Engineers of NFL winning teams fueled by reading books full of ideas

Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel continues to use lessons from the book, "Talent is Overrated," as a way to educate his players. File Photo by David Tulis/UPI

INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 29 (UPI) -- NFL team builders don't just stick to game film when engineering winners. Many say they rely on books written by coaching legends, business experts, philosophers and even military strategists.

The whirlwind of words inside their brains is something to consider for fans, who eye 40-yard-dash times, bench presses and more this week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Pristine physical makeup and explosion from prospects is just a tiny facet they cram into molding a successful franchise, while the league constantly changes.

"For me, at least, being creative, looking and being exposed to these different things is very helpful," Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta told UPI at the Indiana Convention Center.

DeCosta, 52, is among the most-respected player personnel minds in the game. An avid reader, he says he concentrates on military history and value investing, often turning to authors Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.

Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta considers reading a fundamental aspect of his ability to construct teams. Photo by Alex Butler/UPI
Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta considers reading a fundamental aspect of his ability to construct teams. Photo by Alex Butler/UPI

New Los Angeles Chargers general manager Joe Horitz, who worked on the Ravens staff for more than 20 years, said DeCosta often shared messages from his readings with staff members during his time in Baltimore.

Horitz said he also hopes to expand his reading as a first-time general manager.

Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton is a noted fan of the book, "The Obstacle is the Way." File Photo by Mark Black/UPI
Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton is a noted fan of the book, "The Obstacle is the Way." File Photo by Mark Black/UPI

Jarring focus from what can be a monotonous gridiron grind has been key for DeCosta's consistent success. The man tasked with evaluating talent, balancing the salary cap, analyzing film and negotiating contracts, trades and more once even used waiting room time during when he wife was in labor in 2003 to study Moneyball.

Similarly small time windows are rare for NFL coaches and general managers, even during the off-season as they rebuild their rosters through the draft and free agency. But many still find time to scan new material or rehash old favorites from the bookshelf, ravenous for an elusive advantage.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, a three-time Super Bowl winner, says he has read many books throughout his NFL career to learn lessons about how to build winning teams. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Many of their favorite titles detail times of intense adversity and can be directly applied to the football field. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin previously said Flags of Our Fathers is among his favored books. Philadelphia Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said Fearless tops his rankings.

Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel, 40, first read Geoffrey Colvin's Talent is Overrated about a decade ago, but material from the book, which details "deliberate practice" and argues the legitimacy of innate talent, are constant themes that his coaches and players echo.

Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams is among several NFL coaches who say they study books written by former coach Bill Walsh. File Photo by David Tulis/UPI

"I've been subconsciously implanting themes of Talent is Overrated since I got the job," said McDaniel, a Yale graduate.

The Green Bay Packers' Matt LaFleur (44), who worked with McDaniel previously and also experienced early coaching success, also considers Talent is Overrated as his favorite book.

McDaniel is 20-14 through two seasons, LaFleur is 56-27 through five years.

Cleveland Browns general manager Andrey Berry, a Harvard graduate, said his pastor recommended that he read Gordon MacDonald's Ordering Your Private World.

"It really changed my approach in terms of balancing the personal and professional constraints or weights that come from trying to be a good general manager, a good husband and a good father -- all of those things," Berry said. "That really had a huge impact on my life."

The Browns were 37-106-1 in nine seasons before Berry's arrival. They have the same number of victories in just four years under the 36-year-old (37-30).

Ryan Holiday's The Obstacle is the Way is another staple in NFL circles.

Longtime personnel executive Michael Lombardi, Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider and Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton are among fans of the book, which details how Ulysses S. Grant, Steve Jobs and others used stoicism to overcome challenges.

"I like gathering the information and thinking outside the box," said Payton, known as one of the best offensive minds in the NFL. "Some of those books provide that."

Payton, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay, Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid and former New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick have mentioned their fondness for works written by coaching legend Bill Walsh.

The Score Takes Care of Itself, which focuses on leadership principles and team construction, was the most common Walsh title mentioned by the NFL brain trust.

"Bill Walsh's book is probably the best out there," said Reid, a three-time Super Bowl champion. "A lot of Hall of Fame guys have written books. They are all good and I've read them all.

"With Bill's, if you want to be a head coach or the leader of an organization, here it is. It's mapped out for you."