Tag Archives: college basketball

The Tourney – Hiring, Rules and the Value of Having a Sir Charles

The Tournament has become one of those events that has become a cultural phenomena.  No need to say “which tournament”, it is just The Tournament.  It goes beyond college sports and basketball, it permeates the public consciousness.  Pools and brackets become the thing of water-cooler conversation and office bulletin boards.  It produces drama, stories, heroes and goats, as well as some timeless moments and memories.  And this year the tournament was brought to us on every possible delivery medium the media has at their disposal, and we gobbled it up.  And in this festival of March Madness, I found myself thinking of 3 particular people:   Billy Donovan, John Calipari and Charles Barkley.

Find them on the rise, give them the opportunity, support them, pay them well, and let them do their job.  That is the model for really successful, long-term hiring.  In college basketball, or any sport, one would be hard pressed to find a better example than Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators.  Two National Championships, 5 Final Four Appearances, multiple conference titles and a winning tradition for 16 years and counting.  All of this at a “football school”.  Billy Donovan was hired as the Gators head coach and given a 6 year contract at the age of 30.  Was it a risky hire, yes.  But it was a calculated risk.  Billy Donovan had a very clear record of having studied and learned from some of the best in the business, a relentless work ethic, and an ability to relate to players, administrators, alumni and boosters.  Billy Donovan is a great example of taking the long view in hiring – find the right person, regardless of age or experience, support them and then let them do their job.

John Calipari has proven himself yet again to be the master of the “one and done” model.  His Kentucky team was again a collection of phenomenally talented freshman, arguably the finest collection of future professional players on any one team in the tournament.  John Calipari takes a fair bit of heat for his overt recruiting of those young men who clearly state they have no interest in being a “student athlete”.  His recruiting pitch is in effect “I will get you ready to go pro”.  Like many, I was initially put off by his approach and embracing of the “one and done” mentality.  However, what I have come to realize is that John Calipari is simply playing by the rules.  John Calipari did not make the rules, but he has become the best at playing within those rules.  He gets more of the best players to play for him than anyone else.  That is amazing recruiting.  He is also clearly an impressive coach.  He is able to take a collection of individuals and turn them within a 30 game season into one of the best teams in the country.  That is great coaching.  Someone like John Calipari should not be judged for abiding by the rules.  Don’t fault the person for being good at their job.

Mentors. Counselors. Coaches. Trusted Advisors. Advocates. Regardless of the title, we all benefit from having a core group of those “who have gone before”, who can share their wisdom, some hard-earned lessons, and above all be that voice of reason and honesty when we need it most. We all need a Charles Barkley in our life. Sir Charles is a unique character, and to a degree is maybe playing to the part, but make no mistake he is one savvy dude. And above all, he tells it like it is. What little I saw and heard of the various broadcasts, you could count on Charles being very honest in his assessments. If a kid did not play well, he said it. If the stars failed to live up to the hype, he said it. No sugar-coating. No hyperbole. No positive spin or feel good comments; just raw, unfiltered, and technically based feedback on performance. We could all benefit from someone like Charles…especially if they are as colorful as Sir Charles.

I do not watch a lot of college basketball, but what I do watch tends to be in March.  The Tournament is just a special event…it is fun to have on in the background.  It also reminds us of some great fundamental lessons in business:  hire well, do not begrudge others success, and have someone in your circle that will be honest.

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I Wanna be Like Mike…at least in this respect


It might not be the single easiest thing to do, but it ranks in the top ten: Telling someone else what to do. Not when or how, that is hard. But what, that is super easy.  Seems only fitting to “remind” us all of what to do…be like Mike, and Wayne too.

