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.”

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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?



As coaches, we all want our players to be great teammates. We talk to them about it. We evaluate them based on how they work with and treat their teammates. And most coaches probably assess the skills that make for a great teammate subconsciously.

In Mike Krzyzewski’s account of the 2008 USA Olympic Basketball team, The Gold Standard, Krzyzewski is unceasing in his praise for LeBron James as a teammate. If you have watched any of LeBron’s play in international competition (and more recently playing for the Heat), you realize that he is a teammate-first player. He is willing to guard anyone on the opposing team and has even been criticized for being too unselfish. If I were coaching him, I would take two Olympic Gold Medals, two NBA Championships, and an unselfish superstar any day of the week.


In basketball terms (most of these are transferable to other sports), here are a “baker’s dozen” characteristics that make a great teammate:
1. Is a servant leader. – If his teammates need something, he is there to provide support.
2. Works on his game and his body. – He focuses on skill development, weight training, and nutrition as ways to make himself and his team better.
3. Is an “energy giver.” – He provides a positive energy in the presence of his teammates on and off the court.
4. Mentally prepares off the floor. – He prepares by watching video of him individually, his team, and opponents, and thoroughly studies his scouting reports.
5. Accepts his role. – He knows that the coach is the one best served to divvy up roles for members of the team, and buys into that role.
6. Practices hard each day. – He sees the value of practice as being instrumental to the development of the team.
7. Is not afraid to say something for the good of the team. – Confrontations among teammates are good if executed properly.
8. Accepts a teammate’s criticism. – Criticism makes us better when delivered and accepted in the right way.
9. Is committed to play team defense. – It is easy to play individual defense but the best teams are connected and committed to each other on the defensive end.
10. Sets good screens. – He has a desire to get his teammate open.
11. Uses good screens. – He realizes that this two-man action is integral to his team’s offense.
12. Knows what a good shot is for him and each of his teammates. – And gets them the ball when they are open.
13. Makes the extra pass. – Even if he is open, he makes the extra pass to get his teammate a better shot.

Resources Mentioned in This Blog
Book: The Gold Standard

Question: What other qualities make for a great teammate?



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?



Seth Godin has recently become one of my favorite writers. An international best-selling author, Godin focuses a lot of his writing about marketing. He is the most influential business blogger in the world (He has almost 300,000 Twitter followers.). I recently read one of his books that was published in 2011 titled Linchpin.


In Godin’s view the “linchpin” is the person in an organization (or someone who is starting their own venture) who loves their work, pours themselves into it, and turns that work into art. Godin calls “linchpins” indispensable. They produce work that is not on their job description but nevertheless they would be difficult to replace. As I was reading the book I couldn’t help but think of how “linchpins” relate to successful athletic teams. We often refer to them as “glue guys.” We love coaching them and we know that we need at least one of them if our team is going to win.

Merriam-Webster defines “linchpin” as “one that serves to hold together parts or elements that exist or function as a unit.” Similarly, Godin describes them as “people who invent, lead, connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.”

After reading Linchpin I reviewed my notes and developed a list of the eight essential characteristics of “linchpins” for whatever team it is that you coach or lead:

1. Linchpins connect teammates with each other. – They organize team bonding activities and when problems arise between teammates, they bring them together and mediate.

2. Linchpins figure out what to do next. – Linchpins are leaders. Leaders focus on what needs to be accomplished next and establishes vision. They pick their team up after a loss and get them focused on the next game after a win.

3. Linchpins are not afraid to be in the limelight. – While linchpins must be humble, they also must be comfortable receiving attention, especially the criticism that often comes with the role of the leader.

4. Linchpins are not satisfied with being average. – Their focus for themselves and for their team is on producing.

5. Linchpins are optimistic. – They do not dwell on the negative. They look forward to what is ahead and visualize success.

6. Linchpins think about failure differently. – Linchpins learn from failure. They use failure; they don’t let failure use them.

7. Linchpins give their gifts. – We have all been blessed with a set of gifts that we can share with others. Linchpins give their gifts to their teammates. And never stop giving.

8. Linchpins have been taught how to lead, but actually lead very naturally. – Their charisma pervades all of the characteristics already mentioned. Contrary to what some may think leaders are developed. The linchpin knows how and when to use those leadership skills with his team and it happens naturally.

Please feel free to share these characteristics with members of your team. Maybe it will foster some positive discussion amongst team members and your athletes will gain a better understanding of the necessity of teams having “linchpins.”

Resources Mentioned in This Blog
Book: Linchpin

Website: Merriam-Webster

Question: I have provided a list of the characteristics of a “linchpin.” What other kinds of actions and behaviors does a “linchpin” bring to your team?