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A football coach analyzes U.S. military tactics and strategy

Posted by John Reed on

A football coach analyzes U.S. military tactics and strategy by John T. Reed

Many have noted that football and war seem similar in many ways. I have experience and training in both areas and I agree—although I cringe when I hear coaches use phrases like “Take no prisoners” or “football is war.” Not taking any prisoners is an atrocity known as murder. Football is a game. War is not.

I also cringe when I hear that football coaches are trying to get better at coaching football by imitating the military and reading books like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The problem with that is that football coaches generally know what they are doing. Military officers generally do not. (See my article “is there really any such thing as military expertise?”) If there is any learning between the football coaching profession and the military leader profession, it needs to be going the other way, that is, military officers learning from football coaches.

Indeed, military personnel are typically great fans of football. I do not recall any U.S. military officers admitting they could learn from football coaches, but they like to watch the sport and were thrilled when Pat Tillman quit the NFL to become a U.S. Army airborne Ranger.

I also wrote another article that applies a football coaching perspective to the war in Iraq.

My pertinent background

Militarily, I am a West Point graduate, airborne, Ranger, Vietnam veteran.

In football, I coached 16 youth and high school teams. I have written eight books on football coaching and two on baseball coaching. I coached about 20 baseball teams from tee ball to semi-pro. You may think writing a book on how to coach a football team is a manifestation of the author’s knowledge, not a learning experience for the author. You would be wrong if you think that. Writing a how-to book is a learning experience for its author as much as it is for the book’s readers.

I have also read hundreds of football coaching books; attended hundreds of football coaching clinics; subscribed to and read numerous coaching periodicals; been a clinic speaker at numerous coaching clinics; attended many NFL, college, and lower level practices; been a columnist for American Football Quarterly; and spent much time discussing football coaching with numerous top coaches like Bill Walsh (with whom I was a clinic speaker on a couple of occasions), Brian Billick, Cal Berkeley head coach Jeff Tedford (whose son I coached in high school), and many others.

Readers of my coaching books have provided me with many testimonials, many of which are so strong that I was amazed at them.

A ‘war’ a week

The main reason military officers need to be learning from football coaches rather than the other way around is that military officers rarely have wars and, in the case of the U.S., have not won one (other than the 100-hour-long Desert Storm war in Kuwait in 1991) since 1945. Football coaches have a “war” a week and those who last in the profession generally win them.

Because of their “war” a week and the almost total lack of job security in the football coaching profession, football coaches are results oriented. Because of lack of wars and civil service-type job security, military officers are almost all process oriented. See my article on “Process orientation vs. results orientation.”

In view of the fact that winning real wars is infinitely more important than winning football games, that needs to cease. America’s football coaches should not be far more competent than Americas’s military officers, but the military officers are not even close to being as competent as the coaches.

Job security and pensions

One solution should jump right out at you. Eliminate military leadership being a civil-service type job. Make it results-oriented like football coaching by firing those who do not get results within a reasonable amount of time.

I am not advocating taking away their pensions. In fact, I think military pensions should vest like civilian pensions shortly after the person begins working for the military, not after 20 years. Furthermore, the generousness of the pension should be reduced to civilian levels, not 50% of pay after 20 years. I recall reading about 15 years ago that the U.S. military payroll for retirees had surpassed the payroll for active duty personnel. I have not since read that has been reversed. If not, the U.S. taxpayer is paying more to military personnel who do nothing militarily than it is for those on active duty. That’s very General Motors unionish and General Motors has gone bankrupt.

You do not attract great military leaders, or great football coaches, with pensions. Great football coaches want the opportunity to compete. The same is true of great military leaders like Patton, MacArthur, Ridgeway, Grant, Lee. Guys like that would not have quit the Army to go work for the water company if their pensions had been reduced to civilian business levels. Many of today’s military career officers would. Get rid of them. They are dead wood, not great coaches, I mean combat leaders.


One of the main things that distinguishes my experience as a military officer and my experience as a football coach is “film” as we still anachronistically call it.

