Stubborn, Egotistical Coaches Like Me

A lot of coaches, especially young coaches, read biographies about their favorite role models. I have read how Rick Pitino left his honeymoon in Hawaii to take a coaching position. There are tales of Coach Krzyzewski making great decisions to motivate his team or how Pat Summit’s discipline helped win games. Hardly ever to you find a single flaw in these coaches with their different coaching philosophies.

What a bunch of garbage. Every successful big-time coach has a collection of skeletons in the closets that you will never read about in a biography. The absolute best coaching book I ever read wasn’t a biography. It was a book by John Feinstein as he followed Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosier team around during the 1985-1986 season.

Knight hated the book and banned Feinstein from obtaining press passes at any Indiana home game. I thought just the opposite of the book. The book depicted a guy who was obsessed with putting together a great team without breaking any NCAA rules. His hard work and passion won me over so I became a Bob Knight fan for life.

A very small part of the book that might escape most readers was two changes his assistant coaches talked Knight into that season. The first was to get Knight to put in a zone defense. Although, it was only a tiny factor in that season, it did help win at least one game.

The second was to recruit Jr. College players. He gave in to the idea. Keith Smart was his first Jr. College recruit. In the spring of 1987, Smart hit a jump shot at the buzzer to beat Syracuse in the national championship game. It was just a small change, but it helped win the biggest game of the all.

From personal experience I know this is true. I am guilty as are most coaches at being know-it-alls. Try making a suggestion to a coach will usually be received with a “Thanks, I’ll think about it.” That’s when you know the coach is blowing you off.

I was the same way. It’s really hard to admit someone might have a better idea than you. If it turns out they are right, it’s hard to give them credit. That’s how I began my coaching career, but things changed. Thanks to keeping an open mind when talking to my fellow coaches and even my players, we won a some huge games.

As a high school coach in Nebraska, I had a team that was 26 -0 and in the State Championship Game.. After the semifinal game, my uncle, who was a retired coach, told me my team was in trouble. Our opponent for the championship game ran a full court press and was relentless. He told me I should scrap my press break or we would get beat. Those were harsh words for a coach that’s team has won 26 straight games.

He suggested I use my post players, both first team All-Staters to break the press rather than rely on my small guards. My first thought was to nod my head and do what we always had done. Then I remember we had been eliminated the year before by a pressing team.
We played at noon the next day. At 8 am, we met in the gym and I changed my press break offense. My uncle’s suggestion helped destroy the press and helped give Wilber-Clatonia a 24-point win.

It was the press that caused another change after I began coaching at Doane College. We played an undefeated Briar Cliff team at the end of January in 1997. Missy was a first year starter at point guard. Briar Cliff forced so many turnovers, the sensitive point guard broke down in each half. We lost by 28 points.

My assistant coach, John Moody, suggested a new press break. Like most press breaks, I would have my team keep the ball in the middle of the floor. Of course, the opposition knows that and tries to cover it. John’s idea had us “dragging” that first mid-court defender to the sideline and flashing a second player to the middle of the floor.

I told my players we would play Briar Cliff in the national tournament. In preparation of that game, we practiced the “drag the middle” press break for five minutes during every practice. I had no idea if we would ever play Briar Cliff again that season but in March we got our rematch. Missy performed flawlessly and we pulled off a 4-point upset.

After three building years, my Northwest team was ready to play for the MIAA Tournament in Kansas City in 2004. Emporia was our opponent and they had beaten us badly twice that year.

A coaching friend of mine was Tyron Johnson, an assistant coach at Missouri Southern. They had beaten Emporia that year. About two hours before the game, he stopped by to talk. I asked him how they beat the powerful Emporia team. TJ explained how they didn’t guard the high post, but rather dropped the high post defender to stop the high-low pass. It seemed too easy.

In the locker room, I decided to change our defense. My players were smart enough to figure out the new strategy. Emporia scored very little from the post and we won by 17 points. A senior reserve player, Tanesha Fields, played a major role in the win, too.

Tanesha asked if she could have the final word in
the huddle before the team took the floor. I had no idea what she was going to say. Tanesha got right into the starters face, yelling at them to just win one media time out period at a time. We never lost any five minute span the entire game. Tanesha was the best motivator I had that day.

It was difficult to think there might be flaws in my game plan. I definitely have a huge ego and my wife is the first to tell you I’m a know-it-all. Thank goodness I listened to an old coach, a couple of smart assistant coaches and an unselfish player. It was out of character for me, but no worries. I’m still a know-it-all.

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