Coaching Xcellence Weekly

This is the March Madness edition of Coaching Xcellence Weekly. This time always proves to be the best time of the year! The stories this time of year are always incredible and reflect the significance that a sport can have on people, whether it’s the participants or the fans.

Bruce Pearl – A Teachable Moment Used Well

There has been a lot written and said about Bruce Pearl and possible transgressions he has had in his career. However, his Auburn team’s heartbreaking Final Four loss to Virginia and his reaction with his team afterwards should be talked about for awhile. With Virginia down two points in the closing seconds, their point guard Ty Jerome committed a double-dribble that went uncalled by the officials. Kyle Guy made three free throws after a controversial foul on a three-point attempt and Virginia won the national semi-final game. What was so impressive was Bruce Pearl’s reaction. Rather than complain and berate the officials, or even at minimum, question them, Pearl stated that everyone makes mistakes and focused on how to properly handle losing. This message to his team and, even to sports fans, is an educational one and one that should be celebrated as a teachable moment that was well utilized.

Tom Izzo – Demanding, Demeaning or Both?

With Michigan State reaching the Final Four this weekend, I want to reflect on one of the biggest stories of the this year’s NCAA Tournament. That came when Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo ripped into one of his players, Aaron Henry, during the Spartans’ first round win against Bradley. I saw lots of commentary on the tongue lashing and social media was all the rage with opinions. Did Izzo lose his mind and go too far off the rails with Henry? Maybe. I found it interesting that Henry responded by playing productively in that game against Bradley and then had an efficient outing in the second round game against Minnesota. The situation brought to light one of my favorite teachings when it comes to coaching: Be demanding without being demeaning.

Did Izzo demean Henry in this situation? I don’t know. Maybe. You and I can’t really be the judge here. We don’t know what Izzo does outside of games to build relationships with his players. Some of the commentaries I read about the incident commended Izzo for his relationship building with his players, and even their parents, off the court.

The Izzo situation reminded me of a recent post-game press conference interview. My friend Scott Kerr, head coach at Cincinnati’s Purcell Marian High School, advanced to the Ohio High School State Semifinals a couple weeks ago. I coached against Scott numerous times and have watched his teams play on many other occasions. He coaches his kids as hard as any high school coach I have seen. I know he demands a lot but that is what has made him successful. And his players love him. In Scott’s post-game press conference after that state semifinal loss, you can see how much Scott loves his players and how much they love and respect him because he demands their best. This press conference proves that Scott fosters those relationships off the court. It all comes down to whether that there is love and respect between coach and players. The question of demanding vs. demeaning in the Izzo/Henry situation boils down to what happens off the court, not what happened on the court in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Lipscomb – Coach Meyer Looking Down from Above

I watched the Lipscomb Bison advance to the NIT championship game last week. The late, legendary Coach Don Meyer coached at Lipscomb for many years and I am sure Coach Meyer was looking down proudly from heaven. I had a chance to hear Coach Meyer speak a handful of times before his death but I will always have the memory of hearing him in 2010 the same day as the Final Four games I attended in Indianapolis. An “all-time” basketball day for me.

ESPN baseball guru Buster Olney authored the book How Lucky You Can Be a few years ago about this ultimate “Coach of Coaches.” While coaching at Northern State University, his last coaching job, Meyer was in an almost fatal automobile accident on a North Dakota highway in 2008. After emergency surgery, doctors diagnosed Coach Meyer with cancer. Olney’s book in both motivational and inspirational…one of the best I’ve read.

Here are three rules that Coach Meyer had for all of his players in his program:
Rule No. 1: Everybody takes notes.
Rule No. 2: Everybody says, “Yes, sir,” “Yes, ma’am,” “No, sir,” and “No, ma’am.” In other words, be courteous to everybody.
Rule No. 3: Everybody picks up trash.

Perry Reese, Jr. – A Coach Who Changed a Community

This one is from the archives. The Ohio High School Athletic Association honored Perry Reese, Jr., with the Naismith Meritorious Service Award last week at its state Final Four. Reese, an African-American Catholic, entered Ohio’s Amish country in Berlin in the 1980s and transformed the community beyond just basketball. Sports Illustrated published this article about Reese, which was reprinted as one the magazine’s 60 best articles in the 60th anniversary of the magazine in 2014.

Research Proves Youth Sports Linked to Lower Depression

This isn’t necessarily March Madness-related but I love these articles regarding youth sports. This Chicago Tribune article details some research showing that if youth participate in sports they are less likely to suffer depression. I found the theme of community in this article as a by-product of the youth sports experience interesting in that it contributes to less likelihood of depression.



