Book Review: The Timeless Wisdom of Philosopher Coaches

“Above all, these philosopher coaches were experts on people, on “reading them,” and on motivating and fitting them together to engage as a team in competition at its best.”

“Above all, these philosopher coaches were experts on people, on “reading them,” and on motivating and fitting them together to engage as a team in competition at its best.” Author Gary Walton

The above quote is from the preface of Beyond Winning, The Timeless Wisdom of Philosopher Coaches, a book published in 1992, in the midst of the savings and loan crisis. Although all “related links” on are sports-related, this book wasn’t written with the audience of other coaches in mind. It is intended for business leaders looking for an answer to declining American competitiveness abroad, rising trade deficits and the onset of a recession in the early 1990s. To author Gary Walton, the answer is simple: Leadership.

Author Walton chronicles the careers of six coaches (Vince Lombardi, Woody Hayes, John Wooden, James “Doc” Counsilman, Brutus Hamilton, Percy Cerutty) with an eye on universal lessons that we can all use in evaluating our own successes and weaknesses in business and life. In some ways, his choices couldn’t be more different—one is left wondering what a dinner between Lombard and Cerutty would look like. And for the sports fans, there’s plenty of interesting trivia. (Lombardi did not say “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” What he actually said was “Winning isn’t everything, but making the effort to win is.”)

The book is helpful in that is doesn’t hold a single coach up as the model to emulate. As you read each profile, you can imagine how different people might respond to each coach’s style—some will excel, others will wilt. It’s reassuring to know that these leaders selected their players and their fellow coaches to complement and reinforce their leadership style. Walton details Woody Hayes’ priorities for hiring fellow coaches: the most important factor was character, followed by personality traits & work habits, and lastly, technical competence.

“Faultless character and saintly morality, though ideal, are not a prerequisite for philosopher coaching.” As the book points out, all the coaches had their vices (smoking, vulgarity, drinking, and in Cerutty’s case, just being a general “misfit”). In the end, Walton condenses his research to put forth the ten characteristics that made the men described in this book “philosopher coaches”.

Ten Characteristics of Philosopher Coaches

  1. Committed to individual integrity, values, and personal growth.
  2. Profound thinkers who see themselves as educators, not just coaches.
  3. Well-educated (formally and informally) in a liberal arts tradition.
  4. Long-run commitment to their athletes and their institution.
  5. Willing to experiment with new ideas.
  6. Value the coach-player relationship, winning aside.
  7. Understand and appreciate human nature.
  8. Love their sport and work.
  9. Honest and strong in character.
  10. Human and therefore imperfect.

Beyond Winning, page 162.

Beyond Winning is about great coaches who put their houses in order and strengthened the world around them in doing so.” That is what many of our credit union leaders are doing today—strengthening their institution and thus strengthening the community around them. Our industry’s leaders are not only applying these principles inside their organizations but often out in the community around them.