Saturday, February 28, 2009

Leadership used to be about certainty; now it's about leading in uncertainty

Just finished reading the book "Just Enough Anxiety" by psychologist Robert Rosen.

As I read it, it became clear how many of the leaders and coaches featured on this blog over the last year fit Rosen's description of today's "successful leaders."

As I read the following excerpt, I thought about how coaching and the business of basketball has changed over the 20 years that I've been a coach and for the 40 years I watched my father coach.

As the author describes, there's considerably more uncertainty in basketball today than ever before, which makes his model relevant for coaches and GMs.


Fear has been with us since the beginning of time -- the guardian of our survival. Fear kept our ancestors from becoming some predator's dinner. It alerted generation after generation to situations that threatened their survival. It keeps us from walking down dark alleys at night. Sometimes fear propels us forward; sometimes it freezes us in our tracks.

Your relationship with fear -- and its cousin, anxiety -- has a profound effect on your life. It shapes how you see yourself and others, and how others see you. It influences how you think about problems and make decisions. It affects how you view and manage change.

It's a key factor in how you lead teams.

Fear and anxiety are what we experience when we go through life on autopilot. But we can no longer allow ourselves to operate this way. Leadership used to be about certainty. Now it's about leading in uncertainty.

Successful leaders stay ahead of the game by either shaping their world to suit themselves or quickly adapting to the world around them. Leading people through change is every leader's job. It's about taking people from where they are to where they need to be. And it's about the courage and commitment to drive and sustain change.

Following are the five characteristics of today's successful leaders.

1. Successful leaders willingly travel into the unknown. They take uncertainty in stride. In fact, they enjoy the challenge that constant change provides.

2. Successful leaders set an evolving course through ambiguity, complexity, and change. They turn uncertainty and adversity into advantages. They are willing to change their minds and their course of action when necessary. They steer and support others through change after change with a sense of urgency. Simultaneously optimistic and realistic, they risk failure in pursuit of success.

3. Successful leaders inspire and challenge people to perform beyond their own expectations. They are relationship builders. They align people around a shared vision -- with honest and open dialogue -- and open hearts. Comfortable with conflict and disagreement, these leaders foster dynamic debate and constructive impatience. They get people involved by earning their confidence and trust. Their empathy and compassion for others allows them to stretch people into their discomfort zones, while igniting their passion to win. Their ability to motivate, coach, and develop leaders at all levels enables them to build a culture of accountability and execution.

4. Successful leaders learn and re-learn in real time. They are willing to reinvent themselves and their organizations to adapt to change. They see lifelong learning as a priority and themselves as teachers and learners. They see both success and failure as good teachers.

5. Successful leaders imagine possibilities, discover opportunities, and release creative energies inside their organizations. They refuse to accept the status quo. There's always a new goal to reach or a new opportunity to grab. These leaders are masterful at accessing and channeling energy, in themselves and others. They push boundaries. They create excitement.

One capability makes it possible for leaders to succeed at these key tasks. It is the capability to live with and create just enough anxiety within themselves and others. More than any other leadership quality, this ability propels great leaders to the top.

It enables them to embrace uncertainty and manage the ups and downs of a crazy world. It brings out their best performance, enables them to build great teams, and inspires and challenges their organizations. It is the hidden driver of success.

We guard, we prepare, every possession means something

This week, after critics complained about the "meager offense" of Big Ten teams this season, Illinois coach Bruce Weber said he'd had enough.

"I’m sick of hearing it, to be honest. We guard, we prepare, we play our butts off and play in hostile environments. It’s style of play. I’ve always said we prepare. We guard. Every possession means something, whether it’s right or wrong. This goes back to coach (Gene) Keady, coach (Bobby) Knight, coach (Jud) Heathcoat. It’s just how it is within our league."

[As a sidebar, I came across an interesting note about how Illinois sophomore forward Mike Davis' "poor body language" was hindering his play. According to Davis, "A psychiatrist called Coach and told him about my body language that I put my head down and would get down on myself. He said I can’t do that. It’s a weakness of mine. I have to stop. The other team can tell when I put my head down that I’m out of the game, so I have to stay positive the whole game."]

How playing a zone makes you feel like you're conceding

Good article this morning in the NY Times about how zone defense "has not been embraced in the NBA."

“When you see it in the league, they do it because they can’t guard somebody,” Quentin Richardson of the Knicks said. “If they’re having a hard time stopping this person or that person or a team in general, and they can’t do anything, teams play zone.”

You see a lot of zone defense in junior high, high school, and college. But in the NBA, where there are plenty of excellent outside shooters and players can move the ball faster than defenses can rotate, it's not as effective.

As DEN coach George Karl puts it, “My zone offense is to put three guys on the court who can make 3s and have them make a couple.”

According to CLE coach Mike Brown (pictured above), there's another reason NBA coaches are reluctant to use the zone.

“It almost says, Hey, we can’t guard these guys,” Brown said. “To a certain degree, psychologically, it makes you feel like you’re conceding, and it could be a downer if it doesn’t work.”

Lakers PG Derek Fisher believes NBA coaching staffs aren't as comfortable teaching the zone.

“You still have a lot of coaches, general managers and assistant coaches that are old-school former players. And the league is based on solid man-to-man principles. That’s how they were taught the game. That’s how they grew up playing the game. And it’s difficult trying to teach something that you don’t necessarily have a great feel for yourself.”

Confidence is as significant as anything in performance

A person's confidence, while making a presentation in front of a group of businesspeople or playing basketball, has a clear influence on how he performs, regardless of the situation.

"Confidence, I think, is as significant as anything in performance," said UNLV coach Lon Kruger recently. "People who play with confidence, who perform with confidence, feel good about what they’re doing. It’s hard for people to be confident if you’re tearing them down all the time. So we’re just trying to build them up to promote confidence, to promote enthusiasm. It all ties together."

According to Coach Kruger, whose Rebels are 20-8 with two regular season games left, building confidence doesn't necessarily mean going soft.

"Some individuals may need to get after it a little harder, in a constructive way,” Kruger said. "Even when you’re getting after people, that’s not a negative. That can be constructive when it’s intended the right way."

Friday, February 27, 2009

I always want to get better

Five years ago, Tim Lincecum was on his way to earning Freshman of the Year honors at the University of Washington.

Today, he's getting ready for his first season since winning the Cy Young Award in November of last year.

Nicknamed "The Freak," the 5-foot-11, 174-pound Lincecum isn't resting on his laurels.