I love Tony Dungy. Yes, maybe it’s because he coached my favorite NFL team, the Indianapolis Colts. Yes, maybe because he led the Colts to the city’s first major sports championship in my lifetime. But I have really grown to appreciate who Tony Dungy is as a person and the principles in which he led the football teams he did.

Tony Dungy

In preparation for Coach Dungy’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction this weekend, I reread his first book Quiet Strength, which was published in 2007 after the Colts won Super Bowl XLI. The last time I did any significant reading of Quiet Strength, I was preparing the eulogy for my nephew’s funeral six years ago. I recalled the strength in Coach Dungy’s words regarding dealing with grief (Dungy’s son Jamie died suddenly in 2005), and I wanted to articulate my own feelings in a similar way. His words helped me personally deal with my own grief.

To me, Tony Dungy embodies everything that is right in coaching and in being a leader for humanity. He was not only a good football coach but he knew the importance of using his platform for good. In observing him and reading about his career over the last twenty years, these are the character traits that I most appreciate about Tony Dungy:

  • He built his teams on character and values, the same way he lived his life.
  • As a coach, he always did things the “right way.” He never compromised character and virtues, even if it meant a better chance of winning.
  • He was positive with his coaching staff and players but he held them accountable.
  • He shared his faith openly with his coaching staff and players who were life-minded. He thought it was important that his players and coaches be connected spiritually.
  • He was loyal. He refused to fire Mike Shula in Tampa Bay after the 1998 season when Joel and Brian Glazer asked him to do so.
  • He often preached to his team, “Do What We Do.”Tony Dungy “did what he did” and he did it with class.


I attended the annual Play Like a Champion Today Sports Leadership conference a couple weeks ago at the University of Notre Dame. I had the pleasure to meet and hear author Todd Gongwer speak at dinner one evening. Todd, a coach himself, has quickly become acclaimed as a motivational speaker and outstanding author of the book Lead…for God’s Sake. (I highly recommend it, especially if you like leadership fables.)

Lead for Gods Sake
In his speech at dinner, Todd spoke about one thing that I have come to realize in sports and life – the realization that we control so very little the result of being “the best.” The reality is that we will eventually compete against someone who will be more talented than us and if they perform at their best, we’re going to get beat. Therefore, Todd says “your best” is maximizing the gifts and talents for the purpose God has given to you.

Being “excellent” is being the best you can be and letting life take care of itself.

Oh, you may be wondering who “Joe” is, as indicated in the blog header. Read Lead…for God’s Sake to find out more about him. You may learn a thing or two from “Joe.”

photo (3)

Todd Gongwer and me at University of Notre Dame on June 25, 2016.



Yesterday was Father’s Day and I couldn’t help but think about the similarities in responsibilities that a coach has with a father. I have often heard people say that coaches have the ability to have as much influence on their athletes that anyone. While parents should, without question, serve as the primary influences in their young people’s lives there is no doubt that coaches have a substantial platform to impact them, as well.

In my book Finishing The Job ( I wrote that Michael Bradley, a former NBA player and NCAA All-American, calls Steve Lappas, his former coach at Villanova, every Father’s Day to thank him for being such a tremendous role model in his life.


Only some of the wins and losses will be memorable. It is the impact that a coach can have on his athletes and the impact of those lifelong relationships that will have the most profound impact. If you are a coach and did not get a phone call on Father’s Day from a former player that is not to say you have not made an impact on the lives of those you coached. Rather, if you did get a phone call know that you have been fulfilling your platform well.

By no means am I saying that a coach should be a substitute for his athletes’ fathers. Rather, a coach has the opportunity to role model the most important attributes that a father can provide his son or daughter. Here are the three most important fatherly attributes that a coach should exhibit:

1. Show them that you believe in them.
2. Take an interest in their life outside of your sport.
3. Be fair, but be firm.
They don’t have to always like you. But they should always respect you.

Coaches, Happy Fathers’ Day. Be sure to model the attributes of a great father to your athletes.

Resources Mentioned In This Blog
Finishing The Job,

Question: What coach has displayed the attributes of a father figure in your life?


The coaching world lost the greatest basketball coaching educator that it has possibly ever seen yesterday. The great Don Meyer passed away at the age of 69. If you have coached basketball or researched any aspect of coaching the game, chances are you have come across Coach Meyer. If you are not familiar with him it is probably because he was satisfied coaching at NAIA Lipscomb University and Division II Northern State for most of his career.

