Monday, April 30, 2018


It's well chronicled of my passion for reading.  It has made us better in so many ways from organization to leadership to team building to personal growth.  Every now and then I come across a passage that creates a "wow" effect for me.  I found such one in Tom Peter's new book "The Excellence Dividend."  Two of Mr. Peter's book have really resonated with me -- "In Search of Excellence" and "The Pursuit of Wow!" so I have been looking forward to reading his newest book.

Early in Section I on Execution, Mr. Peter's quoted Fred Malek whom he'd worked with in the White House in the early 70's:

"Execution is strategy"

It hit me like a thunderbolt in the strength of it's message in only three words.  My years of coaching have brought me to a realization of the importance of the process.  Studying some of the best from John Wooden to Nick Saban has taught me that the process is more important than the result because it is what leads to the result.

As Coach Don Meyer would say, "It's not what we do, it's how we do it."

As coaches, we sometimes get lost in complete big picture thinking without enough or even any thought to the details involved in success.  Excellence is in the details -- our ability to execute those details.

I read an article last week on Houston Rockets associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik who has an reputation as a great defensive coach.  Here is a quote about his work:
“He will break down a defensive drill like I’ve never seen before,” Bzdelik’s then assistant coach Scott Brooks tells me. “Where your left hand [goes], where your right hand, where your left foot, where your right foot, where your chest, what you’re thinking of. He has it down to every minute detail and he’s really great with technique and being able to explain. He’s one of the best I’ve ever been around.”
Sometimes we as coaches consider a defensive breakdown drill as part of our means of improving execution -- and it can be.  But it was interesting to read that Bzdelik breaks down the breakdown drill.  That's a commitment to execution.

It's not enough to have a game plan or a goal.  We must be detailed and intentional in the path we take to achieving it.

In the book "Practice Perfect," by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi, make the following observation on the legendary John Wooden:
"Though we remember him for the championships, what ultimately made Wooden great was practice."
"Practice Perfect" also brings out the point that we can sometimes lose our focus on excellence by putting too much stock into hard work when it comes effectiveness.  They quote Wooden as saying "Bustling bodies making noise can be deceptive."  

And then there is one of my favorite Wooden quotes I often share with our teams: "Don't mistake activity for achievement."

It is critical that we are intentional in all that we do in striving for excellence.  If we want proper execution, we must be intentional in the detail we put into our work.  We shouldn't expect cutting and screening to be effective during a game in moments of distress if we aren't demanding proper execution at all times in practice.

Quite possibly the best that's ever coached in the NFL understands the important of practice and the role it plays in developing execution.  When the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick was told by a media member of all the success their team had accomplished in terms of wins and championships and then asked what would be the next goal for him he followed with:
"I'd like to go out and have a good practice today.  That would be at the top of the list."
Belichick understands the importance of practice, habits and execution.

Nick Saban is also a big believer in the importance of the process and brings the value of the mental aspect to execution:
"When researches compared whether process or analysis was more important to making good decisions, they discovered that process mattered more than analysis by a factor of six.  But the reverse was not true - superb analysis is useless unless the decision process gives it a fair hearing."
I often meet with my players do discuss their "why."  I want to know about their dream and visions for the future.  But I always tell them they have to dream in details.  It does no good to dream of playing professional basketball if you don't have a deliberate plan to execute -- all the way how you spend the minutes of your day -- and that must be part of the dream as well.

I'll close with yet one more thought from Coach Wooden on the importance of details and execution:
"Races are won by a fraction of a second, National Championship games by a single point.  That fraction of a second or a single point is the result of relevant details performed along the way."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


The one thing that I have learned through decades of coaching is that there is no one set way to teach and coach and be successful.  Time has shown us that there are as many ways to be successful as there are committed coaches to their philosophies.  There is no set defensive style of play or offensive attack that is better than the other.  You can push the ball in transition or walk it up and find positive results.  The use of video and scouting reports are also as varied as the number of programs using them.

There is one constant however for those who have sustained success -- they are all continual learners.  They find time to grow their knowledge of the game as well as to improve in areas of communication and relationships.  To remain the same is to fall behind.

It was interesting today that I got an email from my mentor Dale Brown that talked about one of our games great coaches in John Wooden and how he approached learning throughout his career:

How about Coach Wooden actually took a psychology class so that he might be able to communicate with his student-athletes at a higher level.

He believe in watching the practices of other sports and developed some of his time management thoughts from Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy.

It didn't bother coach to reach to UCLA rival coach Pete Newell to talk about defense.  (This also speaks to Coach Newell in his willingness to do so as well)

As did Don Meyer, when Coach Wooden as speaking at clinics, he would arrive early and stay late and be an avid note taker of the other speakers.

Each off-season he would select a phase of the game and pour himself into over the summer.

He was also a ferocious reader that once read the dictionary from cover to cover to improve his vocabulary.