Football coaches film (actually, nowadays, video) their opponents’ games, their own games, and their own practices. We study scout films by the hour looking for the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy. To say we use a magnifying glass to do so would hardly be an exaggeration. We routinely watch each play about 15 times in order to see what each of the eleven enemy players is doing or not doing. We make near constant use of slow motion and stop action to see exactly what happened on each play. Coaches’ wives joke about watching film with their husbands because they would not get to spend any time with them if they did not.

We also study films of our own practices and games to evaluate the performance of each of our players in minute detail. We incessantly pursue a two-pronged program of making the team better by either getting each player to perform better at his position or by replacing him with someone else who will. As with coaching, there is no job security in the starting lineup of a football team. Perform now or “die” and “death” comes quickly to a non-performer. Straighten him out or move him out.

One of the astonishing things about film is that until you see it, you have little idea what happened in the game. You often hear coaches on TV after a game decline to answer some questions on the grounds that they have not yet seen the film and will not know the answer to the particular question until they do. We football coaches don’t know what happened and why until we see the film. The military doesn’t take or study much film. And their ability to see what’s going on when it’s happening is dramatically impaired by the “fog of war” (dust, smoke, noise, flashes of light, etc.) compared to the broad daylight or powerful lights of a football stadium. The implication is they do not know what they are doing, period.

Power to hire, fire, promote, demote

Military leaders need the same ability as coaches or civilian businesspersons to hire and fire, promote and demote, not the current civil service-style military system of recruiting, firing next to no one no matter how bad they are, and giving the authority to promote or demote only to the Pentagon and only after a lengthy bureaucratic procedure and tenure waiting period. Straighten them out or move them out should apply to everyone in the military and the authority to do so must be at the lowest officer and NCO levels.

You cannot hold U.S. military leaders responsible for their performance if they do not have the authority to hire and fire and promote and demote their troops. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. We do it every day in coaching and in civilian business. The military’s civil service way is very rare in a competitive society like the U.S. and it’s rare precisely because it does not work. Because of unions, the airlines and auto makers got to be very much like the civil service and military. They also go bankrupt or threaten to regularly. If the U.S. military got paid by the victory, it would have gone bankrupt some time ago, or they would have changed their ways and resumed winning our wars.

Military film study

As far as I know, there is little film study in the U.S. military. Fighter planes have had gun cameras since World War II, but I got the impression that was to prove kills more than to study what works and what does not. I understand that aircraft carriers now film their flight-deck operations sort of like civilian security cameras to study what went wrong when some sort of accident occurs. I have the impression that some war games are recorded for study.

But I do not get the impression that anything comparable to football coach film study is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. It should.

I understand that the action does not take place in the open on a 100-yard-by-160-foot rectangle in broad daylight or under powerful stadium lights nor does Al Qaeda have a press box from which we can film. But I’m not interested in excuses. Get it done. One or more personnel could wear a helmet cam. Aerial camera drones could be used. Photographers could be assigned to combat units not for the usual public relations or historical documentation purposes but for the far more important purpose of figuring out how to be more successful and safer in battle.

There are also other ways to record what happened than video or film. Personnel could have GPS devices that figure out where each soldier is and broadcast that in real time to a central monitoring point. They could also record the locations of enemy using lasers and such as they now use to tell bombs where to land.

Fundamentally, the military officers and NCOs need to record what goes on during battles and analyze those recordings to figure out what went right and what went wrong.

Also, these asymmetrical wars bear more resemblance to New York City police work than military campaigns. One of the things that worked in New York City to reduce crime was to input crime data into computers that then allocated police resources—officers, vehicles, equipment—more efficiently. It was that, not the vaunted arrests of squeegee guys, that reduced crime greatly in that city. I have not heard that such computers are being used in Iraq or Afghanistan. Why not? Get them over there and start using them now!

Black boxes

When planes crash, the investigators are always very eager to find the black boxes to evaluate the recordings to see what went wrong. Once, when a military aircraft crashed, I recall news reporters noting that military aircraft do not have black boxes. Freaking typical! Get them you damned idiots!