Don Meyer

Coach Meyer was well-known for sharing his knowledge of the game through dozens of clinics and instructional videos, as well as hosting the annual Don Meyer Coaches’ Academy. Don Meyer was, quite simply, the ultimate “Coach of Coaches.” And, by the way, Coach Meyer also held the record for most coaching victories in the history of the NCAA for a short while after he broke Bob Knight’s record in 2009.

I was fortunate to hear Coach Meyer speak on a couple of occasions, both of which were some of the most enjoyable learning experiences I have had. One occasion was about seven years at the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches’ Clinic. Coach Meyer had a handout and probably a dozen different motivational Northern State Basketball cards for everyone in attendance. Usually coaches will show up for those clinics with a few notes scribbled down and not much else. Not Coach Meyer. He was in his element sharing his encyclopedia of basketball information. He spared seemingly nothing when it came to sharing his work and what he knew about coaching.

The other time I heard him speak, and had the opportunity to meet him, was at the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Convention at the Final Four in Indianapolis in 2010. That was one of my favorite basketball days ever – I got to watch one of my favorite teams, Butler, win a Final Four game and hear Don Meyer speak! Coach Meyer was in a wheelchair that day after a horrific car accident and cancer diagnosis just a year-and-a-half earlier. Coach had a quick wit, even referring to his amputated leg as his “Little Buddy” during that speaking engagement.

He also had an affinity for good pens. That may be another reason why I liked Coach Meyer so much. We both love a good pen! He was using a Uniball Signo, my personal favorite, that day in Indianapolis. Coach Meyer loved taking notes. He would stop in the middle of his presentation as a thought came to his mind – you could see his wheels always spinning – and write down the note. He would write down notes based on questions that others asked. He developed learning experiences out of everything.

The detail with which Coach Meyer shared his knowledge showed his tireless work ethic and experience in the game. Buster Olney detailed Coach Meyer’s tremendous life in his 2011 biography How Lucky You Can Be: The Story of Coach Don Meyer. I highly recommend it! I also recently purchased Playing for Coach Meyer, by one of his former players and assistant coaches Steve Smiley. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Here is a collection of my favorite notes from Coach Meyer:

Three Rules for His Players:
1. Everybody takes notes.
2. Everybody says, “Yes, sir,” “Yes, ma’am,” “No, sir,” and “No, ma’am.”
3. Everybody picks up trash.

Five Phases of Great Teaching:
1. Tell them what to do.
2. Show them how to do it.
3. Have them show you how to do it.
4. Correct them.
5. Repetition.

On Shot Selection:
1st Bad Shot = Bad Shot
2nd Bad Shot = Bad Player
3rd Bad Shot = Bad Coach

Northern State’s Field Goal % Grading System:
4 = wide-open layup
3 = Wide open shot by good shooter
2 = Contested shot by good shooter
1 = Terrible shot
0 = Turnover

Offense: Get better shots than your opponent and get more of those better shots. (He learned that from the great Pete Newell.)

“If you want to thank me, go do something for somebody else.” – Don Meyer

R.I.P. Coach Don Meyer. Thanks for teaching all of us.

Resources Mentioned In This Blog
Book: How Lucky You Can Be: The Story of Don Meyer,

Book: Playing for Coach Meyer,

Question: How has Coach Don Meyer impacted your coaching? Please respond in the comments section below.



One of the traits that has been lost in coaching (or never found) is that of a “coach as educator first.” It’s reason enough why we need more education and development for coaches at all levels. What does a “coach as educator first” mean? Quite simply, it means adding value to your athletes’ lives by educating them about life skills.

“Coach as educator first” can mean teaching them about your sport but it goes well beyond the playing field. I see many coaches at many levels who are great teachers and use their platform to educate a well-rounded athlete. Yet many others do not.

Bob Hurley

Too many coaches are in coaching for themselves. They see wins and losses as the end-all-be-all. They try to live vicariously through their coaching because of their own unfulfilled playing career. The ultimate goal of any coach should be to add value to his athletes. When a coach finds himself educating their athletes first, then that coach has found real emotional intelligence as coach.

The following is a good list of questions to ask yourself to identify whether you are a “coach as educator first”:

1. Do you have a set of core values that are important to your program that you discuss and provide examples of where they have been used effectively?

2. Do you role model high-level character qualities?

3. Do you strive to develop your athletes spiritually, or at least morally?

4. Do you discuss current events with your athletes and how they relate to their lives?

5. Do you find “teachable moments” to improve the “360-degree” athlete?

6. Is winning the most important aspect of your job?
(Note: Even the most successful college basketball coach of all time, John Wooden, said “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”)

If you answered “yes” to questions 1-5 and “no” to question 6 you are in pretty good shape.

