Customer Reviews: Against the Grain: A Coach's Wisdom on Character, Faith, Family, and Love
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on May 19, 2014
Against the Grain by Bill Courtney is not at all what you first expect when you see the cover. When I first heard about and saw the book I thought, "Oh, it's a football book. I don't get football." That thought could not have been further from the truth.

Against the Grain is a tale of perseverance, hard work, faith in humanity, faith in yourself, leadership, business, and giving it your all, every single day. As I worked my way through the 14 chapters--Bill's 14 tenants on living a successful life--I found the writing, the stories, and the format resonating with me on a personal level.

--The story of the woman who sat outside of the Martin Luther King Jr museum for years in protest of something she believed in strongly;
--The heartbreaking and yet uplifting tale of the football player who paralyzed an opposing player during a game-changing both of their lives forever;
--And the story of sacrifice represented by Bill's business partner in his lumber company.

These were just a few of the real-life examples Bill provides that hit you where it hurts and get you thinking, "I could do more. I could do better." This is not a book that you can walk away from unchanged. Whether you're a sports enthusiast, or you can barely stand sports, it doesn't matter. Bill Courtney's Against the Grain: A Coach's Wisdom on Character, Faith, Family, and Love is about life, success, failure, and universal truths we can all understand and relate to.
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on May 13, 2014
I was one of the students at Rosemark Academy during Coach Courtney's time there. I count him among the greatest teachers I had at any level of education, elementary through doctoral. He was the man who taught me as an eighth grader how to read a novel, what the "elbow" is on a basketball court, why a "knight on the rim is grim", and gave me a base for developing leadership.

One of the things I really enjoyed while reading Against the Grain was seeing how Billy's thoughts on leadership have coalesced since I knew him in his 20's. Even then as a fresh college grad his focus was on character. Many of the principles he presents resonate with what I'm learning about leadership: the fundamental importance of serving those you lead, the power of grace, the importance of understanding responsibility versus duty.

What gratifies me most about seeing the differences between Coach Courtney at age 22 and Mr. Courtney in his 40s now is this: he developed. It's not that he's a better person now than he was then; it's that he's more effective. He has reflected on his principles and values, he's focused his choices based on those reflections, and he's become more effective at everything he does now. His articulations of those lessons in Against the Grain are his gift to us.

Many of us have heroes from our childhood, and Coach is one of mine. That said, I don't want to be like Billy. His life, as far as I can tell, has always been a ridiculous hurricane of activity and risk that I have no appetite for. I do, however, want to develop like him. I want to take advantage of the privileges I have, the knowledge I've gained, the grace I've been afforded, and the values I've developed. I want to use them to raise my own four children to become Christ followers, to make life a little better for the men and women who work with me, to be a worthy husband, and to fulfill better all of those responsibilities tomorrow than I do today.
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on May 19, 2014
I loved, loved, loved this book. I was given it by a friend and once I started reading it I couldn't put it down. Bill's tenants and real-life are insightful and illustrate what it takes to be a leader. If you're looking for a great read then get this book.
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on June 13, 2016
Bill Courtney is an outstanding man. He has built a multi-million dollar business and turned an inner-city high school football team from the butt of jokes into a program that succeeds on and off the field in ways we'll never fully be able to measure. He is also a loving father, devout Christian, and a shining example of hard-working traditional American values who has truly made a difference in his community and touched the lives of countless people.

If you're like most readers, you picked this up after watching Undefeated, the documentary of the 2009 Manassas High School football team that Courtney coached against all odds. You bought this book wanting to know more about Courtney's insights on life and leadership so you could apply them to yourself and your own work. Personally, I am a football coach who was impressed at how much Courtney "gets it" and bought this book hoping looking for new insights into the principles that have guided him to the success he's at.

The book doesn't disappoint on those fronts. Courtney lays out the core values that he emphasizes in his teams and his company: character, commitment, civility, service, perseverance, and leadership; and then elaborates on what each one truly means with examples from his own life and the people he's known throughout his career.

However, there really was not enough content here to justify 200 pages. This could have been a series of short articles for less than half of that, but he apparently had contractual obligations to deliver a 200 page book, so the result is very heavily padded. Instead of one or two brief examples to show the point in action, he'll give 4 or 5 and it's not always 100% clear how they add anything to demonstrate the principle he's trying to show. The examples in the chapter, "Daring to Leave Your Comfort Zone," seem particularly tenuous in their connection to the principle being discussed and seem to say more about the power of chance and unexpected occurrences to happen when you do new things than they do about the value of taking risks in the first place.