If you continue to insist on forcing U.S. military personnel to drive down IED alleys in Iraq and Afghanistan, put the black boxes in the hummvees. Since the U.S. military has a far higher accident rate than civilian aircraft, the military aircraft need the black boxes more than the civilians. The only reason they don’t have them now is the government is not afraid of being sued or of the voters when they kill servicemen, but they are when they kill civilians.

Correct it!

The main thing about film study is that coaches use it to get better. The military generally does not because, in spite of all their protests to the contrary, they just aren’t that interested in getting better. Actions speak louder than words. If they cared enough, they would find a way and they would start winning and stop whining about why they can’t.

Since military actions involve life and death, not merely winning a game, I figure the military leaders ought to spend at least two hours in film study or study of other pertinent recordings of battles for every hour a football coach spends. It takes about two hours to grade the film of a high school offense and about one hour to grade the film of a high school defense. It takes about one or two hours to analyze the film of an upcoming opponent. That’s about four or five hours per week that the football coach spends analyzing the film and does not count the additional two hours they spend showing the films of our last game and our next opponent’s last game to the players each week.

So are U.S. military officers and NCOs spending eight to ten hours a week analyzing recordings of their last battle and recordings that shed light on the enemy they will face next? Are they doing this even more religiously to prevent their men from dying than football coaches do it to prevent their team from scoring fewer points than their opponent? Not that I know of. I pay a lot of attention to military stories in the media and I recall nothing whatsoever about military leaders studying film or other recordings like football coaches do.

Why is this? By the standards of football coaches, U.S. military leaders are appallingly lazy. They also would have to exert more effort just to get film or other recordings to study than coaches. Tough. It’s an all-volunteer Army. You wanted to be there and you stayed after you got there. Deal with it.

As a general rule, when I became a football coach, my predecessors had neither filmed their own games nor their upcoming opponents. I instituted that everywhere I went. Reportedly, at most of those teams, they reverted to not doing it after I left. So it’s not automatic in the civilian world either. It was a pain in the butt to find people to do the filming especially of the upcoming opponents. But it had to be done so I found ways to get it done. That’s how results-oriented people behave. Process-oriented people like those in the government including the military just make excuses about why they cannot get it done.

What you measure you manage

There is a saying in the business world,

What you measure, you manage.

What it means is that if you are not gathering data on any part of your operation, you are not managing that part. And since you are the manager, that is malpractice. When I was in the Army 35 years ago, about the only things they gathered data on was

• vehicle readiness
• personnel in the unit each day
• arms inventory
• daily training schedule

Furthermore, except for the day (personnel) report, the other reports were partially or totally false so they were not really gathering data on the vehicles, arms, or training. They were just pretending.

Has the military changed since then in that regard? Not that I know of. I would like to hear from current or recent military personnel if there has been a change. My impression is that the military is still composed entirely of government bureaucrats, many of whom who want to do as little as possible to get by, life and death notwithstanding. The others are careerists who are content to talk a good game and look the part because that’s all their superiors consider when it comes to handing out promotions.

In other words, the military accurately measures next to nothing and therefore manages next to nothing.

Offense: strength against weakness

The basic principle of football offense is strength against weakness. Accordingly, our military should be listing our strengths and weaknesses and those of the enemy.

Here are some:

U.S. Strengths
U.S. Weaknesses
air supremacy inability to speak local languages and recognize foreign accents of those speaking local languages
technology lack of local geographic and neighbor knowledge
discipline hostile relations with many Iraqis and Afghans
artillery poor quality military personnel in many cases
long-range weapons dwindling political support in U.S.
world’s largest industrial capacity inability to tell good guys from bad guys
one of world’s largest military forces reluctance to injure civilians or civilian property
state of the art communications of all sorts U.S. Department of Defense is 100% government bureaucrats including military personnel
large-scale conventional destructive power military personnel distracted by getting ticket punched, rotating home, political considerations