Last weekend it was all about Michael Jordan turning 50 – highlights, stories, interviews and just reminders of how great a player he was, as well as reminders of what a person he is and was, warts and all.  Yet it was seeing one of his quotes that struck a chord:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

~Michael Jordan

For all that has been said about MJ, good and bad, past and present, it is that quote that has stayed with me.  Personally and professionally, I wish I heeded his words more often.  It is a great reminder that in the end it is all about taking action.  There are literally thousands of clichés and quotes on the topic, but coming from MJ, well it just seems to resonate a bit more.

And that of course leads to the reminder from “The Great One”:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

~Wayne Gretzky

So in the spirit of taking the easy way, it seems only fair to remind myself of what to do, or in the vernacular of Nike, to “Just Do It”.  MJ and Gretzky transcended their sport, and sports in general.  They are quite literally icons.  They became what and who they are by doing.  They did not worry about missing shots, failure in general, or what others might think.  They took action, over and over again.  Sometimes they failed, but sometimes they were successful.  There is a reason they are not anonymous 50+ year olds living in North Carolina or Ontario.  Physical gifts aside, they took risks, and that made all the difference.


On a personal note, I was fortunate to see Michael Jordan play live just once, and yes he was that good.  Though he had his comeback, this is the way I will always think of and remember Michael Jordan, leaving the game on top…what a moment.


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Victories or Really Winning

It is ironic in a way, and yes I am unabashed fan of irony, that the NFL combine news was overshadowed by a story from BYU, all on the same day CBS and Sports Illustrated released a report on college athletes and criminal records.   You see, most of the NFL combine news centers around Cam Newton – the former Auburn quarterback with the rather colorful history.  The CBS/SI report is self-explanatory.  And then there is the BYU basketball player, Brandon Davies, a starter and major factor in the teams amazing success this season.  He was suspended by the team for a violation of the university honor code. Dare I say his actions were hardly the stuff anyone would be suspended for on any other campus.

Brigham Young University is a unique institution, tied directly the The Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder Day Saints and to the church’s values.  However, what is interesting is that every university purports to hold the ideal of the “student athlete” sacred, that winning is not above the values and standards of the university.  Colleges and universities all proclaim that athletics is tertiary, that academics and producing graduates who are good, productive citizens and future leaders are the real mission.

BYU has enjoyed a great basketball season thus far, and the loss of Brandon Davies clearly is a huge blow to the team and their chances for post season success.  We all get it – there is a ton of money tied up in college athletics – it is big business.  Billions.  Yet BYU took action, an action that will certainly have financial repercussions.  And all because the individual in question told them of his actions that caused the violation – in effect a confession.  No one would have known – yet he and the university held to their word.

It is not about the unique and specific Brigham Young University Honor Code and if one agrees or disagrees.  It is about the fact that there is a code, that those who willingly attend the university also commit to their code.  It is about a university that held to that code – regardless of cost.  We are surrounded by corporate “codes of conduct”, of “core values”, of “oaths of office” and a host of laws and standards of behavior.  However, we rarely if ever see anyone held to account.  Think about it – who from business, sports, or even political office are held to account – ever?

In the end, the question really becomes how committed are you to “walking the walk”? BYU demonstrated they are committed. It was one impressive statement.

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Thank You Coach Wooden

There is nothing I can write that would be worthy of Coach John Wooden.  His achievements are quite literally and justifiably the stuff of legend.  What I will say is that if you have not done so, you owe it to yourself to learn more about the man.  There is no shortage of information out there.  Unfortunately there is more now than ever before…may he rest in peace.

I had heard the stories as a kid – he was retired by the time I was old enough to become really aware of things.  However, he was just one of those people you always would hear about – the championships, the winning streaks, the UCLA Basketball machine, the great players, the quotes, The Pyramid of Success.  The clean living example; the man of great wisdom.  However I never really knew just how much there was until I was fortunate enough several years ago to finally pick up the book They Call Me Coach.  Take the time – it is just one of those reads that will hit home on so many levels.

Lastly, thank you to ESPN.com for compiling some of the better “Woodenisms”.   Here are just a few – take some time and read more of the man – you will be better for it.