"I always want to get better," said Lincecum, who had a league-high 265 strikeouts last season for the Giants. "I come into this year, I'm not just sitting on my ass hoping everything's going to be all right because of last year. I've got to come out here and work and become better. That's what it takes to be a good major-league baseball player."

The only thing that's going to define individuals is how the team does

Great quote from Ron Artest the other day in the Houston paper:

"That’s the only thing that’s going to define individuals: how the team does."

When Tom Crean coached at Marquette, there was a banner that hung in the practice gym with a quote from John Wooden that read, "The star of the team is the team."

Back in my CBA days, that was a frequent message. As a coaching staff, we'd work to convince players to worry less about their stats and focus on helping the team win. That's something coaches at all levels talk about, but in the minor leagues, where players use big numbers as a way to catch the eye of NBA teams, it can be difficult to get guys to buy in to that.

We'd explain that NBA coaches and scouts recognize that it's one thing to put up big numbers on a losing team. Making a contribution (and sacrifice) to a winning team is more significant.

As Joe Paterno once said, a team only reaches true greatness when its members aren't concerned with their stats.

"When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality."

Players change, and as a result, I've changed

A friend passed along a copy of the book "Bear Bryant: CEO," which I've been reading the last few days. It's an interesting collection of quotes and short stories about Coach Bryant which lend insight into his coaching philosophy.

Here's a good excerpt about his ability to change, his feelings on rules, and the importance of choosing your battles.


"Paul Bryant was never inflexible when it came to changing with the times, and that's just one of the marvelous traits that separated him from the ordinary," said Alf Van Hoose, a longtime sportswriter for the Birmingham News. "He was a liberal thinker when it came to football and motivation of people."

It wasn't just in strategy that Bryant was willing to change. He was willing to reconsider his position on smaller details of his players as well. For example, students in the 1970s began to wear longer hair. Bryant had always insisted his players keep their hair short, but even he came to realize that he needed to give a little about this.

After giving it some thought, Bryant called his friend Darrell Royal and said that he'd noticed while watching a recent game that Texas players were wearing their hair longer. Royal acknowledged that the times had changed, and he was changing with them. Besides, he said, "I can't see that another inch or two of hair makes much difference." He had only to point to his team's 30-game winning streak as proof.

Following the conversation, Bryant called in Johnny Musso, Alabama's All-American running back in 1971, to ask him again, "Why in God's name do you want hair hanging out of your helmet?"

Musso replied simply, "It's important to us."

Bryant made what seemed to him a big concession by saying, "If it's important to you -- and damned if I know why -- then go ahead and let it grow. But keep it clean."

"My football players have changed, and as a result, I've changed," Coach Bryant would later say. "I don't pretend otherwise."

Setting the bar high

Forty wins.

That's the goal coach Mike D'Antoni has set for his Knicks team, which is 24-33 heading into tonight's home game against the Sixers.

According to an article in Newsday this morning, "During the All-Star break, D'Antoni sat down and decided that 40 wins - what it would take to earn a trip to the playoffs - should be a realistic goal. So he started preaching about the power of 40."

In truth, D'Antoni said there really isn't anything magical or mathematical about his goal of 40; he just wanted to set the bar high.

Said D'Antoni: "If we win 36 and make the playoffs, I'll be happy. I just thought that 40 is pretty good. There's no reason why we can't win close to 40. It's tough. We got some hard teams, but we just have to try to play better and win some when we can."

Setting a goal that's ambitious, but achievable, seems to have galvanized Knicks players.

David Lee: "I think it's a legitimate goal for us. We've been 3-2 since the break. More than anything, it will keep us concentrated as we move forward."

Chris Duhon (pictured above with Coach D'Antoni): "It's realistic to think that it's possible. We have the chemistry here that will be able to do that."

We all have bad days at work

During a long season, is it realistic to believe a player will be at his best every night?

After winning four straight, the San Jose Sharks lost at Detroit, 4-1. Veteran Sharks center Joe Thornton (pictured here) had just one shot on goal.

After the game, Thornton admitted he didn't have his "A game" that night.

His coach, Todd McLellan, said that in a long season, players will have off nights.

"The first thing we need to do is realize we're talking about one-eighty-second of the regular season. We all have bad days at work. I have them, you have them," McLellan said. "We're not giving him permission to have an off night, but we're not naive enough to think he's not going to have them throughout the year."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved

Much as been written about Buzz Williams' "obsessive-compulsive habits." To say he values organization is an understatement. [See here, here, and here.]

According to this article, his office is "meticulous," a "tidy sanctuary" where he keeps dozens of "autobiographies written by famous coaches, New York Times best sellers and his own detailed journal with color-coded entries. He keeps copious notes on books he reads, conversations he has with players' parents and input he gets from assistants. Williams keeps some folded and clipped together in his pocket."

But it's more than organization that's helped Coach Williams guide Marquette to a 23-5 record (the team's fifth loss came last night against No. 2 UConn).

The key has been his ability to build trust with his players. That's come as a result of "his coaching strategies, but more with talks and off-court assignments that had little, if anything, to do with basketball."

"Everything we did in the summer was beneficial for developing a relationship on trust," Williams says.

For example, he gave his players reading assignments and had them share their thoughts about the books they'd read, such as "The Last Lecture."

Says one Marquette player, "We were like, 'Coach, we already have enough work for school.' But getting that in-depth analysis from teammates and their perspective on life … you learn to respect each other."

There's a quote from the poet George MacDonald that has strong relevance for coaches and supports Coach Williams' efforts to foster trust.

"To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved."

It starts with the interns

Nice note out of Indiana where Hoosiers coach Tom Crean not only had team manager Mike Santa suit up last night for IU's game against Northwestern (wearing jersey number "1"), but got him some playing time near the end of the game.

According to Coach Crean, the 5-foot-9 Santa (on the left) earned the right to play.

“I didn’t do this as a reward. It is a special deal to be a manager here. Those guys come out here and they work. [The managers] bring a great deal of competitiveness and energy to our practices. Those guys, they come in and they make it more competitive for our guys. We’ve got to have real competition – well, those guys try to help provide that.”

It raises an important point about getting good people in place at every level of a team -- not just players and coaches -- but equipment managers, video coordinators, administrative assistants, and -- as Ron Shapiro discusses in his book -- interns.

Shapiro, a well-known agent-attorney and author of the book "Dare to Prepare," is the father of Mark Shapiro, GM of the Cleveland Indians. In his book, Ron writes that "Mark spends almost as much energy and focus on hiring his interns as he does on signing up his draft picks."