Enemy Strengths
Enemy Weaknesses
local language skills relatively little formal, secular education in many cases
highly motivated belief that zealotry and “Allah on our side”) trumps skill, technology, and materiel (similar to Japanese mistake in World War II)
seemingly unlimited supplies of small arms and explosives no long-range weapons
support from many civilians crude communications capability
entrepreneurial organization and low-level authority relatively little coordination above the squad or platoon level
complete focus on killing Americans other than time spent on religious practices difficulty moving around when transporting weapons or other incriminating material
involved “for the duration” reliance on foreigners (non-Iraqis and non-Afghans) for suicide-bomber missions

This is just a crude, quick list. If I could go there with a half dozen intelligent football coaches, and had authority to gather pertinent information, we would identify a far more precise comprehensive list of strengths and weaknesses.

Obvious strategies

Many of the needed strategies almost jump out at you when you make such a list. For one thing, many of our weaknesses are correctable. We could draft and/or hire native speakers of Iraqi Arabic and Afghan Pashtun and other Afghan languages. We can do the same with local knowledge. Indeed, native interpreters would have that knowledge and would therefore be a two-for-one weakness correction.

We can upgrade the quality of our Army personnel by a draft and/or by finding out what causes people to not want to join the Army or re-enlist and fixing it where feasible.

We can supply troops with more forensic equipment and training like retina scanners, finger printing equipment, paraffin testing equipment, and so forth, computers, etc. to improve their ability to track people and thereby identify the enemy.

We can eliminate laws and treaties that prevent us from attacking enemy who use human shields and change the rules of engagement accordingly.

The military can and must be turned to focus on victory, not careerism, ticket punching, and all that.

Weapons-range differential

In Iraq and Afghanistan, enemy weapons almost all have a range of about 300 yards or less. Mortars can shoot farther than that, but we have technology to almost instantly fire back accurately once the mortar round leaves the tube en route to our location. Radar can pinpoint the origin of an artillery or mortar round, which follows a parabolic (lob) trajectory, within seconds of its being fired. It just quickly notes two points on the round’s flight and calculates backward to the point of origin. That same radar or other technology can direct instant direct fire at that location immediately. Mortars, which the enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan have, and artillery, which they do not, are both called indirect fire weapons because of that delayed parabolic trajectory. We can fire back with direct fire, that is, faster straight-line trajectory, weapons from aircraft.

The weapons-range differential between the warring parties suggests an obvious strategy. Virtually every American who was killed by the enemy was killed because he or she was within 300 yards of an enemy or one of their remotely-controlled weapons. If our weapons were also limited to 300-yard range, we would have to get within the range of both our weapons and theirs to fight. But our weapons have no such range limitation. In fact, we can kill everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan from Iowa with nothing but conventional weapons if we want.

We don’t need to go as far away as Iowa. We could just stay 300 yards away—like the strips of nothing but flat dirt that we created on each side of some roads in Vietnam. If we prevented the enemy from getting within 300 yards of any of our personnel, our casualty rate would drop to near zero overnight.

Would that limit our ability to kill bad guys? No. But it would probably limit our ability to identify them. On the other hand, it would reduce much of the U.S. political pressure to surrender Iraq and Afghanistan to the enemy.

We have no trouble whatsoever delivering firepower on identified enemy locations without ever getting within range of enemy weapons. Generally speaking, we did that extremely effectively in Bosnia.

They come out

I have never seen this written about, but it seems to me that guerillas and urban terrorists eventually come out of hiding when the heat is somewhat off. Sure, they can go underground and hide for years. But that is not what they want. They want to parade around and show off and control other people and resources.

Initially, Fidel Castro hid in the jungle. But eventually, he came out and went pretty conventional in his revolution.

Similarly, the enemy in Vietnam hid in the jungle and blended in in the urban areas, but then they came out for the Tet Offensive and the Viet Cong were all but wiped out. After that, our enemy was the North Vietnamese Army, which originally stayed out claiming that the war in South Vietnam was a civil war. After Tet, they had no choice.

