An Exclusive with Marv Levy

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By Paul M. Banks

From the “About the Author” page of Marv Levy’s book “Where Else Would You Be?”

Marv Levy was born in Chicago and developed a love for sports at a young age. After high school he served in the Army Air Corps from 1943-46. At Coe College he was a talented running back and sprinter and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate. He later earned a master’s degree at Harvard University in English history. After coaching at the college level for seven years, Levy began his professional coaching career as the kicking (remove – team’s )coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and as the special teams’ coach for the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins. He then became the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, leading them to two Grey Cup championships. He joined the Buffalo Bills as head coach in 1987 and built a powerhouse franchise that attracted both fans and accolades to the Bills. Levy led the team to a historic four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. In 1988 and 1995 United Press International named him Coach of the Year. He currently holds the record for most wins by a Bills coach with 123.  Levy was 72 during his final season with the Bills, tying him with Papa Bear George Halas as the oldest head coach in NFL history. He retired from football after the 1997 NFL season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. He currently lives with his wife, Mary Frances, in Chicago and has a daughter, Kimberly.
 
At the age of 80, Levy returned to football as General Manager and Vice President of Football Operations for the Buffalo Bills at the beginning of 2006. Following the Bills’ last game of the 2007 season, Marv Levy decided to step down and he then returned to live in his native Chicago. I got the chance to speak with Levy, the only NFL coach in history to win four straight conference championships. 
 

TSB: The New England Patriots’ Spygate controversy dominated the headlines this season. Do you think it was an isolated incident or do you think cheating is widespread throughout the NFL?

ML: I think most of the coaches have a  reverance for the game and play the game the right way and always follow the rules. I don’t think it’s as widespread as this Spygate story has made people think it is.
 

TSB: Upon graduating you enlisted in the Army Air Forces and spent the remainder of World War II in the military, As someone who’s experienced both the military and football, what similarities do you see in the structure and procedures of both? Is football truly war?

ML: I honestly do think it’s exaggerated. The idea that football is war is a myth. I’ve seen what war is and it’s definitely not football. They are much more different than some people think.

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TSB: You have a master’s degree in English History from Harvard and you also authored a book entitled “Where Else Would You Rather Be?” Tell me about your experiences writing and promoting the book….

ML: I greatly enjoy the enterprise of writing, I enjoy the total experience of it. I kept a lot of journals and I wanted to recount the experiences of my life in more than just football…I did a lot appearances and a lot of book signings. Whatever the people in charge of marketing and promoting told me to do, I simply followed suit. It’s arduous at times, but I enjoyed it. There’s much harder work you can do than a book tour.
 

TSB: With the high-powered “no-huddle” offense, you set a new standard for innovation as you were first in the AFC in winning percentage and second only to the San Francisco 49ers in the league from ’88-‘97. Tell me about the no-huddle…

ML: A lot of factors go into it, whether it’s a no-huddle or anything it isn’t a style that wins, it’s whether you can run, kick, pass, and punt better than your opponent. We had a good QB that ran it well and embraced the pacing. They also kept it very simple. The playbook was very thin. Our playbook was 1/5 the size of most playbooks in the league. 

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TSB: Tell me about the stereotypes people have about the life of an NFL coach: sleeping four hours or less every night, never getting to see your family etc.

ML: You do work and put in long hours, but it’s exaggerated. Those people saying that are trying to tell you how hard it is. You do get several hours of sleep each night, and it’s not exactly like “you never get to see your family.”
 

TSB: With a lifetime in the field of coaching, what do you consider your most significant accomplishment?

ML: In 47 years of coaching, it’s not just one thing that you can point to as the single greatest achivement. My greatest accomplishment is that I showed up for work everyday. I didn’t try to find the easy way through.

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  1. paulmbanks says

    I did ask him who I thought the Bills would take in the draft. but I didn’t get any special insight there, bummer!

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