"That's one of the most important details in my business, believe it or not," Mark said. "It starts with the interns. Every single time we hire at that level we are looking for an impact person. As a culture, we obsess about our entry-level hires. We do rigid interviews, thorough checks on references and background, test analytic thinking. And we look to create a track for succession and promotion."

That's what point guards do in this league

If you've noticed a change recently in Mike Conley's game, it's likely the result of a conversation he had with new MEM coach Lionel Hollins.

"He told me, 'I'm giving you your chance. You're going to be the guy finishing games, the guy starting games. You're going to be our point guard, and you have to be the leader of this team. Assert yourself and be aggressive,'" Conley said. "He wants me being a leader vocally, getting guys up for games. When he first told me all that, it was a shock. I started trying to be that person he wants me to be, and it's really helped my game a ton."

Previously, Conley had split time at PG with 22-year-old Kyle Lowry, who was traded to HOU late last week.

Coach Hollins says he's seen an immediate change in Conley's game.

"He's being more assertive. Would I like him to be even more assertive? Yes. I told him (Wednesday) morning I want him to attack more, to take charge more. That's what point guards do in this league. They take control of the game and manage the team from the floor."

How goal-setting can spark a turnaround

On January 24, nearly 20 games into the season, Kent State had an 8-11 record, losers of five of six.

So first-year coach Geno Ford brought his team together for a "major" meeting. As this article tells it, "something needed to be done or a season would disintegrate."

Coach Ford, who had his seniors run the meeting (there are four on the roster), asked the team to outline five "specific goals." He wanted goals that were quantifiable.

Not things like 'win the MAC' or 'win every road game.' He wanted the team to tell him how they were going to accomplish the big picture, what it would take in each game to win. Things dealing with opposing field-goal percentage, rebounding, turnovers.

''I didn't want to see 'win the MAC' because that really has no meaning,'' he said. ''That's a fine thing to say, but I felt this group spent all their time talking about winning 20 games, winning a championship, going to the NCAA. That's not going to happen unless we have an idea of how the hell that's going to go down. What's it going to take?''

The final product of the meeting was a list, "written on poster board." It's always nearby: In the team's huddle during timeouts, on the floor at practice, and in the locker room.

Since creating "the list" (which is confidential), the Golden Flashes have won eight straight heading into tonight's game at Bowling Green.

Coach Ford gives credit to his team for the turnaround.

"I'm certainly not going to insinuate we're on a winning streak because of anything I'm doing."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Get through it, and you'll be better for it

By any measure, Joe Torre has had a pretty good life.

As a player, he was a 9-time All-Star, batting almost .300 for his career. As a manager, he's guided teams to six World Series appearances, winning four.

He's appeared in TV commercials and carried the Olympic torch through Italy. He has four children.

But it's not been easy.

He's battled prostate cancer. He's had three marriages, two of which ended in divorce. His brother, Rocco, died of a heart attack.

As manager of the NY Mets from 1977-1981, he lost 134 more games than he won. On six occasions, his Yankee teams lost in the American League Championship Series, leaving them one step shy of the World Series.

In a book I read once, Torre talked about how when things get tough, he pushes through it.

"I say that to my players. It's a tough time right now. Don't look for a reason why it's happening. Just deal with it. Get through it, and you'll be better for it. I just try to use this attitude for every experience I have -- personal and professional -- and move on."

In many ways, my friend Mike Whitmarsh was a lot like Joe Torre. He was one of the stars of our college basketball team, leading USD to a conference title and a spot in the NCAA tournament. After earning his college degree, he was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers and played professional basketball in Europe for three years.

When he'd had enough of basketball, he turned his attention to volleyball, having a long and successful career on the pro beach volleyball tour and winning a silver medal at the '96 Olympics in Atlanta.

Blessed with a wonderful smile and terrific sense of humor, Whit was a guy everyone seemed to like. In the words of the legendary Karch Kiraly, "I don’t know if you will find in all of sports someone who was better liked by all of his peers."

Perhaps most important, Mike had two beautiful daughters to whom he was a loving father.

Joe Torre and Mike Whitmarsh are a lot like the rest of us. No, we may not have sat in the dugout at Yankee Stadium or won an Olympic medal. But we all have things we're proud of -- things we feel good about, no matter how small or personal.

And, like Joe and Mike, we've faced mountains and wondered how we'd ever get over them. Divorce. The loss of a loved one. Getting fired. Getting sick. Losing something. Falling short of a goal.

During those intensely emotional times, we've felt like tossing in the towel. After all, we're human. But like Joe Torre, most of us "just deal with it." Like Torre, we "get through it." We come out on the other side and we're better for it.

Most of us do, but not all of us.

Whitty didn't get through it. He didn't come out on the other side. On February 17, at 46 years old, Mike took his life.

When I heard the news, one of the first people I called was my sister, who studied literature in college and who genuinely loves poetry. A few minutes after we talked, she sent me a one-line text message, a quote from Ben Okri, a Nigerian poet.

"The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering."

In his 46 years of life, Mike did all of these things -- created, overcame, endured, transformed, and loved.

I only wish, in a time of great pain, he'd fought through his suffering.

Giving credit where credit is due

After Arizona lost recently to rival Arizona State, UA coach Russ Pennell said:

"The one thing that fans never do is... give credit to the opponent or factor them in."

It's an interesting point, one that I made recently to my son after a game. While you and your team may not have played as well as you would have liked, it's quite possible that your opponent had something to do with that.

Essentially, I told him, "Remember, they practice, prepare, and work just as hard as you do. They want to win, too. That's what makes it fun."

Earlier this season, after TOR beat the Spurs, SA coach Gregg Popovich (pictured above) made it a point to praise his opponent:

"We didn't look past [this game] at all. We are not built like that and our guys don't do that. We busted our asses tonight and down the stretch they hit about two or three [three-pointers.] They earned the victory so it has nothing to do with us not being ready. Give them credit."

Two weeks earlier, it was TOR coach Jay Triano who, after his club lost to the Bucks, praised his opponent. Said Coach Triano: "I give them credit because they outworked us."

When his team lost to MIA earlier this month, CHA coach Larry Brown wasn't unhappy with his team's play, but recognized the Heat's performance. "I thought we played good, they just played great," he said.

And after Steve Fisher's San Diego State team lost badly on the road at New Mexico last Saturday, Coach Fisher gave UNM credit for playing well.

"New Mexico played great,” he said. "They hit their shots. They played great defense and they did to us what they've done to a number of other teams in here."