Also, the North Vietnamese Army was hiding in the jungle in South Vietnam but they hid less and were quite conventional in Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam itself. Had we had the guts, we could have attacked those sanctuaries and defeated them. During my tour in Vietnam, we did invade Laos and Cambodia.

Before those invasions, I heard either outgoing or incoming fire either daily or weekly. After those invasions, I never heard a single shot of either type of fire for the rest of my tour in Vietnam.

We also bombed North Vietnam, but we kept pussy-footing around about it for political reasons and never got them to a tipping point. Had we turned the military loose on the North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia and Laos and on North Vietnam, we would have won the war.

Again, in the final year or so of the Vietnam war, the North Vietnamese came out of the jungle into the open using tanks and trucks and such. Had we still been in the war, we could have easily wiped them out.

In Somalia, the enemy hid until they thought they had the upper hand in the Battle of Mogadishu. Then they revealed themselves brazenly. Had we had a normal amount of firepower, like AC 130 gun ships, on hand we could have sent a whole lot more enemy to paradise.

We have all seen news footage of Palestinian terrorists celebrating and parading in ski masks and shooting AK-47s into the air in the Middle East. I do not know why someone doesn’t lay a bunch of cluster bombs or 2,000-pounders on those celebrations.

In other words, an appropriate U.S. strategy might be lay back and wait for the bad guys to come out of hiding. Then pop them. Guerillas seem to be incapable of refraining from eventually beating their chests publicly. In order to win, the bad guys have to come out of hiding and do a victory parade then occupy palaces and so forth. If we simply wait for the inevitable victory parade, then vaporize it, they never win.

As I said in my review of General Rupert Smith’s book Utility of Force, we could easily deny the Iraqis utilities and transportation like water, sewer, electric, natural gas, communications, and the use of vehicles by just flipping a bunch of off switches and banning all vehicle use. We could then say, we will turn them back on if the citizens of the area in question will cooperate with the police and occupation forces to maintain security. Kill some Americans, and you go back to living in the dark and the heat and walking to a well for water. This is somewhat reminiscent of the Enclave Strategy advocated by former Army Chief of Staff and ambassador to Vietnam Maxwell Taylor. That strategy was never tried there.

Instead of us trying to keep saboteurs from hurting utilities, which is very difficult for us to do, let the enemy try to turn them on without our cooperation. That would be impossible for them to do.

Force them into large-unit actions

If we send a hummvee or series of them driving on an urban road, the enemy can attack it successfully with just one man to detonate the mine and maybe two or three to transport. plant, and camouflage it. By reducing where we go in small groups and the location and staffing of our bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can force the enemy to operate in company- (about 100 men) or larger-size units. That is not attractive to them because they seem to lack the ability to coordinate such large units. Also, it would offer targets that our superior firepower, long-range, powerful weapons and air supremacy can efficiently vaporize. Accordingly, it would either force the enemy to take unacceptable losses or end their combat actions. Of course, they would adapt is some way eventually, perhaps by attacking Americans in the U.S. or elsewhere. But the time to deal with that is when it happens. In the meantime, it’s our turn to adapt and the strategy I just suggested holds out the hope of decreasing U.S. losses and increasing the enemy’s if they tried to continue to attack us in the new circumstances.

Religious beliefs and practices as a weakness

The Japanese military believed in buchido (fighting spirit), Samurai principles, and the Emperor being a God. All that nonsense was a basis for a military strategy that included use of poorly-designed, poorly-made weapons. They figured their spirit was better than ours (bull!) and more important than weapons quality or design.

In fact, what was decisive in the Pacific in World War II was the massive amount of men and materiel we were able to throw at the Japanese as well as our superior technology. Our technology from code breaking to radar to flame throwers to atomic bombs made a mockery of their fighting spirit and rendered it irrelevant. None of those technologies or the many other we employed (Norden bomb sights, B-29s, etc.) were affected in the slightest by how strenuously the Japanese soldiers yelled “Banzai!” or how fiercely they charged at U.S. weapons they could not reach.

