Last month, I got an email from an author I had never heard of. His name? Gary J. Kirchner. Hailing from Canada, I learned that Kirchner had both played and coached football at McGill University, a highly regarded public research institution in Montreal.
His ask? Check out his new book, "Pacing The Sidelines," which is the first in a two-part series about football. When people reach out, unless I have absolutely no interest in the subject, I will almost always read their book. It's really the essence of what this site is: a place to uncover new sports books, highlight lesser-known authors, and provide recommendations on books that I feel are worth your time.
To be fair, I've read plenty of books that I subsequently haven't written about. And while I could start writing reviews of every title I complete, I just don't believe in recapping something that I think is three stars or less.
From the very beginning of this book, I was able to enjoy it because the writing just flowed. This is a tough thing to describe, other than you just know it when you read it, but good books have realistic dialog, and events take place the way they actually do in a university football program.
Kirchner not only knows football; he knows McGill. So while both are at the center of his "fictional" tale, he goes into great detail about how football is coached, x's and o's, and the standards of McGill University (which are probably quite accurate to how McGill operates today).
Without telling you too much, Arne Viimets is the head football coach at McGill. I was immediately drawn to his character. Sophisticated off the field, yet somewhat of a bulldog on it, I imagined this sharp dressed middle-aged man walking onto a football field in a designer suit.
Arne is tough but fair. He seems to crave a deeper relationship with his players: asking about their classes, dreams, and pursuits off the field.
In many instances, he seems to know exactly what needs to be done. Having his players actually execute is another story.
I took many pauses to think about how Arne's life reminded me just how complex being a head football coach is. Forget football. These men deal with the media, boosters and alumni groups, administration, facilities, recruiting, and the list goes on. Many have wives and/or children. It can be incredibly stressful.
When Arnie listens to opera music as an outlet from football, I thought about previous coaches I played for: one went fishing, another read books. The common denominator was that these men needed a mental outlet, and some were more peculiar than others.
Arne has a complicated relationship with his wife, and a past that reveals itself here and there; just enough to let you know that the man has lived some life.
Whenever I read a story about college sports, I'm always interested in how players are described. I'm not talking about their stats or height/weight. I'm talking more about their make up: what are their backgrounds, how did they get to the university, and do they love the game?
Kirchner does a great job describing several players in that type of detail. And it begs the question: would you rather have a super talented kid that doesn't care about football, or a medium talent that loves the game?
I've coached both, and I won't generalize. Most teams have a mix of both.
As a fan and a reader, I'll be blunt, though: it's a heck of a lot more fun to root for those kids that put in the time, go above and beyond what they're asked to do, and take care of their commitments off the field.
In Arne's case, he has one kid that falls into the first camp that he's not necessarily trying to mold into the second; However, he's clearly trying to get him to understand what he could be.
The other thing I'll point out is that relationships in sports take time. When a new coach takes over a program, some players will buy in from day one. Others read the news. Still others are constantly comparing the new coach to the old one. Teenagers are fickle this way. Building a team and a culture takes time, and it starts with the head coach and his players.
Last, as an American, I loved reading about the uniqueness of Canadian football. For starters, the field is both longer and wider (110 yards x 65 yards).
In Canada, an offense gets three downs to get ten yards instead of the four downs we're used to here in the states.
The lack of a "fourth down" and the larger field create a unique advantage for the offense (and a good passing attack in particular). As a critical thinker, Arne goes through this in detail and places a lot of scrutiny on his quarterbacks being able to read the field.
The only thing I didn't like about this book was that it's written as a three part series, meaning that I'll have to get the the next two so I can find out what happens!
Overall, I'd give "Pacing The Sidelines" five stars. It's interesting, realistic, and written by someone that both understands and appreciates college football.
With the lack of sports fiction available, this a fantastic read for teenagers and up.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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