After a loss, it's natural to think about your mistakes and what you would have done differently. But don't forget about your opponent's talent, preparation, and effort. If your team played as well as it could have -- and with a full effort -- and you lose, it's likely that the opponent was simply better. Give them credit.

The result should never overshadow the process

When Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel wanted to talk coaching and philosophies, he turned not to another football coach, but to a D-III swimming coach at tiny Kenyon College by the name of Jim Steen.

Last spring, the 60-year-old Coach Steen, whose swimmers have won 47 D-III team titles in his 33 years at Kenyon, spent an afternoon with Coach Tressel, who "sat in Steen’s office and scribbled pages of notes one afternoon as Steen shared his philosophies."

A NY Times article today describes Coach Steen this way:

[He] bears a resemblance to the actor John Lithgow and stars as Kenyon’s version of the absentminded professor. He is 6 feet 5 inches but walks with a slouch, as if he cannot bear to tower over others. His work attire is shorts and flip-flops, but he exudes a formality that is rooted in good manners. During the season, which runs from September through March, Steen frequently misplaces his cellphone or his eyeglasses, and he often forgets to eat. But his focus on his swimmers is so keen, it cuts through the chlorine haze of their lives.

According to one Kenyon professor, "it’s the intangibles that set Coach Steen apart. He has this ability to connect with people, to figure out what makes them tick. He’s a genius when it comes to that."

Though swimming is an individual pursuit, Steen treats it as a team sport. He preaches to his athletes that everybody has a redeeming quality; as teammates, their job is to find the positive in one another and let go of the rest.

“We need to be ready,” Steen said. “You guys as much as anybody will set the tone when we go into the conference meet.” He added, “We could not win it.”

Then he reiterated one of his simple truths: “Not winning the war is not nearly as bad as not winning the battles.

As you might tell from that quote, Coach Steen "is a big believer that the result should never overshadow the process. It is why he rarely mentions his 29 consecutive national men’s team championships or his 22 overall women’s crowns in his 33 years at Kenyon. (He arrived in 1975, and has taken two one-year sabbaticals.)"

It's his belief that "the pursuit of a single goal often inhibits the risk-taking and creative thinking necessary for personal growth."

The NY Times article tells of how, "in one mass e-mail message" to his swimmers recently, "he wrote, 'Find a place within yourself where success and failure don’t matter, a place where you can engage in battle without compromise.'"

Another of Steen’s simple truths comes from the Bible: The exalted will be humbled and the humble will be exalted. The road to success, he will tell you, has no neon signs to herald your arrival.

One of Coach Steen's swimmers talks about one lesson her coach taught her that's impacted her the most:

“The one that’s really stuck with me,” she said, is, “you can approach anything two ways: under a threat or for the challenge.”

What did Coach Tressel take away from his meeting with Coach Steen?

One of the things that jumped out at me was Jim’s passion for working to be certain that his young people reach their potential,” Tressel said. “It’s even agonizing for him the thought of that not occurring.”

Your best players need to be your decision-makers

John Tortorella, who led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup, is the opposite of the coach he just replaced with the NY Rangers, Tom Renney, who was let go after a rough 12-game stretch in which the team came away with just two wins.

According to this article, "In terms of on-ice, Renney was safe-safe-safe, whereas Tortorella is a 'safe-is-death' guy."

Says Rangers veteran Scott Gomez, a former NHL All-Star, "That's normal. You're going to hire the opposite."

An article in the Minneapolis paper from May 2004 said that when Coach Tortorella was in Tampa Bay, he had three signs posted in the locker room, "each intended to remind players of [his] philosophy."

One reads: Safe is death. Another: Good is the enemy of great. The other: Don't think ... do.

In his first day on the job, Coach Tortorella, who as a minor league coach in the mid-1980s "spent a summer hammering nails and painting walls so his guys would have a better locker room," had some interesting thoughts regarding coaching and the role of the coach.


On his coaching style: "I'm not going to stand behind the bench and just calmly go about it. I'm just not built that way. I think honesty is what players want. They're going to get pushed, they're going to be held accountable, and there are going to be some bumps in the road. There may be some conflict, but I don't think we should be afraid of conflict. This reputation that I just kick the hell out of people, it takes on a life of its own. As a coach you'd better understand what your team is right now as far as how they feel."

On the coach's role: "I think the coach is the guidance counselor. That's an important aspect of a head coach, getting the most out of your top people."

On regaining confidence after a losing streak: "Losing knocks you down. I'm gonna push them, but as a coach, you have to understand when you need to be with them. This is a time to get them to feel decent about themselves. They need to get a little self confidence. We're going to allow them to try to work through that and try to find a way to get a win."

On his predecessors who were fired: "There's going to be a philosophical change here, but there's a couple of good guys who are out and I just don't want them blamed."

On team leadership: "Your best players need to be your decision-makers. They're going to get every opportunity to win hockey games for us. If they're playing hard, I'm going to send them right back out there."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A penchant for pressure

As manager of Chelsea FC from 2004-2007, Jose Mourinho won 131 times in 185 games (including just 18 losses). His teams never lost a home match while he was manager.

Now in his first season as coach of Inter, one of Italy's top soccer clubs, Mourinho has guided his team to 25 wins in 35 games (with just six losses).

According to the 46-year-old Mourinho, he's never had much patience for rebuilding.

"Some managers use arriving at a new club as an excuse. They say they need time, and if you do that, you are protected. If you don't win the title in the first or second season, you can keep telling everyone you need time.

Sometimes you stay for four or five years, keep not winning, and then keep demanding more time. I could never be like this. I live for the risk. I believe you can do it in the first season and if you do not, you fail. I prefer it like this. I prefer the pressure because that's how I live."

Ensuring your passion is helping your team

Anthony Randolph's intensity manifests itself on the court.

"It made him slap a hard foul on Boston's Kevin Garnett and stare down one of his all-time favorite players — in Boston. It provoked him to scream at Houston center Yao Ming after he dunked on him — in Houston. It propels him to give his body for a block, a rebound, a loose ball, tempts him to take his man every time."

What he's learning is the difference between positive and negative energy.

"I've got to watch myself sometimes, that's the thing I'm trying to work on now," he said. "You've got to play mad. I'm more aggressive when I'm mad. It's not that I'm mad at a person. I'm just trying to go out there and go hard. Sometimes, I can get a little bit too excited, too amped up. I've got to learn how to control it."

Coaches love players who play with energy, enthusiasm, and passion. They appreciate the attitude and sense of urgency they bring to the court. Teammates feed off his energy.