One classic case of using religious zealotry against the enemy was the killing by bombing of the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Zarqawi on 6/7/06. We found him by following the Islamic advisor he consulted with daily.

We should analyze the various ways in which devout muslims behave differently because of their faith, including relationships to mosques, religious styles of dress and grooming, marital practices, holy celebrations, and so forth and use them to identify and kill enemy fighters. Some may think there is something wrong with that—like discrimination by religion, profiling, etc. These guys have no interest in adopting our Constitution. For one thing, they sure as hell hate what the First Amendment says about religious freedom. So it is childlike to think we have to apply the Constitution and various U.S. laws relating to discrimination in housing or employment to fighting a war against a bunch of guys who want us dead in part because we have our Constitution.

During the invasion of Iraq, local Iraqis working for us would shout insults over bullhorns from U.S. vehicles about the manliness and sexual prowess of the Iraqis. Time and again, the Iraqi enemies who heard these insults became so enraged that they came out of hiding to fire at the Americans—and were promptly killed by the Americans.

Their martyrdom and paradise-for-dying notions sound like effective weapons for killing many of them if used wisely. To the extent that their religious beliefs conflict with sound military tactics and strategy, which they certainly do in many respects, we should use that against them.

One idea that comes to mind is that we have Jewish soldiers and Marines. I am concerned that they do not have decent places to worship in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should build some synagogues for our troops maybe a mile or so outside of towns in those countries. We should not use our Jewish troops for Al Qaeda bait. But buildings? Why not? Would Al Qaeda religious beliefs cause them to abandon their normal caution and stealthiness to come out and attack the synagogues thereby giving us a great opportunity to reduce their numbers? Worth a try.

Might some say that the Muslims would be outraged by this? That’s the whole idea. I am outraged by IEDs and 9/11 and by Muslim discrimination against Jews and other non-Muslims or infidels as they would call us. No Muslims seem concerned about my outrage. Would we worry about whether Hitler and his Nazi Party would have been outraged by the building of synagogues in western Europe during World War II? I think not.

So why are we intimidated by Muslims on the exact same issue? They use religion, mosques, and all that against us. Religion is a two-edged sword. He who lives by the jihad may die by it as well. Turnabout is fair play. Liberals can think of our building of synagogues in Iraq and Afghanistan as a sort of imitation of the civil rights marches and integration of lunch counters at Woolworth’s in the deep South.

Reliance on foreigners

Since Al Qaeda in Iraq relies almost completely on non-Iraqis for suicide bombers, it seems like we ought to have native Iraqi speakers telling us who the non-Iraqis are. Then round them up and deport them. I do not know how many non-Iraqi foreigners the country needs, if any, but pending that information rendering this impractical, the suicide age non-Iraqi's living in Iraq ought to be deported unless they can provide a very persuasive reason for being there. If any are allowed to stay, they ought to be thoroughly fingerprinted, DNAed, voice printed, retina printed, and provided with documents. Thereafter, no documents, no remain in the country.

Al Qaeda’s reliance on non-Iraqis for suicide bombers is a weakness that can be and should be exploited. Suicide bombers may be the weapon that kills the most people in Iraq.

Abolish cell phones

I am not sure of the technical or practical difficulties, but we could abolish cell phones by simply removing the various cell phone antennas and related equipment. Since they use these to set off IEDs it should make it harder for them to do so and make it easier to identify the bad guys when they switch to other types of communication that would be needed to replace cell phones as IED detonators. Also, if they switched to garage door openers, for example, we could probably jam those frequencies with less disruption of our own communications.

I was in communications in the Army and graduated in the Army’s first ever satellite communications class, but that was 38 years ago. My memories of that are faded and technology has advanced. But it seems to me that we could downgrade the enemy’s already relatively weak ability to communicate with each other and with IEDs while preserving our own ability to communicate with each other.

Like drug trafficking

Another analytical approach that should be used is to diagram the flow chart of weapons including AK-47s, RPGs, and IED explosives from the factory to the firing of the weapon at Americans. Those things ought to be declared contraband if they have not already. The movement of them is probably quite similar to drug trafficking. In that case, the U.S. military should learn as much as it can from those in our government who spend all day every day trying to interdict the flow of drugs.

