Book review: 'Against the Grain,' high school coach Bill Courtney on life, values

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Bill Courtney of Manassas High School, Memphis.

Bill Courtney.

Bill Courtney of Manassas High School, Memphis.

Simple question: Why would a man with a brand-new business and four children decide to take on a job as a football coach for a downtrodden, downward-trending high school?

Simpler answer: because he believed it was his responsibility to do so.

For six years in the early 2000s, Bill Courtney was the coach of the Memphis (Tenn.) Manassas High Tigers, a mess of a team that Courtney organized into a notable, powerful unit. If it sounds like the subject of a movie, you're on the right track: Courtney and Manassas were the subject of a documentary, "Undefeated," which won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

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Courtney has just released "Against the Grain," a book outlining his own personal philosophy as evidenced in both coaching and business. Co-written by Michael Arkush with a foreword by legendary coach Phil Jackson, the book is a collection of both anecdotes and values, a look at how a guy could take a business from couch-based in Memphis to worldwide while simultaneously inspiring a high school football team.

"I've been really blessed," Courtney told Yahoo Sports. "I believe it's a fundamental responsibility for those of us who have been given so much, to give back. You have to get out of your comfort zone. There's no great work done when you're around people whose social identity and politics are like yours. If you stay in your comfort zone, the profound lessons of life will pass you by."

Subtitled "A coach's wisdom on character, faith, family, and love," the book uses anecdotes to illustrate larger lessons. Chapter titles give direction: "The Dignity of Hard Work," "How Leaders Are Defined," "Service Is Not Someone Else's Job," and so forth. The book's a smooth read, fit for a range of readers from high school students needing a kick in the pants to executives needing a bit of direction and focus in their lives.

To Courtney, doubts in the face of challenge aren't even an issue. "I hope this doesn't come off as false or braggadocious, but I never had any doubts," Courtney said. "If you build yourself on a foundation of character, commitment, perseverance, integrity, dignity, and civility, if you work hard, if you do the right things for the right reasons, you will be successful. I've never seen anyone who's built on that foundation who hasn't been successful."

"Against The Grain" is now on sale.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter.

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