The key, as Warriors veteran Stephen Jackson puts it, is channeling the energy in a constructive way.

"I love his passion. I love his fire for the game," said Jackson, who has dealt with a similar quandary. "That's something you can't teach. That's rare. ... He's going to have to learn, just like I had to learn, that it's a fine line between having too much passion and hurting your team, and having passion and helping your team."

The anticipation of doing something should help you more than the expectation of having to do it

When asked what he told his team before they took on No. 8 Wake Forest on Sunday night, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski answered:

"Instead of saying we had to win, I told them we're going to win it. The anticipation of doing something should help you better than the expectation of having to do it."

Duke downed the Deacons, 101-91.

Basketball's version of a corporate business retreat

Been meaning to get this up on the blog. It's a good piece about how playing on Team USA is paying dividends for the guys who spent their summer competing in the Olympics.

Cavs GM Danny Ferry likens it to a "corporate business retreat" where the players "got to talk the game, share ideas and see how each other was working."

For example, as Doug Collins points out, LeBron James was able to play "the four-man on their backline defense, and he was like a middle linebacker."

"His voice resonated through the team."

Before the Games, critics worried that players would wear themselves out before the long NBA season. But Coach K "kept practices short and played team members no more than 25 minutes a game. Ten of the 12 U.S. players averaged at least 11 minutes."

Says Dwyane Wade, for many players, defense became the focus:

"You have the best players in the NBA and put them on one team, great scorers. But you tell them, 'Look, the way we're going to win is to be great defensively.' Once you see guys buy into that, it becomes second nature. Guys understand they can be dominant on that end of the floor, as well."

Insight into the Princeton Offense

Thanks to Coach Welling for passing along a March 2003 story from The Daily Princetonian about the Princeton Offense, described by the author as "nothing more than a big toolbox."

If the right tools are used at the right times, open baskets will be as common as birdhouses in shop class. If not, however, the Tigers will crumble.

According to the article, in the Princeton office, "If anything is open, either a shot or a drive, take it."


Princeton does not utilize any of the common basketball techniques, such as pick-and-rolls and isolation plays. The Tigers use unconventional tools such as the drive drill, drift screens, and off-ball screens.

While many teams use off-ball screens, Princeton differentiates itself by the two options involved, a backdoor cut or a shot. Off-ball screens are key to running the offense and are pretty simple as far as the Princeton offense goes.

One player holds the ball looking for a pass. A second player then screens the defender of yet a third player. The third player is the key to this part of the offense. He makes the decision of what to do based on the quality of the screen and how the defender is hindered by it. He can either come off the screen for an open outside shot or make a backdoor cut to the hoop.

One of the basic starting sets for the Princeton offense is the "1-2-2," also known as "Five-out," since all five players position themselves around the three-point arc — two in the corners, two at the wings, and the center at the top of the key. Let's run through a few examples of what could happen from here.

This is where the "drive drill" comes in. The center, with the ball, drives directly at the defender of one of the wing players. If the defender is laying off this player, the center hands the ball off to the wing player and simultaneously screens that man's defender. The player who just received the hand-off (originally in the wing) now ideally has an open shot at the top of the key.

Luckily, the offense is still prepared for an athletic defender who can still stop the shot. While all this exchange is going on, the wing and corner players on the other side of the court are "drifting." The drifting wing forces his defender in toward the elbow. When he realizes that the open shot is not there, the player from the corner sprints to screen the wing's defender at the elbow.

Without an open shot, the man with the ball dribbles to the top of the key and waits for the player with the screened defender (the original backside player at the wing) to decide whether to cut to the basket and drive or come off the screen and take the three.

What if there is still not an open shot? The center meanwhile has been drifting back to help screen the defender of the wing player with whom he originally drive-drilled. That wing would then get another chance to choose drive or shoot.

In the simplest recycling of the offense, he would drive to no avail then kick out to the one player not used yet: the player in the corner of the original drive drill. At that point, the offense could start all over.

That seems complicated enough, but now we reach the staple of the Princeton offense: the backdoor cut. Back at the original drive drill, the wing at whose defender the center is driving will take the backdoor cut if his man is playing him tightly. The backdoor cut ideally leads to an easy layup if the pass is made.

If the backdoor pass cannot be made, the center who still has the ball dumps it off to the corner player stepping up. The center then drifts back up to the top of the key as if to set back up or to look for a shot.

The cutting player who did not receive the pass, however, has turned around and makes an "up-the-side screen" for the center at the elbow of the side from which he had originally cut. This should leave the center the opportunity to get open down low.

If the center cannot make a play in the post, he simply kicks it out to the corner player who has drifted back after passing the ball into the center. This leaves an open space for an off-ball screen to the original backside wing player.

If all that does not work, junior Ed Persia can knock down an NBA-range three-pointer.

Using interviews to get at the "why" behind the "what"

At the NFL Scouting Combine, teams interview up to 16 players a night. The interview, writes SI's Peter King, "has become more and more important to the decision-making process."

Because agents have typically prepared their clients for the interviews, teams "now have to do things to get players out of their comfort zones." Rather than use the interview for a simple conversation, team officials are "challenging players."

My favorite story involved a defensive coach for one team asking Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (pictured above at the scouting combine) why they should pick him. "Tell me something,'' the coach said. "When is the last time a linebacker from Ohio State came to the NFL and was worth a s---?'' That shook the Buckeye out of whatever confident zone he might have entered the room in.

According to a story in the NY Times, "most players have agents in town who hire advisers to teach the players to communicate, but some are just naturally gregarious."

Laurinaitis... spoke of his father, a professional wrestler known as Animal, and his mother, a fitness model. “I’ve been blessed with great genes,” Laurinaitis said. Regarding his position, he said: “I like being the leader. In the middle, you’re held more accountable. I love being that guy.”

When interviewing someone -- players and coaches included -- the key, say experts like Richard Fear and Robert Chiron, is to "get at the 'why' behind the 'what.'"

"It is critical to understand the motivations and reasons behind what a person does in order to evaluate that person. The 'why' allows you to measure motivation and maturity."

6 Minutes, 50 Years

Yesterday's All-Pro Dad had a great story about Bear Bryant's speech to his team before a game back in 1974:


6 Minutes, 50 Years

"Most of you will live another fifty years or more. I hope it's seventy, but if it's fifty that's still a good life, and what happens today you'll have to live with the rest of the way. You can't get it back if you don't win. It's sixty minutes and over. The losers are the ones who say, 'Oh I wish I could play it again.'