A chain is as strong as its weakest link. We should be trying to find the weakest link in the weapons movement chain and attack it. Certainly our enemies in Iraq are most vulnerable when they are in possession of and transporting contraband weapons or setting IEDs. As with football, you attack the weakest point.

Contrast football with the military

The military are fond of calling themselves “elite” and the “professionals” and such. If they mean it, they ought to compare themselves to true elite professionals, like successful NFL football teams. If there are any discrepancies, and there sure are, they ought to fix the military to bring it closer to the NFL teams.

2006 Indianapolis Colts
U.S. Military
Ranking compared to competitors Best in the world Claim to be best in the world
Evidence of their ranking Won 2007 Super Bowl against Bears Apparently best technology and largest budget of any military in the world; air supremacy in all combat since early 1950s; naval supremacy likely, contingent on air supremacy, but untested since World War II; however, ground forces have generally not won any wars since World War II even against loosely-organized and minimally-trained irregular enemies with only small arms and no navy or air force
personnel-selection process have generally been trained and obtained experience, as well as been carefully evaluated by experts over ten to fifteen high school, college, and pro seasons before becoming starters; typical NFL starter was All-American in college; world-class athletes; criminals generally excluded minimal education and physical health standards; no demonstration of any skill or talent at all required; criminal convictions sometimes not permitted but my 2/14/07 San Francisco Chronicle reported that the number of “moral waivers” granted to U.S. Army recruits was up to 8,129 in 2006. “Moral waivers” are required to get into the Army persons who have been convicted of crimes like aggravated assault, robbery, and vehicular homicide. Approximately 900 of the 2006 “moral waivers” were granted so that the U.S. Army could recruit convicted felons. 11.7% of all U.S. Army recruits in 2006 were convicted criminals who needed “moral waivers” to get in.
leader-selection process coaches generally have decades of successful experience in the most competitive football leagues in the world; much cronyism in the selection of coaches other than head coaches leader rank and positions awarded mostly on the basis of tenure; battalion and higher command generally restricted to those who have tenure and who not yet been made a bad impression on a superior (See my article “The U.S. military’s 30-year, marathon, single-elimination, suck-up tournament“ or “How America picks its generals”)
compensation both coaches and players salaries range from $225,000 (rookie) to $750,000 (10-year vet minimum) to $35,000,000 per year for the highest paid player (Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning) in the NFL pay ranges from $15,600 (buck private) to $201,500 (4-star general) per year depending upon rank and tenure
moves during career Generally stay with one team unless traded (rare) or choose to accept a free agent offer after three or four years move to a new continent or at least a new state and whole new military unit about once per year counting training schools and regular assignments
additional duties generally none; players and coaches are entirely focused on competing in regular-season and playoff NFL games all military personnel are burdened with numerous additional duties ranging from guard duty to policing barracks and surrounding areas to charity drives to filling out forms, putting on various shows like parades and firepower demonstrations, etc., etc.
how spend day watching film of own performance and of upcoming opponent games; rehearsing job assignments for upcoming game in individual, group, and team practice sessions

virtually no film watching; rare rehearsals of job; mostly housekeeping, maintenance of equipment, calisthenics, parades, personal uniform and barracks inspections; paperwork is probably the dominant day-to-day activity of military personnel; what rehearsal that is done, like basic training and advanced individual training, generally bears more resemblance to World War II in Europe than to the upcoming “game” in Iraq and Afghanistan

If U.S. military officers ran the Colts, Peyton Manning would be picking up trash at the RCA Dome or performing white glove inspections of his linemen’s lockers.

job almost always stay in the same position for entire career If U.S. military officers ran the Colts, Peyton Manning would have only been quarterback for one season. In the subsequent seasons, he would have held jobs like strong safety, left guard, media relations, weakside outside linebacker, general manager, place kicker, strength and conditioning coach, and defensive end. Actually, the military is far worse than that. If he was lucky, the Army would give Manning a quarterback MOS (military occupational specialty). But if he arrived at the Colts when they already had a quarterback, military officers would assign him to another job, like short order cook on deck two of the RCA Dome. Think I’m exaggerating? After he graduated from Harvard Law School and was drafted, world famous lawyer Ralph Nader was made a cook by the Army. It never occurred to them to assign him to the JAGs who have offices at almost every military base.