Want to be successful over the long haul?  What your plans this summer to grow YOUR game!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


I’ve spend the last few weeks catching up on my reading — specifically articles I’ve saved off the internet or received via Google Alerts.  Later I’ll blog about my system of reading from these various sources.

However, today I enjoyed reading an outstanding article on Virginia men’s head basketball coach Tony Bennett.  The article was written by Paul Woody of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and discusses the question for coaches of whether they want to be transactional or transformational.  It very well written by Woody and I strongly suggest you click her to read it in its entirety.

Here are some key thoughts from the article:

As Woody starts the article…

A college basketball coach has to make a decision.

Does he want to be transactional or transformative?

A transactional coach tells players what to do and expects them to do it, no questions asked. If they don’t perform as the coach directs, players often are yelled at, belittled and demeaned.

In a perfect world, the transactional method shouldn’t be successful. If you think it’s not, you haven’t been paying attention to the sidelines of college basketball games.
Than Woody takes a look at the transformative method used by Bennett…
If the players buy in, the coach can ask what they’re seeing in games and practices, ask them if what he’s asking them to do is working, and listen if they answer, “No.”

That’s transformative.

“He teaches us off-the-court lessons every day, through basketball and without basketball,” sophomore point guard Ty Jerome said. “On the court, we have our way and do what we do and everyone’s bought in. I think that helps him be a transformative coach. Then he can ask us, and the whole staff, ‘What do you see on that and on this?’

“It’s easier because we’re all so united. That’s a credit to him, to his humility. He could easily be, ‘I have all these wins. We’re going to do it this way.’ ”

Don’t be mistaken. Transformative is not new-age, touchy feely. Bennett coaches 
basketball, a very physical game in a highly competitive league, the ACC. At Virginia, there is no room for negotiation concerning effort, defense, toughness and teamwork. You are fully engaged in all four or you are fully on the bench.

“I come from a unique perspective,” Bennett said. “Yeah, I’m a little more old school. There was a time when you’d come home and things weren’t going well, and it always was your fault. The question was, ‘Why aren’t you listening to the coach?’

“Well, today it can be a little different. I played for my father. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he believed in me. He thinks I can be really good, and I can trust him. It’s built in. He’s my dad. I realized that was almost the secret sauce.
Again, I strongly suggest you read the entire article.

Monday, April 9, 2018


There was an excellent write up by Bruce Feldman at recently where he looked at the football teams at Alabama and Georgia and how those two programs defined discipline. Feldman writes about the importance of discipline and how it specifically has a direct bearing on an organization's culture.  You can read the entire article here.

A few takes aways were the definitions of discipline from members of the staff:

“The ongoing definition around here is to do what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it, the way it’s supposed to be done—all of the time,” says Alabama’s head strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, who has been with Saban for all six of his national titles, including his first while at LSU. “That is Coach Saban’s definition, and it is ingrained into my head.”

Crimson Tide offensive line coach Brent Key arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2016. His definition: “Doing the right thing all the time, and doing the right thing when you don’t want to do it.” Key, 39, says his definition of the word has changed from his younger days, “when discipline meant being punished or spanked. But to me now, discipline is internal.”

“Discipline is accountability,” says Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi, Saban’s ace recruiter since 2015 who was promoted when Tennessee hired away Jeremy Pruitt this winter. “You have to consistently operate to our standard on a daily basis, and that’s where players and coaches hold each other accountable and continue to prepare in the game manner, no matter who we’re playing.”

Feldman also talked about the importance of making sure that recruits knew of the importance of discipline and what they would be getting into:

“During the recruiting process we are very up-front with them, and those guys are smart enough to know what they are getting themselves into,” Burns said. “In my position specifically [Burns has since moved to an off-field role after 11 years as running backs coach], they know that we’re going to play a lot of guys, so I want them to understand that, and to come to work every day and not let that affect them. We have been really fortunate to have the right personalities to do that. We’ve always had one guy that sets the tempo in terms of what it takes to be a running back at the University of Alabama and not to be selfish. Play your role. Take it very seriously. Be ready for the moment. When I first got there, it was Glen Coffee, and he took care of Mark Ingram, and then Mark took care of Trent Richardson, and then Trent took care of Eddie, and Eddie Lacy took care of T.J. [Yeldon].”

The interesting aspect that Feldman shared from the Georgia staff was the attention to detail -- even thought every day meetings to make sure they were all on the same page:

“No detail is left un-talked-about,” Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney says. “We dot every I and cross every T. It sometimes might be a little uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s gonna be talked about. Kirby is diligent as heck about all that.”

Awkward as they may be at times, these conversations become the norm. “It’s had every day,” Georgia quarterbacks coach James Coley says. “I always felt like when you walked in staff meetings, you were there to get your players better. Everybody’s trying to get better, but now you’re saying to yourself, ‘How can I get better in this staff meeting?’ Because you really get better as a coach. Coach Smart has done a great job helping us all get better as coaches."