In the middle of the book, we get a lot of extended digressions on politics, where he comes off like your uncle at Thanksgiving who gets up on his soapbox to grouse about how welfare and a sense of entitlement is ruining America. I agree with most of the points he makes, but these digressions were the kind of thing a good editor would have cut for being superfluous and they get a little tiresome.

The most disappointing thing, to me, is that Courtney doesn't really spend that much time talking about how to connect with people in the way he does. He's an extremely charismatic guy, and to have one of the biggest problem children on your football team say "I would do anything for you. I would die for you!" in a game as he returns from a suspension you put him on... that is simply incredible! How did he get those kids to buy in to that extent share his passion? Courtney gives us bits and pieces--he talked to the kids about their lives and tried to learn where they were coming from, he focused on being respected rather than liked, he wouldn't let kids throw themselves a pity party or let them feel entitled to anything... but these are just glimpses at what makes him such a great coach and leader. What's his wisdom about THOSE things? That's what I wanted to know, but perhaps like any great artist or craftsman it's something he just can't really explain to someone else.

These criticisms are not to say that the book isn't worthwhile My favorite chapters were the ones about the power of Commitment, Service, and Grace, which are powerful. Courtney isn't pretending to give anyone some revolutionary, original new theory to change his life overnight, nor is he pretending to be some Oprah-friendly guru with all the answers. Courtney is simply a man who's successfully coached football and built a business on conservative principles, and with his recent notoriety he has a forum to share those ideas with an audience who was curious to know more about them. This book reads much like what I imagine spending time on his living room couch talking to the man about what's important and who he admires, and that's just fine.
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on May 18, 2014
I'd actually recommend this book, and even if you're not from the South (like me), you'd read it in a Southern Accent. That's because Bill is humble and honest in his testimony about his own failures and successes. You can hear and understand his own humble beginnings and how he uses his own experiences as teaching points. I read the book after watching Undefeated, which is the documentary he's in. If you watched and liked the documentary, you'd love the book.

Don't think that you need to be a football fan or even understand football to enjoy the book. He just uses football as a way to explain his lessons and wisdom, which makes sense since he IS a high school football coach, after all. If you ever played a sport in high school, the book feels like your old coach is sitting next to you, having a heart-to-heart.

This is a great book and an easy read. Courtney paints a clear, vivid picture accented with his Southern, Football-loving charm. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better and clearer book on defining character.
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on June 17, 2014
This is written by a fellow Memphian (TN) that had donated his time to a high school whose student body was primarily African American to coach their football team going for the first time to the state championships winning second place. He saw to it that the students realized the importance of passing their academics. This story was the basis for the film, Undefeated. This experience along with having started a new business and events in his personal life make it a "Must Read" for almost anyone. As the subtitle states it is sharing his wisdom on Character, Faith, Family and Love.
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on May 19, 2014
If you are looking for a book that is politically correct and never makes a point-move on because this is NOT that kind of book! This book is full of truths and pearls of wisdom....I got my copy and read the entire book in one night.

Watching the film Undefeated inspired me-and this book put it all into written form.

INSPIRING and a great read....two thumbs up-or in this case 5 STARS!!!
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on May 21, 2014
As a transplanted Memphian I have often wondered about the backstory of some of the traditions and cultures that set Memphis apart from other major American cities. Bill's details about the people, the community and the history of Memphis have enlightened me. This is a great read and I recommend it to anyone in leadership.

Don Glays
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on May 6, 2015
After reading the reviews, I had high expectations especially since I ordered the audio book read by the author himself. The audio book lacked passion and was not motivational nor inspirational. I looked at other reviews to see what I missed - quite a few reviews were not from verified purchase and/or reviews by people with this as their only review. Maybe I listen to these again and enjoy but 2 Stars at best; sorry.
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on June 30, 2014
What an excellent read. Mr. Courtney (I hesitate to call him coach) presents valuable insight on the role of a leader placing emphasis on the need to listen to those being led. How to lead as a servant is a goal. Refreshing!
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