The Indianapolis Colts are an elite, professional organization. When the military uses the word “elite,” it generally only applies in a relative sense compared to other military units. See my articles on the Rangers and paratroopers. By absolute standards, there are probably few elite units in the U.S. military. Some I would nominate for that status would be the faculty of the U.S. Military Academy, the Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds, and the submarine service.

Use of the word “professional” by the military to describe themselves is arguably bogus. It is questionable that they have a body of knowledge with regard to fighting wars that is accepted as valid by a consensus of experts or proven in any battles in the last 60 years. And the military’s propensity to move people to a new unit on average once a year, changing not only geographic location but also the nature of their assignment, makes them temps and jacks of all military activities and masters of none. Furthermore, the military is consumed with paperwork, not practicing that at which they are purportedly “professional.”

The top leaders in the military are professional suck-ups and bureaucrats but it is not clear whether they can legitimately claim to be professional at anything else in the sense that doctors, lawyers, and engineers are professionals because of those civilians’ mastery of a large body of technical knowledge and years of experience applying their training in the real world.

Basic principle of defense

The best defense is a good offense. That is part of President Bush’s idea of fighting them there rather than here. But the Green Zone and similar bunker-type installations are not offensive.

In football, you have to play defense about half the time by rule. In war, you do not. George Patton was not known for defense. Indeed, I do not recall any instance of it in his career.

But since our military seems to be determined to keep our troops on the defensive most of the time, they’d better learn the basic principle of defense from the football coaches. It is strength against strength.

Look at the lists of the enemy’s strengths above. To the extent that we are going to sit on defense, our military needs to direct our strengths at their strengths to neutralize theirs.

Military football

If you look at the schedules of college football teams back in the early part of the Twentieth Century, you often see military units like the Quantico Marines. If you visit older U.S. military bases, you will see huge football stadiums. Use the Google satellite capability. For example, here is a satellite photo of the Fort Benning football stadium complete with night lights:,+GA&sourceid=navclient-ff&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1B3GGGL_en___US231&um=1&sa=N&tab=wl (You have to zoom in on the corner of Ingersoll Street and Vibbert Avenue.) Why do military bases have football stadiums? The divisions and other large units or bases used to have their own football teams. They played other divisions and such.

What happened to those teams? The military banned them. Why? I don’t know. I heard that too much cheating was going on—recruiting top players and getting them assigned to your unit for football rather than military reasons—keeping them there longer than normal assignments, and so on. The movie MASH had such a football game. Also, I suspect some of the “wrong” teams won. That is, the team of a commander who was less politically powerful or lower ranking beat the team of a more politically powerful and/or higher ranking officer. That’s a problem in Little League baseball so I’ll bet it was a problem in the military. Anyway, those stadiums still stand there now in mute tribute to the fact that, once upon a time, military units actually competed, until the competition was outlawed.

Satellite photos of military bases will also reveal another sports facility: golf courses.When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor attack began, the Army and Navy commanders of U.S. forces in Hawaii were getting dressed for their joint weekly golf match. The military banned competitive football but not golf. That should tell you volumes about what our military leaders are really about.

Pity. My 15 seasons of coaching youth and high school football taught me far more about leading and getting results through leading than the four years of West Point. Indeed, I think West Point ought to try to find a way to have each and every cadet coach a football teams for at least one season before graduation. Unlike running around in the woods shooting blanks at “aggressors” who are always scripted to lose, it would be real competition in a combat-like sport against an opponent who is actually trying to win. Big difference.

To be continued

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.

John T. Reed

Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military

John T. Reed military home page

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