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.



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.



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?