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Review: Pigskin Pulpit - A Social History of Texas High School Football Coaches

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'Pigskin Pulpit' is a historical look at Texas high school football coaches from the origin of the sport in the 1890's to modern day. It tells the story of Texas high school football by relating the the coaches and their methods within the context of their time. Author Ty Cashion interviewed over eighty coaches for the book - some of which have passed on since it's original hardcover publication in 1998.


Coaches who came out of poverty, lived through the great depression and experienced World War II believed that there was virtue in football. Their coaching methods seem barbaric and naive by today's standards, but they believed that work ethic and mental and physical toughness could be learned from playing football. They believed in strict discipline and putting a team's needs ahead of the individual. Football was the sport through which they could teach young men these traits.

The author touches every part of their lives including the effects of coaching on their families, 'coaching school', gambling, corporal punishment, the constant fear of being fired for a bad season, and racism. The golden age of Texas high school football passes as the years go on and coaches who once had complete reign are forced to deal with the changes brought about in the 1960's.

Reading the following passage, you come to understand that the life experiences the coaches faced made them very different from our generation, and therefore made their coaching methods very different. Ray Akins is one of the coaches covered in the book:

Ray Akins was aboard one of those transports at Okinawa. The terrible conditions, he asserted, matched the life-threatening situation. Digging in after a thirty-inch rain, he remembered seeing "some boys - actually grown men - just give up after not eating for two or three days".
During combat he also saw dead bodies and craters everywhere, drivers maneuvering their amphibious landing craft, of course, could only discern if soldiers were alive if they were moving. Yet Akins declared that occasionally some soldiers would simply lie down and allow the vehicles to roll right over them. It was there, he insisted, that he developed his coaching instincts. "Somehow, I survived.... and I learned that when you think you can't go any farther, you can go farther."


By relating this story about Akins, Cashion allows us to understand the mentality of coaches who believed you were weak if you had to take a drink of water during a three hour practice in the middle of the Texas heat. Stories such as above abound throughout the book. There are plenty of bad examples among the good - it is not a book of 'glory stories'. The author doesn't judge the coaches or their methods, but leaves that up to the reader so the book remains objective throughout.

This book is great for football fans so that they may discover the origins of the game. It's good for those who wish to be mentors or coaches so that they might better understand those that have gone before them - where they succeeded, failed, and what they faced. Most important - so that we can understand who these men were, the times in which they lived, and how those times changed forcing the coaches to adapt or die in their professions.

It is not a book just for Texans, but a book for any football fan. If you're going to consider a book during the off-season, put 'Pigskin Pulpit' on the list.

--JJ--

"To some people, football may be a brutal game, but life itself is sometimes brutal. Football teaches young men to cope with life's brutal side."

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