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Wednesday, May 25, 2016


We've received some requests for my presentation at this year's A Step Up Assistant Coaching Symposium so here goes.  The topic given to me by Felicia Hall Allen was "The Art of Extending Your Career."

I open with this:

"While I am assigned to talk to you about extending your career, I'm going to go a different direction saying that extending your career should not be the goal.  The goal is to become the best assistant coach you can become on a daily basis and an extended career will follow."

I think the first thing we need to decide in coaching is what is our "Why."  We must have an overriding purpose for coaching -- it has to be the centerpiece of our culture and what we stand for.  For me, the growth of the student-athlete has to be #1 on the priority list.  

"It doesn't matter where you coach,
it matters why you coach."

I spoke about studying Nick Saban and the philosophy he has in regard to the process.  The process is keeping focused on the task at hand -- executing as well as you can with what directly lies in fornt you at that very moment.   Coach Saban does not want his players looking at the scoreboard.  His belief is that the time and score have absolutely nothing to with the intensity and concentration you need to utilize on the very next play. 

I believe the same is true with our careers.  If we are getting up in the morning thinking about extending our career or looking ahead at that next job than we are taking away energy that we need to utilizing on what is really important -- today!

One of the areas that I spoke about was Professionalism.  I firmly believe that ethical choices are a full-time job.  It must be character over victory.  Don't let a short-time gain for a win be overshadowed by a poor choice you made to try and get an edge.  

Of course, our biggest obstacle is winning.  We are expected to win immediately and constantly.  And don't get me wrong, winning is important as the following thought from Vince Lombardi points out:

"No leader, however great, can long continue 
unless he wins battles.  The battle decides all."
It's true.  If we want to continue to impact young people through coaching...if we want to have a positive contribution to our communities -- we have to win -- to keep our jobs.

I gave the example of a coaching being hired at a BCS program and having a record of 38-47 after his first three years.  The last home game of his third season, he lost to his rival by 24 points.  He then went to his conference tournament and lost by 43!

I asked the coaches at the clinic "What do you think the athletic director did the next week?"

Of course, the all answered "Fire the coach."

They were stunned when I told them the AD gave the coach an extension.  I then told them the AD was Duke's Tom Butters and the coach was Mike Krzyzewski.

Those days are over.  The days when an administrator can see through the losses to see that a coach is doing the right things and building something.  I've heard Coach K speak at clinics and he even admits that if he were hired today and got off to the same start that he'd never see his fourth year.

Still, we can't let winning be a conflict of interested.  We can't be overly consumed or blinded so much in trying to win that we turn our head to discipline and our culture.  The best coaches are willing fight for the culture even if it might cost them a victory.

That's not to say winning isn't important.  Certainly we have to teach winning to our teams.  As a young student at Marshall University, the basketball coach at the time, the late Stu Aberdeen spoke about the importance of winning.  As he explained, when we are on the operating table fighting for our life, we better hope that the doctors and nurses have a strong desire to win.  Coach Aberdeen explained that should we ever be falsely accused in a court of law, that we better hope our attorney has driven to win.

As I mentioned earlier, ethical choices are a full time job -- and I do believe there is a right way to win and a wrong way to win.  If you are a principled person that means a great deal.  I posed the question to the coaches at the symposium -- "are you willing to lose your job?"  Do you believe so much in the principles of integrity that you would walk away from a job that did not share in your beliefs?

The second part of the process of staying in this business is becoming a continual learner.  There must be a fire within to constantly be searing knowledge to help you grow as a person and a teacher. 

My suggestion to the coaches in the audience was to become an expert at something in the game: post play, shooting, zone defense, etc.  Pick something and learn it at the highest level.  I think it is always important to be a good recruiter but don't be labeled as such because you don't excel in other areas.

Today there are so many ways to improve.  We had just game off of a Final Four season at LSU and one summer I went to Oklahoma to watch Sherri Coale and her Sooners practice for three days in preparation to go overseas.  The next year we again made it to the Final Four and I headed to Duke to watch Gail Goestenkors to again observe several practices before going overseas.  

Today there are so many clinics to attend: Coaching U, Nike, PGC/Glazier.  There are tons of great blogs and Youtube loaded with information.  Have you attended an NBA or WNBA practice session? If not, you are missing out on some of the game's best teachers.

