Michael Lewis is the consummate storyteller. He has a way of introducing his reader to obscure topics and explaining them in a way that makes things like baseball statistics (Moneyball), high-frequency trading (Flash Boys), and the unseen and unregulated bond market (The Big Short) seem incredibly interesting. Coach is a more personal story about Lewis’s high school years and the profound and lasting impact his coach’s methods had on him and the many others who went through the program.
I listened to the book as an audiobook read by the author, so I do not have direct quotes to give. This article tells much, if not all, of the story–it’s a short book–and it is well worth reading (or listening).
After each loss we rode the bus back to the gym in silence. When we arrived, Fitz gave another of his sermons. They were always a little different, but they never strayed far from a general theme: What It Means to Be a Man.
Coach Fitz reminds me a lot of a Coach Ward I had in high school. I didn’t play football, but he was equally harsh to those of us in gym class as he was to the defensive players he oversaw. Coach Ward’s words were more about life than about the moment. One of his famous lines of advice was not to quit: “If you quit on this drill, you are going to quit in the game. If you quit in the game, you’ll quit for the season. If you quit for the season, you will quit on the sport. If you quit on the sport, you will quit in school. If you quit in school, you’ll quit on your job. If you quit on your job, you’ll quit on your wife and family. Never quit.” It seems like Lewis’s Coach Fitz, of a similar generation to Coach Ward, had the same outlook on life. His job was not to train boys to play a game; he was there to train a boy to be a man.
And then something happened: we changed. We ceased to be embarrassed about our condition. We ceased, at least for a moment, to fear failure. We became, almost, a little proud. We were a bad baseball team united by a common conviction: those other guys might be better than us, but there is no chance they could endure Coach Fitz. The games became closer; the battles more fiercely fought. We were learning what it felt like to lay it all on the line. Those were no longer hollow words; they were a deep feeling. And finally, somehow, we won. No one who walked into our locker room as we danced around and hurled our uniforms into the washing machine and listened to the speech Fitz gave about our fighting spirit would have known that they were looking at a team that now stood 1-12.
With so many men abdicating their posts to be the leaders of their families these days, we need to revere those who are trying to uphold these values and to develop men who can continue and build the next generation. Lewis’s homage to Coach Fitz is a welcome addition to that effort.