Saturday Blueprint With Michael Lombardi
The Daily Coach spoke to co-founder and former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi about his latest book, "Football Done Right."
When Michael Lombardi penned his first book, “Gridiron Genius,” in 2018, he largely drew from personal experience and his three decades-plus in the National Football League.
For his next, he wanted to dive into the league’s complicated past — its innovators, its broadcasting roots, its Hall-of-Fame injustices.
That meant extensive research into the visionaries, titans and trailblazers who helped make the league what it is today — and further educating himself on the history of his favorite sport.
For this week’s Saturday Blueprint, we spoke with Lombardi, a Daily Coach co-founder, about his writing process for “Football Done Right,” his time management strategies and when it’s necessary to take a back seat.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Mike, congratulations on the release of “Football Done Right.” How did the idea for the book come to you?
It really didn’t come to me. It more came through me. When I was working with the Raiders, I was around Al Davis, and he’d talk about the history of the game. And Bill Walsh loved the history of the game, and (Bill) Belichick loves the history of the game. It was kind of a natural progression.
Marc Badain, who was the president of the Raiders, kept urging me to write it and felt it was something that needed to be written. He stayed on me constantly about doing it, and when I wrote “Gridiron Genius,” he said my next book had to be the history of football. We didn’t know the title, but that’s what it had to be. It was kind of through a lot of people, and I certainly appreciated it. It was a fun book to explore.
How was it different for you than writing “Gridiron Genius?”
“Gridiron Genius” I lived. This, I experienced. There were parts I didn’t know where I had to go back. I experienced Monday Night Football, but I didn’t know Monday Night Football. I experienced the NFL Today, but I didn’t know what was going on. This had to be researched and taught, but I wanted to do it through my eyes because it impacted me.
The television chapter was impactful in my life loving football. It required way more research than Gridiron because Gridiron I lived and had notes and experienced everything. It came easily. This was about, “How was I going to lay it out? What was it going to be like?”
What was the biggest challenge for you?
I think when you go through the creative process, you never know what the challenge is or what’s going to occur until you get into the dough. The fun part was all of the research and exploring and gaining a rhythm.
What I wanted to do was make this like an album of music to where even though each song would be different, the 12 tracks on an album all kind of play together and fit together. I didn’t want anything that didn’t fit in there. I wanted to have symmetry with it so that when you look back on the book 10 years from now, it was through my eyes at the time I did it, and all the dots connect.
You’re working on the book, doing your Daily Coach work, doing GM Shuffle. How did you manage your days and your time juggling your different responsibilities?
To me, having worked with the people I have, I’ve learned to understand what’s urgent and what’s important. I scaled my day to know when I got up early in the morning, I would write. Then, I would spend another part of the day on football, then another part on the GM Shuffle. In the afternoon, I’d come back after the show and re-write and research. The best part of the day was figuring out what I wanted to write the next morning.
I’ve always loved writers and have read a lot about the writing process, and that helped me a lot. Richard Russo, who’s written one of my favorite books called “Nobody’s Fool,” would always want to stop when he thought he still had more left in him. Hemingway was the same way. I tried to do that. “I think I should write this.” No, let me stop so in the morning when I get up, I have something to write. I would lay in bed at night thinking about what I really wanted to write about. Some of the best ideas you have are right before you go to sleep. Then, you can’t wait to wake up to start writing.
You list a lot of people in the acknowledgment section. How did you balance getting feedback from others and acting upon it with having conviction in what you were doing ?
Being in the NFL and running a draft and building a draft board, you listen to scouts and coaches, but you have to make your own decisions. I think I had a pretty good understanding of taking the data in and understanding what people were saying and applying what they believed into what I saw. It helped me think differently and gave me ideas here or there, but I wanted it to be my voice. I didn’t want this to be somebody else’s. We all know when you put a list together, nobody’s going to agree with it entirely. You’re going to get pushback.
What do you most want readers to take from it?
I’d like readers to realize the NFL wasn’t this all-powerful league and it wasn’t the biggest show on earth. The people who have influenced the league who others don’t know about need to be recognize, whether it’s Howard Cosell, Brent Musberger, Kenny Washington, Sterling Sharpe, Clark Shaughnessy, some of the people I wrote about. I want them to be able to sit in a bar, see something on the television screen, and quote the book with something that they learned. “I learned this and this came from Clark Shaughnessy or this came from Bill Walsh.” They learned it from reading the book.
Not everything that you research or write about ends up making the final edition of a book. How did you make peace with that element?
If we’re going to preach teamwork and team, sometimes you just have to take a back seat. The idea that I had of a book being an album, there were two chapters I wrote that were over 10,000 words each that didn’t make the book. The book was 160,000 words when it went to the editor. I had to cut out 60,000 words somewhere. Two chapters went out immediately, and everything else got reduced. There were some stories I fought for to stay in there that they tried to take out, but that’s just the editorial process you go through.