One other factor in being a continual learner today is the not just accept but to embrace technology.  Whether it's social media, apps for our phones and iPads or every improving methods of watching and breaking down video -- it's all there in front of us to help us improve.

The next part of extending a career is to find balance.  I spend a great deal of time in my office -- always have and always will.  But I find a way to incorporate my wife with our program.  She has always been a big part of our culture.  Whether it's having the team over to decorate our Christmas tree, throwing a Mardi Gras parting in February or just having them over for an occasional home cooked meal, Sherie has always been active in helping us serve our student-athletes.

It's also important to plan family time.  Schedule time for your spouse and children though out the season -- an honor those commitments.  I learned most of this the hard way.  I once coached eight consecutive summers without a vacation.  I stayed up all night in the office two nights a week during the season watching video and getting scouting reports ready.  Then my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer!  It was an amazing paradigm shift for me and give me instant perspective.

Coach Don Meyer also talking about having "your time," where it is just you.  It can be a time of meditation or reflection.  For me, I like to do it early in the morning while everyone is still asleep.  I can catch up on some reading or spend some time writing in my journal.

Yet another example of helping you with balance is creating a circle of influence.  A handful of people that your believe in and trust.  Most importantly, these people need to be someone that love you enough to tell you the truth. Someone that can tell you your full of crap when you are.  Some can be coaches but it's always good to have some non-coaches in your circle.

Part 4 of an extended career is the handling of your finances.  I shared with the coaches, and especially tried to get through to the younger ones that my biggest regret in coaching wasn't a decision on the floor but it was not getting involved with a financial planner early in my career.  I have had one the past 20 years and the results (and security) are amazing!  Many young coaches don't think they make enough money to work with a planner -- that's actually all the more reason you do.  One of the first things that Kay Martin of Ameriprise was talk to me about short-term and long-term goals.  Part of that process was to create an emergency fund that would pay into gradually to where we would have three months worth of salary to live on should anything happen.  Well, we have far more than three months now and its a great feeling to have that type of security -- not just for me but for my family.

I also have a special tax accountant that understands my profession and helps to keep that organized and more importantly, helps me maximize all of the possible exemptions and write offs available to me.

"You must gain control of your money
or the lack of it will forever control you."
-Dave Ramsey

Next on the list of theories for having a long career is your ability to be flexibility.  It is a game, no a world, that is constantly evolving and changing. As assistant coaches we have to adjust to changes on our staff...we tend to change jobs a couple of times we must adjust to head coaches...we must adjust to administration...we must adjust to the times.  The best way to adjust is to stay open minded -- be a good communicator (which means a lot of listening as an assistant coach).

We must also adjust to the players.  This does not mean give in and allow the players to dictate policy.  But I firmly believe every player has a story and it is our job as coaches to learn that story.  Our ability to know them at a deeper level is critical for us to help them.  At UCF, we utilized Bill Rogers (who worked with Pat Summitt's Lady Vols along with some professional teams) in order to learn about their personalities.  What was their leadership potential? What were the primary motivators for each individual?  How did they best learn -- were they audio, visual or physical learners?  And then we adjust how we teach to meet them in the middle, where they can best be taught.

Whether at clinics, via email or phone conversations, I often get the question "what are the attributes for being a successful coach?"  There are several in my opinion, most of them are obvious.  But one that is critically important is that you must be a problem solver.  Coaching is about solving problems. 

Not enough resources? Solve it.
Not enough post players or shooters? Solve it.
Lacking in facilities? Solve it.
Team chemistry problems? Solve it.

I'm not sure that there is not at least one minor problem per day in coaching -- but you have to solve it.  Solving problems to me begins with attitude.  Working for Coach Dale Brown I learned that we were not to use the word "problem" but we were to use the word "opportunity."  Coach Brown would tell us not to come in his office with a problem unless we were ready to offer a solution.  When people ask me what made Coach Brown so successful, again there are several reasons.  But one was he was a solution-oriented person when it came to problems.  He would amaze me with his attitude -- almost excited that a problem has arose because he loves the challenge of defeating it.

The final area I touched on was to become organized and primarily I was talking about improving your ability to document everything.  All conversations I have I follow up with the person I was speaking to with a short email of bullet points.  I do this with my players as well.  If I meet with a player to go over video, we both take notes and I email them to her.  Of course discussions of behavior -- both positive and negative -- are followed up with an email.