You can't play it again.

Well, you're not really going to have to play sixty minutes. None of you. The longest play in a game is six and a half seconds. The shortest play is less than two seconds. That's barely a wink of the eye. You'll average five seconds a play. Five seconds of total effort, going all out, giving a hundred percent. You oughta be able to hold your hand in a fire that long.

If you're lucky enough to play seventy plays, that amounts to about six minutes. Six minutes of your time. Out of fifty years, six minutes doesn't seem like much. But a loser will regret it the rest of his life.

You've worked a long time for this. You've been playing since you were in the seventh grade. You go out there in front of all those people and don't give a hundred percent every play then you're cheating yourself, and your recruiters, and your parents, and your high school coach, and everybody whoever helped you. This is what you have been working toward.

In any big game there are five or six or seven key plays that will decide the outcome. If you put out for five seconds on every play, you'll get your share of those key plays. You never know when they'll come, so you have to go all out every time.

If you're reckless, and give that extra effort, and every play try a little harder, you'll see in the films on Monday that it was you who made those five or six plays that win. Play 'em jaw to jaw, and you'll win in the fourth quarter."

Monday, February 23, 2009

An enthusiastic person tends to inspire enthusiasm in others

After writing this post this morning, I went looking for a book I'd read by John Adair, a former soldier in the British Army who had a long career as a management professor and leadership consultant.

In 2004, Adair published a book titled "The Inspirational Leader," in which he explains why enthusiasm is often necessary to lead.


An enthusiastic person tends to inspire enthusiasm in others. At times we all need encouragement.

"There is a point with me," wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins, "in matters of any size when I must absolutely have encouragement as much as crops need rain."

The effect of a change of leader -- an enthusiastic one in place of one lacking any powers of inspiring others -- can seem quite magical, even where the work in question is drudgery or toil.

Xenophon (pictured above), a Greek general, gives us two examples. His first comes from his observations of life aboard the Greek war galleys known as triremes, with three tiers of rowers drawn from the lowest class in Athens.

To get the best out of these oarsmen... called for the kind of uplifting yet demanding leadership that produces enthusiastic teamwork resulting in great performance. Xenophon writes of the rowing-masters who could do it as if they were conductors of a winning chorus:

On a warship, when the ship is on the high seas, and the rowers must toil all day to reach port, some rowing-masters can say and do the right thing to sharpen the men's spirits and make them work with a will. Other rowing-masters are so lacking in intelligence that it takes them more than twice the time to finish the same voyage. Here they land bathed in sweat, with mutual congratulations, rowing-master and oarsmen. There they arrive with dry skin; they hate their master and he hates them.

In the words of [conductor] Sir Georg Solti, "In my enthusiasm and intensity I will often push people to the limits of their capabilities -- and that must entail a certain degree of risk. The great thing is that the risk pays off when that person suddenly finds something in themselves they didn't know was there."

It comes back to players wanting to be great and then putting that into action

Ask Bears GM Jerry Angelo (at right with CHI coach Lovie Smith) about the key to winning and he'll tell you this:

"It comes back to players wanting to be great and then putting that into action in terms of their work ethic, in terms of doing all the things that they need to do and holding themselves personally accountable to be the best they can be," Angelo said. "That's all we ask of our players: Just be the best you can be, stay within the framework of the team and hang tough. If you get a locker room full of players with that mentality, you don't need great talent to win on Sunday. Coaching will take you so far. Our coaches will be driven to be a great team. That's what we're expected to do, and we're all paid to win, but we're all incumbent to do our jobs. We're all held accountable."

Angelo adds that a team's identity is re-made each season:

"Every year, a team takes on a whole new identity. You can't look at last year and say, 'Well, they're going to pick up off here' to the good or the bad. A team takes on that identity starting when they come back in the offseason program, and that's incumbent of the players."

Roger Mason: One of those inspiring stories

As Michael Wilbon writes in yesterday's Washington Post, 28-year-old Roger Mason is "one of those inspiring stories, in which a kid who is told he's not quite good enough perseveres and ultimately, through sheer work and intelligence, forces his way into the lineup, then more playing time, then his team's favor."

Wilbon tells of how Mason "once took a flight home at the conclusion of a season in Israel and the very next day was in multiple gyms from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., to remind himself that making the NBA was going to be difficult work."

His work has paid off this season. Besides signing a $7 million contract with the Spurs, Mason's competed in the NBA All-Star game 3-point competition and has hit four game-winning shots this season for San Antonio.

And yet, Mason, who in addition to playing overseas has spent time with CHI, TOR, and WAS, says he's not resting on his laurels.

"I've got a lot of room for improvement, I flew my trainer out to All-Star Weekend. And I told him: 'I'm really going to get to work this summer. I will be a better player next year.'"

Everything is not equal

Great quote from PHX coach Alvin Gentry on the importance of selfless play:

"In order to be successful, we have to be together as one, no fragments over here. Everything is not equal. Just because this guy shoots it five times doesn't mean it's your turn."

Things change when you become the focal point of the defense

After starting two games last year as a rookie, Pistons PG Rodney Stuckey has logged 38 starts this season for DET, his minutes steadily increasing.

But in nine games this month, Stuckey has failed to reach double-digits in scoring six times and he's had three one-assists games during that span.

According to DET coach Michael Curry, that's a reflection of the additional attention he's garnering from opposing teams.

"I've always said in this league there's a difference in getting 20 points when you're not the focal point of the defense and you're pretty much playing off everyone else. Now, his 20 points will always be a hard-earned 20 because he is going to be the focal point of the other teams' defense, at least one of the focal points. A lot of times they are putting their best perimeter defender on him. And so because of that he has to continue to improve and continue to fight through the different challenges he has every night."

The best coaches create the conditions for the team to motivate itself

Dean Smith, who coached UNC to two national titles in the '80s and '90s, once said that coaches are hired to teach execution, not effort. Effort, according to Coach Smith, is the responsibility of each player.

Of course, that doesn't stop coaches at every level from not only demanding excellent effort, but trying to motivate their players to produce a better effort.

Nets coach Lawrence Frank recently spoke of working to get his guys to "compete harder."

Effort is defined as "the use of physical or mental energy to do something." Things like playing with a sense of urgency, focus, intensity, energy, passion -- all of these go in the "effort bucket."

Often, when teams lose, you'll hear words like "lethargic," "uninspired," or "lackadaisical" used to describe the losing team's effort. Similarly, teams that manage to stage upsets are described as "scrappy," "overachieving," or "spirited."

