Coronavirus reading: Q&A with Coach to Coach author Martin Rooney

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor

We all have more time to read these days, and there are plenty of books out there for coaches. Martin Rooney recently authored “Coach to Coach: An Empowering Story About How to Be a Great Leader,” and the book was published just before the coronavirus outbreak forced us all indoors.

Coach to Coach follows the story of Brian Knight, a young man experiencing the challenges both the on and off the field that come with coaching sports. He’s spent the last decade striving to land his dream job, only to realize he may no longer have the skills or drive necessary to reach the top. After a devastating loss and deteriorating relationships with his players and family, Brian’s life seems to be unravelling—until he encounters a mysterious old coach who seems to have some important answers to his problems.

FNF Coaches recently held a Q&A with Rooney on his book.

What’s your experience with football?

“I’m originally from New Jersey; now I’m in the Charlotte area. I grew up just as track and field was becoming a big thing. I got a degree in physical therapy and actually made the U.S. bobsled team. Because of the fitness I’d developed through track, which is something I started to stay in shape for football.”

What led you to coaching?

“I had a bunch of inspiring coaches. My mom was a physical education teacher. I went to school to become a therapist, but I didn’t love it. I wanted to be involved in sports. Everyone was saying sports isn’t a real job. I won’t make money, it’s not a real thing. That was my passion. The world kept telling me it wasn’t real or it wasn’t important. I saw it as the most important thing. I wouldn’t be who I am without it.”

What is your coaching experience?

“My buddy and I started a sports therapy company. We started to get some traction, and then I became the speed coach for the New York Giants. I sent hundreds of guys to the NFL through a Combine prep program. Then I worked with Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) when they won national titles. I coached with Greg Olsen’s father at Wayne Hills (NJ) when we had a 55-game winning streak. High school football is where I learned everything. Some of those kids are writing me for advice 25 years later.”

What inspired you to write a book?

“I spoke on coaching throughout the world. My course — Coaching Greatness — was so impactful. Coaches would say, ‘You’ve got to write a book.’ But it never felt right. I don’t think I can write the textbook on coaching. I thought it needed to be something bigger.”

What angle did you decide to take?

“I saw my mission as trying to make the world a place for better coaches. The job is so important. Why not tell a story? Why not write an incredible story? Wiley immediately picked it up as the publisher. I had no agent, and they signed and fast-tracked it.”

What’s your philosophy on the way coaching has evolved?

“Here’s the way I look at it. We have to change our perspective because kids have changed. We have to coach these kids differently now. We have to adapt our styles. When I was in high school, coaches would restrict water and give us salt pills. That was 30 years ago. We’ve gotten smarter. We have concussion protocols and more information on nutrition. Even offenses and defenses have evolved as well as equipment. Why shouldn’t coaches evolve?

“Unfortunately, a lot of coaches repeat patterns from the programs they went through. There are textbooks out there. I’m an avid reader. I can’t get through them. I need something easily digestible. The Rutgers wrestling coach told me this is the best book he’s ready in years. Coaches will be inspired. It might inspire them to give a kid a high-five or tell him how proud he is. If that happens instead of a coach saying something demeaning, it will have done its job. It’s a movement to a new generation of coaching.”

Are you one of the characters in the book?

“The young coach, yeah, that’s me. The old coach is the guy I always wish I can be. The other coaches and athletes are composites of real people. The reason it’s resonating with so many people is it’s all real. Yes — it’s a story. But I didn’t make stuff up. I made 50 years of mistakes to get to write this book. It’s about a coach and his relationshiop with his wife and children, other coaches on the staff, and the culture he creates.”

Go to the Coach to Coach website to purchase the book.

What’s driving the conversation in your locker room? Email Managing Editor Dan Guttenplan or Tweet us @fnfcoaches. Don’t forget to use that hashtag #FNFCoachesTalk