I'm a big believer in writing handwritten notes -- even with all the technology today.  I love to write a handwritten note to a player and stick it in her locker.  I also screen shot text messages -- positive and negative with players for my files.  I want as complete a written file on dealings with players, coaches, administrators, media and anyone else on the professional level.

We live in a time where you need to have your bases covered.

The final suggestion for extending your career?  Enjoy the ride! Embrace the grind -- even the problem solving.  The best coaches I've been around get a rise our of solving a problem.  You must be passionate about what you do but you still need a plan -- the role of an assistant coach is never easy but it is important.  Accept that role and challenge yourself to be the very best your can be.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


The following thoughts on leadership come from Rorke Denver's latest book "Worth Dying For."

Much of leadership isn't large, sweeping actions.  It's about setting values in an organization and convincing other people to share them.  Don't make excuses.  Lead by example.  Don't ask others to do anything you wouldn't do yourself.  These are commonsense practices, but it's amazing how often people in leadership positions seem to forget them.

As a leader, no necessary task should be beneath you you.  This includes making the coffee, cleaning the toilets, taking out the trash.  If you're too good to do those things, suck it up and pretend you aren't. Otherwise, you'll never gain the respect of the people you aspire to lead.  Do you have any idea how many points can be scored with skeptical subordinates from a small, humble act?  Try taking a phone message, offering to share a donut, or issuing the tiniest compliment.  You'll see.  Once you grasp that, you'll be doing nice things for others every day.  Bot don't worry, the leader who is too full of himself to understand the power of humility will almost certainly have the realization forced on him -- or he won't be a leader for long.

Monday, May 23, 2016


The following are just a few of the notes I took from Coach Mike Dunlap at the A Step Up Assistant Coaching Symposium two weeks ago.

Know the five laws of Teaching
1. Explain what you want
2. Demonstrate for the learner
3. Player demonstrates
4. Correct demonstration
5. Repetition is lord and master

Know how players learn
1. Visual
2. Auditory
3. Kinetic
4. Writing/Drawing
4. Player as coach
5. Cooperative versus competitive technique
6. Whole, part, whole versus part whole method
7. Feedback system – negative versus positive

Drills — need time and score
              Keep personal records
              Keep team records
Using notebooks is paramount to learning.

Coach Dunlap takes a notebook everywhere...even a restaurant
              “Never know when someone will drop some knowledge on me.”

When a child has a problem, find an object they love and work through the object.  Has best conversations with players while they are shooting.

Your office can be the worst place for a meeting with a player.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


At last week's A Step Up Assistant Coaching Symposium, Mike Neighbors was one of the key note speakers to talk about his journey to becoming a head coach.  When I was done, I had five pages of notes!  Here are just a few of some his thoughts he shared with us:

Figure out what you'll sacrifice.

Have your philosophy in writing.

You've been accused of being a good coach -- what will be your evidence.

Don't get ready, stay ready.

Everyday is an interview.

Pet peeve: Assistants that point out obvious stats at half-time -- "They are killing us on the boards."  Don't tell me what, tell me how and why and give me a solution.

Reading allows you to learn from other's experiences.

If you share it, you'll make it good.

Mike talked about creating culture and all the things you do to assist that.  For example, he likes enthusiastic teams.  He charted the number of high fives his team gave vs. Maryland -- it was 971.

If you haven't signed up for Mike's newsletter you're really missing out.  Here's how to sign up.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Last week, I came across an article on Gregg Popovich that ran on  It was an interview piece with Coach Popovich and Jon Finkel.  Finkel did a great job with the article keying off of some of Pop's statements to lead other questions -- especially in regard to character and what he looks for in players.  Here are a few of my take aways but you can read the entire article here.

Coach Popovich on character:
Sometimes when I hear people talk about character I think it’s a little too general of a term. We’ve all seen a million books on it and everybody’s got a different definition of what makes up character. People always say our teams have character and they know how to win, know how to lose, all sorts of those things. I try to be a little more specific in my definition, especially when it comes to the character of players we bring in.

