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?