In future blog posts, I’ll discuss how coaches at various levels of sport can serve as “educator first” and provide examples of coaches who are. Yes, even professional sports!

Question: Are you aware of a coach who personifies being an “educator first”? If so, please respond with in the comments section below.



Often there is a stigma in education and athletics that parents are the enemies. I have heard more than one coach sarcastically boast that the best coaching job could be found in an orphanage. The truth is that, as coaches, we really need parents in order to do the best job we possibly can. Of course, these coach/parent relationships must be mutual. When a healthy, cooperative relationship exists between coaches and parents the ceiling rises on the potential for the team. It is imperative that both coaches and parents are aware of this synergy.


The following are three ways that coaches need parents in order to make their program successful:

1. Coaches must be able to communicate their expectations to parents. – This is usually accomplished in a pre-season parent meeting. Many state associations are making these parent meetings mandatory for coaches. This is great if coaches use the meeting to communicate what they expect from their athletes and parents during the season and in the off-season. In my pre-season parent meetings, I passed out practice schedules, informed parents of team policies, and reminded them that their actions represent the school and program when they watch the games, among other agenda items.

2. Coaches must have “buy in” from each parent regarding their athletes’ roles. – First, the coach must define the role of his players. I always told the players and the parents that this is their role but it was subject to change, based on the performance of the player. If a role is not communicated, or (even worse) never defined, there leaves room for the parent and player to question the coach’s decisions. Most questions regarding the coaching has a negative effect on the team. An understanding of the player’s role makes it easier for the parent to support the performance of the player and how it relates to the team.

3. Coaches need the assistance of parents to determine how to best motivate their athletes. – I often joke that being a coach qualifies me to be a licensed psychologist. Obviously, I am being sarcastic but it is true that coaches need a tremendous amount of knowledge on what makes each player tick. What may motivate one player may not motivate another. It is important for parents to have discussions with parents on what motivates them because, after all, the parents know the athletes better than anyone. Parents may also be able to make a coach aware of personal matters involving players that no one else would be able to communicate.

This blog post may seem like it is most appropriate for high school, or even lower-level, coaches in working with parents. However, these three suggestions are important for coaches at the collegiate level, as well. A lot of communication with parents at the collegiate level occurs during the recruiting process. This is great, but in an age when parents are becoming more and more involved at the collegiate level coaches must invest in these relationships.

Question: What unique ways do you involve parents in your program?



Don Meyer

The final installment of this three-part series on professional development for coaches pertains to how coaches can grow on their own, or intrapersonally. After providing areas for growth with online resources (Part One: and examples of how coaches can grow interpersonally (Part Two:, I will explore ways that coaches can develop on their own time. Any good educator uses time to reflect on their craft and that is especially true in coaching.

• Find the Top “Coaches’ Coaches” In Your Sport – If you’re an experienced coach you know what I’m talking about. We all want to learn from coaches who coach at higher levels. But let’s face it, some coaches are better at teaching than others. If you have a coach in your sport that is a better “coach of other coaches” than Don Meyer is for basketball then I want to know about him or her. Don Meyer was a career NAIA/NCAA Division 2 coach but has done more for developing other coaches than any other coach. He was the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach until Mike Krzyzewski broke the record. He has run multiple coaches’ clinics, produced coaching videos, and is still a student of the game himself. Read his incredible story in Buster Olney’s ¬How Lucky Can You Be and you’ll understand what a “coach’s coach” is. Coach Meyer has maintained a true commitment to growing the profession throughout his life.

• Observation – A coach can learn so many of the complexities of his game by observing it frequently. Early in my career I would watch the NCAA Tournament games a little differently than most people. Rather than dissecting my tournament picks (they weren’t any good any way), I would take a pad of paper and as I saw a play that I liked, I would diagram it and file it away for the following season. Everyone has their own organization systems, but I have put together a large binder with my own “encyclopedia” of various offensive sets, actions, and out-of-bounds plays simply by watching games.

• Experience – The number-one way for someone to develop professionally in coaching is to go through the experience of a season. The practice planning, game management, and adjustments that you must make with your team on a weekly, even daily basis, are new each year. I was once told that basketball is a game of “infinite situations.” That is probably true of many other sports, as well. The experience of coaching provides you with more of these situations. Learning by doing is so valuable. There will continue to be more situations and strategies to learn.