This response from Coach Popovich gives light to why they have an unselfish culture:
Being able to enjoy someone else’s success is a huge thing. If I’m interviewing a young guy and he’s saying things like, “I should have been picked All-American but they picked Johnny instead of me,” or they say stuff like, “My coach should have played me more; he didn’t really help me,” I’m not taking that kid because he will be a problem one way or another. I know he will be a problem. At some point he’ll start to think he’s not playing enough minutes, or his parents are going to wonder why he’s not playing, or his agent’s going to call too much. I don’t need that stuff. I’ve got more important things to do. I’ll find somebody else, even if they have less ability, as long as they don’t have that character trait.

Great stuff on what Coach Popovich looks for in players (good to share with your team):
Work ethic is obvious to all of us. We do that through our scouting. For potential draft picks, we go to high school practices and to college practices to see how a player reacts to coaches and teammates. The phrase that we use is seeing whether people have “gotten over themselves.”

When there’s a guy who talks about himself all day long, you start to get the sense that he doesn’t listen real well. If you’re interviewing him and before you ever get anything out of your mouth he’s speaking, you know he hasn’t really evaluated what you’ve said. For those people, we think, Has this person gotten over himself? If he has then he’s going to accept parameters. He’s going to accept the role; he’s going to accept one night when he doesn’t play much. I think it tells me a lot.

You starts have to care the load and that means showing they can take coaching:
The other thing I’ll do in practice on a regular basis when we run drills, is I’ll purposely get on the big boys the most. Duncan, Parker, and Manu Ginobili will catch more hell from me than anybody else out there. You know the obvious effect of that. If you do that and they respond in the right way, everyone else follows suit. The worst thing you can do is let it go when someone has been egregious in some sort of way. The young kids see that and you lose respect and the fiber of your team gets frayed a bit. I think it has to be that way. They have to be willing to set that example and take that hit so everybody else will fall in line. It’s a big thing for us and that’s how we do it.

Monday, April 11, 2016


A little bit off the beaten path.  Coach Bob Knight in his book, "Knight: My Story" said that he great enjoyed reading Louis L'Amour.  Then I was rereading some notes from a PGC/Glazier Clinic a few years ago, and going over things I'd written down while listening to Dean Lockwood speak and he had quoted L'Amour so I did a little checking and came up with a list of wise words from the author.

"A wise man fights to win, but he is twice a fool who has no plan for possible defeat."

"Victory is won not in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later, win a little more."

"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning."

"Knowledge is like money: to be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value."

"To disbelieve is easy; to scoff is simple; to have faith is harder."

"Nobody got anywhere in the world by simply being content."

"No one can get an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process."

"The water doesn't run until the faucet is on."


Reading some of Don Meyer Coaching Academy notes from 2003 and wanted to share some thoughts from guest speaker Sherri Coale.

Coach Coale said that the #1 question she was asked was did she transition from high school coaching to college coaching:
"There is no secret.  Do the best job that you do no matter where you are.  Be in the right place at the right time.  Coach kids like they are pros.  Everything else will take care of itself.  If you do the right things consistently, people will find you."

Here is a list of things that Coach Coale was said in starting a program:

   Practice planning is most important.

   Teaching is the most important part of developing your team.  How do you go about   
   teaching your kids every day?

   Taking notes is the single most important thing that you can do.

   Keep every kid engaged at all times.

   Every drill that you do must have a purpose.

   Spend twice as long preparing as you do teaching.

   Practices should be designed to be tougher than games.

   Use competition drills as much as you can.  There should be a winner and a loser.

   Use echo yells when practicing.

Five things that Coach Coale said they do everyday in practice:

   Fundamentals (Passing, Shooting, Catching, Dribbling)

   Defensive Transition

   Offensive Spacing and Timing

   4/4 and 5/5


Wednesday, April 6, 2016


This afternoon I took a quick break to do a little reading (which I do and recommend).  Today I did some rereading of notes I took from "You Win in the Locker Room First," by Jon Gordon.  The following passage comes from former Atlanta Falcon head coach Mike Smith.  He speaks to the importance of consistency on the part of a coach and his approach to his team regardless of situations and circumstances:
"I see it all too often.  Coaches will begin the season with one philosophy and attitude, only  to change their approach and attitude when the team starts to lose.  As a leader you must be consistent in your leadership style, approach, attitude, philosophy, and tactics.  If you start off being supportive and friendly with players, you cant' go from being a player's coach to someone everyone hates.  You can't go from encouraging to condescending.  If you are not consistent throughout the year you will lose your team's trust, and as soon as that happens, you lose the locker room and in turn lose games.  Please know this doesn't mean you wont' have moments of anger or frustration.  We all do.  If you are a coach with high expectations who yells at times, your team will know that's your style and they will expect that from you.  The key is to be who you are and coach the way you do all year long no matter what your win-loss record is.  Your team must know what to expect from you.  They must see that you stick to your principles and philosophy through adversity and challenges.  You must be the same coach at 0-8 as you are 8-0.  It's hard to do, especially when you are losing and the pressure mounts, but if you don't, then you are doomed for failure.  The character you possess during the drought is what you team will remember during the harvest."