Unfortunately, as coaches know, there's not a magic formula for inspiring every player on a team to put forth their best effort throughout a game.

According to the book "Coaching Matters," Tom Landry, like Paul Brown before him, believed that emotion had "a limited effect... on the outcome of a game."

"Thought passion could be beneficial, Brown knew that it was simply a state of mind. It was not going to make a dramatic difference during a game and certainly wouldn't sustain a club throughout the course of a season. To depend on players to consistently achieve a higher emotional level than that of their opponents would surely be foolhardy, and sometimes counterproductive, Brown concluded."

Coach Landry learned from Coach Brown that it's not about "the most spirited, toughest, or strongest players." To him, it was about "systems, technique, and teamwork."

Mike Pelino, an assistant for the NY Rangers and Canada's National Hockey Team, believes a coach's job is two fold:

First, he has a responsibility to help each player develop to their full potential. Second is to bring a team's players together to form "a cohesive, successful unit."

To achieve these goals, a coach must be able to motivate players and encourage them to strive for levels they may not believe they are capable of reaching. Every player is unique and may need to be motivated in a different way. A coach must find out what motivates a specific individual and assist that player in drawing out this energy. The more personal attention and individual time spent with each player, the greater the opportunity for the coach to recognize how to develop that person’s passion.

So how does a coach "draw out" that energy in his players?

In 2004, Dr. Josè Maria Buceta, a psychology professor and the former head coach of the Spanish Women's National Team, wrote a story for FIBA's Assist magazine titled "The Motivation of Elite Players."

According to Dr. Buceta, while goal-setting is critical to success, "motivation that comes from within really makes the difference. If your players are not motivated to achieve goals, they won’t get far."

Think about this analogy. You have a car with a full tank of gas, a well-tuned engine, a good set of tires, and a sleek, polished exterior. The car sits by the roadway, ready to be used. This car has incredible potential. However, until a driver puts the key in the ignition, and starts up the engine, the car doesn’t function or move forward.

He suggests balancing team goals with individual ones, writing that "players must perceive enough individual benefit related to ambitious team goals, and then be an integral part of the decision-making process involved in setting goals."

This helps to ensure ownership. If that's missing, "their motivation to achieve the goals will be very weak, and, at some point during the season, any motivation efforts will become insufficient."

The professor concludes with this statement:

A good coach can be a catalyst for motivation in the short term, but the best coaches create the conditions for the team to motivate itself.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thanks to my friends in Brazil

Returned to the States last Thursday after spending a week in Brazil. Many thanks to my hosts at ScoreBrasil who put on an incredible clinic in cooperation with the Sao Paulo Basketball Federation. I had a terrific time and really enjoyed Brazil, a truly beautiful country with wonderful people.

Other coaches who worked the clinic included Leonardo Lamas, an assistant coach with Adidas Nations Latin America team; Andre Germano, head coach of the U-18 Brazilian National Junior, and assistant coach of Circulo Militar; Joao Camargo, head coach of Limeira Clube and coach of the Sao Paulo State Select Team; and Rodrigo Guedes do Prado, head coach of St. Paul's Basketball.

The clinic took place in Sao Paulo at the Continental Parque Clube (Leandro Barbosa's former club team).

About 150 coaches from all over Brazil attended, including João Marcelo Leite, pro coach of Paulistano/Amil and Anderson Varejao's former coach; Fausto Giannechini, a former player for the Senior Brazilian National Team who is now a coach; Tácito Pinto Filho, president of the Association of Professionals of Basketball and coach of São Paulo FC; Thelma Tavernari (clube EC Pinheiros), coach for the Sao Paulo State Select team and one of the top development coaches in Brazil; and Nivaldo Menghelli (clube São Carlos).

Others in attendance included Loester Serigato, vice-president, Sao Paulo Federation of Basketball; Luis Carlos Pereira Mousinho, president of Continental Parque Clube; Felipe Jendiroba, owner of Intercultural; and Pablo Oliver from GVD International Trading S/A, which represents Spalding in Brazil.

Putting down expectations and theories on paper

When it comes to hitting, the SF Giants wrote the book. Literally.

During the offseason, hitting coach Carney Lansford (center with Bruce Bochy at left), working with the team's minor league hitting coaches, developed a 16-chapter "hitting manual" designed to "spell out their expectations for coaches, detail their core theories and make sure knowledge is spread consistently and evenly like black earth on a farm field."

The book, which is part of the franchise's overarching "Giants Way" program, is something many teams use, according to Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who says the book helps ensure consistency throughout the organization.

"It's not so much a specific way to hit as much as making sure we're all doing things the same way from top to bottom: that we're teaching the same things, using the same terminology and using the same drills on every level. It's OK for a coach to have different ideas. We just want to make sure we aren't confusing the player."

Adds Lansford, who played in more than 1,800 Major League games with some 7,100 at-bats in 15 seasons:

"Some of the biggest things we can do are the simplest. If you wait till they get to the big leagues, it's too late. We've got guys in the major leagues who don't know how to hit the ball to right field."

Is team chemistry a "figment of the result"?

Over the last year or so, I've posted about the issue of chemistry more than a few times. Now, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, whose team had what this story describes as a "meltdown" last season, has his say.

According to Jones, chemistry is a "figment of the result." In other words, winning takes care of chemistry. As the author of this article contends:

Jones is right; winning cures most of the ills. Problems get pushed to the side when you win. But what comes first? The chemistry or the winning?

Veteran Eagles safety Brian Dawkins says chemistry is "when you care more about the person next to you." According to Dawkins, you "don't want to let the guys down."

New Seahawks coach Jim Mora says chemistry develops over time.

"I think it's something that grows. It grows in the off-season work when you're together in the off-season program and through the mini-camps and training camp and then sweating together."

Ken Whisenhunt, who guided his Arizona team to the Super Bowl earlier this month, "had bowling days and movie nights for his players as a way to promote chemistry. Whisenhunt believed part of the reason his team rebounded from a bad end to the regular season was the players' belief in each other."

"We all as coaches work to try to create it," Whisenhunt said. "It's been a very important part of my belief that that's how you're successful in the league. I know I came from an organization [Pittsburgh] where chemistry was a big part of the reason why they were successful."

Rayfield Wright, a Hall of Fame offensive tackle who was a member of the Cowboys teams of the '70s, still remembers the chemistry those teams had.

