The Art Of Coaching

The first thing I have to take care of before talking coaching is trying to explain how Northwest Missouri State was seeded second in the Elite Eight when they spent most of the year, including the last week of the season, at number one in the entire nation.
Doesn’t seem fair, does it? The committee that does the final seeding doesn’t care about polls at all. It’s all about the formula. In 2011, we were ranked fourth in the nation with my women’s basketball team. We won the MIAA Tournament by defeating the defending national champion in the finals.
The two teams regionally ranked with us were defeated in the first round of their tournament. I was sure Maryville would host the regional. Not so fast. Despite all those positives, if you plugged all the intangibles in to the formula, we came out second and were sent to Tahlequah, Oklahoma for regionals.
What’s in the formula?  That’s a good question.  I used to know most of them. There are about 10 items in the formula. For instance, the formula might include your record against NCAA II schools, your record in your region against NCAA II schools, the record of all your NCAA II opponents, etc. you get the idea.  I heard what hurt Northwest was their strength of schedule.  It wasn’t their fault the MIAA had a down year. That’s how you end up second with only one loss.
As a coach for 39 years, I would pick up coaching tips anywhere I could find them. I used to love to take the games of the postseason, record them, and go back and try to pick up a new defense that never failed, or a sure field goal maker of an offense.  Most of the time it was just better players winning games, but I kept looking.
ESPN has a great series of short stories called 30 for 30.  They are usually two hours long and are in documentary form.  My favorite, one I have maybe have watched 10 times is Survive and Advance.  It’s the story of Coach Jim Valvano and his 1983 North Carolina State’s National Championship team.
It’s a great blend of a team that is in trouble because of injury to their best shooter and a coach that made them believe they could win it all.  It includes Valvano’s motivational speeches.  One speech was in his final months of his life at the ESPYS.  It’s a speech seen many times and it was the creating point for the V-Foundation.
The part of Survive and Advance that interested me the most was how he won the national championship.  State had won many times with help from the intentional foul.  Not intentional in punishment but intended to stop play.
Valvano believed that the pressure of the game and the millions of people watching on television would be too much for the foul shooter.  Amazingly, time and time again, Valvano was proven correct.
In the championship game against Phi Slama Jama and the Houston Cougars, Valvano hit all the right buttons again.  With the score tied and under a minute to play, Valvano had his team foul Alvin Franklin, the Cougar’s freshmen point guard.
Years later, players from that team would say, “In the National Championship game and 50 million people watching, that freshmen had no chance of making that free throw.” He missed the front end of the one on one and State rebounded.
That set up one of the true miracles of the miraculous run by North Carolina State.  Lorenzo Charles dunked a desperation shot that was falling short just before the final buzzer sounded and the miracle was complete.  Fouling in a tied game was unheard of, but Valvano pulled it off.
I carried around the knowledge of the foul with the score tied with me for many years.  I never used it, but the thought was always close by.  I listened to Valvano talk at many clinics.  He was a stand-up comedian more than an informative coach, which was perfect during those boring Nike Clinics.
He would take a full hour talking about his favorite last second play.  By the time the coaches were rolling on the floor in laughter, he would almost walk off the stage before being reminded he had never diagramed his last-second play.
He would come back to the podium and without drawing a single X or O, he would tell how he copied the play from an old coach.  It went something like this, “Bob, you throw the ball to Billy.  Billy, you find Pete.  Pete, you take the ball to the basket and win the game.”  I promise you, no coach ever used that play if you can call that a play.
I still considered Valvano a coaching genius and finally came a time to use his fouling tactics for my own team.  My Northwest was in Joplin playing Missouri Southern.  It was a close game all the way through.  With about 50 seconds left, we trailed by one point, but Southern had the ball.
In the scouting report, I noticed their point guard shot only 49% from the free throw line.  It was the perfect time to use Valvano’s philosophy.  We could have defended and if we got a stop, we had time to play for the win.
Of course, that’s not what I did.  I ordered the point guard fouled.  In Valvano’s strategy, the Southern player would miss and it would give us plenty of time to overcome the one-point deficit.
I made a big discovery that night.  What works for Jimmy didn’t work for me.  The point guard, a 49% free throw shooter, hit both free throws.  Forced to make a three, my Bearcats failed and my strategy failed, too.  I had to answer a lot of questions why we fouled that early.  “Blame it on Jimmy,” I said, but no one knew what I was talking about.
Maybe that 50 million people watching on television, plus the 16,000 or so at the game might have been a little more pressure that the 800 fans at Joplin.  I guess I overlooked that fact.  Nobody ever said I had the “Art of Coaching,” perfected.

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