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


I've always had a great love and admiration for young men and women who are managers.  There is a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice they make in order for the team to be successful.  They are at the gym before the players and long after.  The NCAA has a required day off for student-athletes but not so managers.  My friend and mentor Dale Brown once said that if he owned a business the first people he would look to hire would be student managers. 

Think about it. They obviously have a great work ethic.  They have a strong grasp of time management.  They understand and accept roles.  There is no job too great or too difficult or too dirty for them.  They work together amongst others.  They don't need the limelight or the headlines to be motivated.  They celebrate the teams victories and, believe me, they hurt when the team loses.  They are a special group of people.

It reminds me of a story about a man name Charles Plumb.  Captain Plumb was a graduate of the Naval Academy.  After 74 successful missions he was shot down in North Vietnam.  He parachuted to safety but was captured and tortured for nearly 6 years.

Through courage and perseverance, Plumb would go on to receive the Silver Star, Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit and two Purple Hearts.  He took from his experiences and used them as a message, speaking to many groups across the nation.

One day, Plumb and his wife were eating as a restaurant when a man from a nearby table approached him and excitedly said, "You're Captain Plumb!  You flew jet fighters in Vietnam off the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk.  You were shot down!"

Obviously Plumb was caught off guard that he was recognized and said, "How in the world did you know that?"

The man replied, "I packed your parachute."

Plumb looked up with surprise.  The man pumped his hand, gave a thumbs-up and said, "I'm glad it worked."

Plumb rose to shake the man's hand telling him, "It certainly did work.  If it had not worked, I would not be here today."

Captain Charles Plumb had a restless night thinking about the encounter.  He wondered if he might have seen him at some time while serving and not even said, "Good morning, how are you?" He thought of the many hours the sailor had spent bending over a long wooden table in the bottom of the ship, carefully folding the silks and weaving the shrouds of each chute, each time holding in his hands the fate of someone he didn't know.

And while it may not be life or death, managers, student-trainers, student workers and a variety of staff often do thankless jobs that make such a big difference in the success of a basketball program.

What I've done in the past with some of our teams is given them the Charles Plumb passout and ask them to write at least one thank you letter to someone who has "packed their parachute" this past year.  As a coach, I never miss an opportunity to let these people know how important they are to me and our team.  I meet with them to learn what their dreams and goals are so I can help them along the way.  I have them over to my home.  I work hard to help them find jobs.  It's the least we can do for such a dedicated group.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Those of those who followed and learned from the teachings of Coach Don Meyer are very familiar with the word "arête" -- it was one that Coach spoke of constantly and challenged is teams to aspire.

Arête is always framed in definition with the word "excellence."  It is also attached to moral virtue though in his incredible book, "Resilience," Eric Greitens offers us some outstanding views on the mindset of arête and it's relationship with results and intentions:

We are ultimately measured by our results, by the way our actions shape the world around us.  Without results, all the kind intentions in the world are just a way of entertaining ourselves.

It may be helpful to think about the difference between intentions and results by looking at how the Greeks through about right action.

The word that shows up again and again in their discussion of ethics is arête. As we've already discussed, arête doesn't really mean "virtue," though that's how it's often translated.  When the Greeks used the word arête, it referred to excellence.  They used the same word to describe a vase, the excellence of a great runner, and the excellence of a person.

To be excellent is to be someone who produces excellence.  There is no such things as an excellent shoemaker who regularly turns out flimsy shoes.  So think a big about what the Greeks must have believed about having an excellent character.  Your character was judged excellent not before you acted, but after.  The judgment was based not on your intentions, but on your results.

When we think of virtue as an excellence, we don't ask, "What did I intend?" We ask, "What did I do?"