"We all had a special feeling for one another. The sacrifice and the pain, the suffering – whether it was on the field or off the field – it touched the hearts of all of us. To understand that and be a part of that, it makes your heart pound."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Under pressure, the goal should be to disengage the conscious mind

If you've ever wondered why some players (and coaches) -- even the best ones -- sometimes seem to crack under pressure, you'll be interested in this article from today's Wall Street Journal.

The author contends that "gagging under pressure is painful to watch and miserable to experience," but notes that we can learn from it. In fact, "scientific research in the last few years has helped us get a better handle on what choking is, and suggests strategies for avoiding it."

Choking occurs when we pay too much conscious attention to a well-rehearsed routine that would play out better on autopilot. It is essentially the opposite of panic, which occurs when sudden, fearful circumstances shut down conscious thought and cause us to revert almost entirely to instinct.

Choking is only natural. At the big moment, with our anxieties high, our thinking mind, which we can control, usurps command of our swing from our nonthinking, instinctual side, which we cannot control. This is unfortunate because for skilled players the fine-tuned, rhythmic action of the swing is almost all instinct. The plodding conscious mind can't hope to keep up.

In one experiment, a researcher found that younger, less experienced players (in this case golfers) are better off taking their time when faced with important plays while more experienced ones are wise to simply get on with it instead of mulling it over for any extended period.

"Under pressure, the goal should be to disengage the conscious mind as much as possible."

Experts have other suggestions to avoid "choking," including distracting yourself (humming or talking with a teammate before the shot, kick, etc.) or simply going through a set routine like a robot.

But certainly the best way to fight choking is to put yourself frequently in choke-inducing situations, including artificially during practice, and monitor your reactions. That's why young Tour pros, in explaining their late-round collapses, are often not as heartbroken as we might expect. "If I keep putting myself in these situations, sooner or later I'll win one," they tell the media, and they are right.

Climbing the ladder to improve free-throw shooting

When it came to free throws, last season, the Washington Huskies were the worst-shooting team in the nation, making less than 59 percent from the line.

But look at UW's FT shooting this season. In a Valentine's Day win over Oregon, the Huskies connected on 36 of their 46 FTA. Two days earlier, Washington went 21-29 from the line in a win over Oregon State. And in a road win over Stanford on Feb. 8, UW hit 21-28 of their free throws.

For the season, Washington's FT percentage is up 10 points over last season, from 59% to 69% (503-725). That's a key reason for the team's 19-7 record heading into tonight's game at USC.

UW players credit a FT drill called "the ladder" for their improved shooting from the line.

As this article describes:

"At the end of every practice, all 13 players gather in a circle around the free-throw line, then take turns shooting free throws, each getting two at a time — either shooting a one-and-one, or a two-shot foul depending on the day (the team alternates by day.) The drill isn't complete until the players combine to make 19 of 26 on days when the situation is a one-and-one, or 20 out of 26 on days when it's a two-shot situation. The totals are kept on a scoreboard, and it's referred to as 'climbing the ladder' for the team to get to its requirement to pass the drill. Players who miss head to the sideline for extra conditioning."

The drill, which has taken as long as 45 minutes to complete, helped Oklahoma become one of the nation's top FT-shooting teams in the nation when UW assistant coach Jim Shaw was an assistant at OU on Kelvin Sampson's staff.

According to Coach Shaw, "the drill requires a seasonlong investment to really work," and the "requirements gradually increase as the season progresses and the team, in theory, gets better at free-throw shooting."

Everything rises and falls on leadership

An article in the Salt Lake paper from May 2007 about Jazz owner Larry Miller, who passed away earlier this week, illustrates the importance of strong team ownership.

The author asks, "How, over more than two decades, have the Jazz produced a consistent winner, albeit one that lacks a championship banner?"

Welcome to the Utah Jazz Construction Co. Bring your hard hat and tool belt. Check your ego at the job site. Do your job whether you're the general contractor or the guy mixing the mud. Punch the clock and collect your pay. And don't quit until the work is done. That's the Jazz way.

The answer, according to Thurl Bailey, who played for Utah for 10 seasons, lies in the people within the team.

"It has to start with where you want your organization to go, how you want to build your organization and what kind of people you want to build it with. We bring our lunch pail. We bring our hard hat and we go to work. Nothing special."

Ultimately, Mr. Miller, who's owned the team since 1986, was the person responsible for the Jazz organization's remarkable culture.

It comes down to leadership, says Pat Williams, a genuinely good man who, among other things, played in the Phillies' farm system and has served as SVP for the Orlando Magic for more than 20 years.

"At the end of the day, everything rises and falls on leadership. It always has and always will. Since arriving in Salt Lake, I give the Jazz an A in the leadership department. Give Larry Miller credit. He hires good people and appears to let them do their jobs."

DEN assistant GM David Fredman, who spent nearly three decades with the Jazz, describes Mr. Miller's management style:

"Larry Miller hasn't panicked. In other words, he's stuck with people and let the basketball people make the decisions. He was passionate from the start, but he hasn't let his emotions take over to the point where basketball decisions are made by nonbasketball people. He's let coach (Jerry) Sloan coach. He's let [GM] Kevin O'Connor do his job.... I think Larry's confidence in his people and his loyalty to his people has ended up paying dividends to him."

Says Jazz center Jarron Collins, now in his eighth season with the team:

"[Mr. Miller's] hands on, he demands the best effort every night you step on the court. He ran the team in a way that fans could truly appreciate, and that defines who he is."

Making investments in the lives of the players you coach

Nancy Gay has a good column in my local paper today about Mike Singletary who "insists he will not coach by intimidation. He will not lead his players with an iron hand. He is now their father figure. The players will be his flock."

As Gay writes, "Singletary and his coaching staff - who have a reputation as teaching, caring individuals - aim to turn the 2009 roster into a bonded family unit."

"We want to really get to the root of the matter, and that is to make sure we're making investments into the lives of those young men, so that when they leave that team, they can say, 'Wow - I didn't know I was just learning how to be a better football player; I was also learning how to be a better man.

I spend a lot of time with kids. I have seven kids myself. So, no, I don't think they have any clue," Singletary said. "I think they'll sit there and tell you, 'Yes, I know what I want to do and I know what I want to be.' But once you turn the fire on and it starts getting hot, it's 'Well, wait, I'm not sure I really want to do it that way or that much.'

I want my players to go away and be successful in business; they can be successful fathers.

I always say that when I study great coaches, whether it be Tom Landry or Vince Lombardi, George Halas, Bill Walsh - they are the coaches who looked at their players five or 10 years later and wondered: What are they doing now? If the bulk of those players are successful, then they are great coaches."