trade, DiBiase gives each one of them about the same amount of writing and that is especially noteworthy since, of course, it would be more difficult to capture some of this information on coaches from the earlier decades of college football. The chapters on some of these coaches such as Fielding Yost and Andy Smith were just as enjoyable to read as were those about current coaches such as Nick Saban and Dabo Sweeney.  This reviewer, a Minnesota Golden Gophers fan, was especially grateful to be able to read quite a bit about Bernie Bierman and Dr. Henry Williams.

One last note about the book is that the system DiBiase uses to rank these coaches will produce surprises – most of these surprises will be that some of the most legendary names in the history of the game will rank lower than many will expect.  Whether a coach is ranked #1, #50 or somewhere in between, the author will give a through and detailed explanation why before sharing the stories about that coach and that information is very useful.

College football fans of all ages, school loyalties and level of interest will want to read this book.  While it can be used as a reference book and also is one that can be read in small doses at a time, it can also be a page turner that will be hard to put down, as was the case for this reviewer.  After reading this book and his two hockey books of equally high quality, a reader should be eagerly anticipating the next book from this author.   

I wish to thank Mr. DiBiase for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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