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

“Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character.”

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”

“I’d rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.”

“Ability is a poor man’s wealth.”

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

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Experiences and Achievements – Coach K’s comments

Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski was asked in an interview prior to Monday’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game if his past achievements and experiences would be an advantage for his team in the upcoming game with Butler. His answer was incredibly insightful. To paraphrase (Google cannot seem to find the transcript – amazing), he said that his past experiences coaching in championship games does have some relevance and might be helpful.  He then went on to say his past achievements are absolutely worthless in that setting.  One has to divorce the achievement from the experience.

So much value in such a statement. What we have experienced, and the lessons we have learned from those experiences are extremely valuable.   However, what we have achieved is in the past. It does not impact the future.  All too often the assumption is that what we have achieved in the past is of use going forward.  The achievement is not – the experience is.  How something was achieved, the actions taken, the lessons learned, the efficiencies gained, the insight won, the vision realized can be applied going forward.  It holds value to for us and those around us.

All too often we hear the line of reason that “I have achieved so much, it should be valued by the new company”or  “I have earned x and that is my minimum income requirement going forward”.  To stay with the sports analogy, Duke and Coach K could have very easily had the mindset that they have won 3 other championships and have been to 11 Final Fours – Butler has achieved nothing.  Understandable, and we all empathize, but in the end, that is an achievement paradigm.  “I earned it” or “it is owned to me” is past, not future tense.  The achievement is not valued today – it is past.  It is the experience that is valued going forward…if it will be leveraged.

Relating the experience of a particular achievement is the art of interviewing, and the art of leading.  Because you did something in the past, while nice to know about, is not the end all issue.  Life, business, academics, sports, everything is about moving forward.  Resting on past laurels will get you nowhere.  Leveraging the experience of past achievement is what leads to future success.

There is no questioning Mike Krzyzewski’s achievements – he wins.  However it is his mindset that allows him to keep winning.  He leverages the experience and leaves behind the achievement.  Simple in a way, yet a profound bit of wisdom.

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The Cost of the Contrarian Cowboy

Winning cures all ills.  Then there is the unspoken part of that statement…for a while.  As with anything, eventually there comes a day of reckoning. Case in point, the recently fired Mike Leach and Texas Tech.  Just last year he was praised as a football genius, profiled on 60 Minutes. He was heralded as a gifted coach, rewarded with massive contracts.  And yes, he won – a lot. However, being the contrarian comes at a price.  You burn bridges, sacrifice goodwill, hurt feelings, alienate peers, subordinates and superiors, and just generally become annoying.  And for a while it can all be overlooked.

It is called many things – “not playing politics”, “being a cowboy”, or “going against the grain” – and often times it is necessary, fitting, and plain effective.  But as with all things, moderation is the key.  Being contrarian is often the very thing that allows the mold to be broken, for the paradigm to shift, for breakthroughs and advancements to be made.  Leaders are often the “cowboys” who are able to overcome group think; who can get the team out of the rut; who can take them to the next level.  Being contrarian has a place, a time, and a finite life span.

However, being a contrarian leader all the time eventually becomes ones normal behaviour.  And in the case of contrarian behaviour, eventually organizational, societal, and social norms will demand a day of reckoning.  More simply put – you cannot just always be a jerk.  No matter how good the results, eventually the schtick wears thin.  One would think Coach Leach would have paid a touch more attention to that other contrarian coach on campus.  Eventually everybody tired of Bobby Knight, and he did much more than just win championships – much more.

Regardless of how good you are, how good the results, how often you win, no one can be a jerk forever.  Being a leader by its nature will require contrarian behaviour to some degree.  Being a “cowboy” is not a bad thing.  But being that way all the time is not effective.  It becomes counter productive.  You sacrifice goodwill, you no longer have the benefit of the doubt, you lose your supporters, your advocates, and your protectors.  In the end, there is a cost and it will have to be paid.

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