• Scouting – Scouting works for your development much like the experience of coaching through a season. Depending on your level of coaching, you get so engrained into knowing your opponent that you can’t help but learn more about the game. I loved learning by watching my opponents. They all did something well. In some cases you may be able to add some aspect of their “X’s and O’s” to incorporate into your own system. You may also be able to tweak something you do similar to your opponents in order to make your own coaching better. When I was a head coach one of our biggest rivals had an outstanding transition offense that put a lot of pressure on our early defense. I studied their transition a lot in scouting them. The way their players spread the floor and passed the ball quickly in their secondary break was something I liked and I will utilize when I coach again.

With all of the available resources for coaches to develop now, no two coaches should have the same professional development plan. Each coach should utilize his or her own learning styles and interests to match their coaching philosophies in order to develop their plan. What is important is for you, as a coach, to continually seek out these resources to find ways to continually develop. Assess your areas of weakness and seek out people and resources you know that could help you in those areas. When you find those people it only adds to the enjoyment of the coaching profession.

Question: In what area(s) have you learned the most through the experience of coaching?



Tom Izzo

This week I continue to explore avenues where coaches can develop their careers. Here are four avenues in which coaches can grow interpersonally:

• Establish a Coaching Mentor – Being around a successful head coach, as well as experienced assistants, are extremely beneficial to coaches at all stages of their careers. Unfortunately, not all coaches are great mentors but a young coach can try to put himself in a situation where his boss is a great mentor. When seeking that first, and successive, assistant coaching jobs young coaches should look for a head coach who makes a commitment to developing his staff and not just his players. Tom Izzo is a great example of a coach who commits to developing his assistants. Several of Izzo’s former assistants are now head coaches.

• Clinics – You rarely have the opportunity to go to one place where many coaches will be available to talk about some aspect of your sport. If you have an opportunity to attend a clinic, I highly suggest it. One of my first clinics was a Nike Coaches’ Clinic in Pittsburgh. There were great coaches, mostly from the college level, and I learned a ton that helped influence me as a young coach. Many college programs, national and local coaches’ associations, and even some corporate organizations (like Nike) run coaching clinics.

• Coaches’ Roundtables – These are probably less common than other development strategies but can be worthwhile. It may be a good idea to invite some of your coaching friends from different levels of competition to just sit down and toss around different ideas. Invite coaches with a diverse coaching background. If you’re a basketball coach who plays all man-to-man defense, invite coaches who play mostly zone. If you’re a football coach who uses a pro-style offensive attack, invite coaches who run a spread formation.

• Books – An oldie, but goody. I prefer reading coaching books that are about coaching philosophy. Growing up in Indiana, I have some great, older Bob Knight stuff. There are some great Dean Smith books. And, of course, there is more great stuff from John Wooden than anyone. I like to not only read about successful coaches and coaching strategies in books, but other successful leaders. John Maxwell is my favorite leadership author. He is fantastic. He ties in a lot of stories from sports into his wide array of leadership books. Don’t hesitate to read about successful coaches in other sports, as well. I have learned more about motivation from Lou Holtz than I have anyone.

Question: How do you use other people or sources to develop your coaching skills?



“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

If you’re a coach, chances are you have heard that statement before. It’s true! I’ve said before that successful coaches have successful relationships with their athletes. A coach must be able to motivate their athletes and motivation begins with the athlete knowing that you care about them as both an athlete and a person.

VCU Men’s Basketball Associate Head Coach Mike Rhoades has stated that Head Coach Shaka Smart’s greatest strength is the amount of time he spends with their players. North Carolina’s 21-time National Championship Women’s Soccer Coach Anson Dorrence takes time each season to write a letter to each of his seniors. There are countless other examples of coaches who take time to ensure their athletes know that they care.

Anson_Dorrance 2

While certainly not a thorough list, these are five actions of coaches who care about their athletes.

1. Caring coaches prepare to be successful. – Whether it’s scouting opponents, preparing for practice, or coordinating an off-season workout plan, caring coaches mindfully prepare to put their athletes in the best situation to be competitive.

2. Caring coaches show 360-degrees of care. – Caring coaches not only prepare their athletes competitively, but they also support and guide their athletes through their academic pursuits and their personal lives.

3. Caring coaches make daily communication with their athletes. – During a season a coach should reach out to each of his athletes in some, at least small, way. At the very least a coach should take a walk through pre-practice warm-ups and ask about his day, ask about a test he may have taken, or ask how his family is doing. A little communication goes a long way.

4. Caring coaches never demean. – Coaches should demand high expectations from their athletes but they should never condemn the person.

5. Caring coaches leave conflict on the field/court/track. – There will certainly be times, whether in practice or during competition, when you feel individuals may not be performing at the level you expect. A caring coach is able to separate the performance of his athletes from the individual persons.

Question: What are some other ways that coaches can show they care about their athletes?