Three Important Lessons for a Young Coach

Wes Miller UNCG

We have another great coach’s story to read due to the NCAA Tournament. This time it’s a profile of UNCG coach Wes Miller at The News and Record. The article recounts his journey from the youngest NCAA Division I coach to an experienced veteran at 35.  Along the way he’s learned three important lessons for a young coach.

Lesson One

First lesson, he’s not Roy Gordon, his mentor, and he’s not coaching at UNC. It takes a young coach awhile to learn those lessons.

And he taught what he learned: North Carolina’s style of half-court man-to-man defense and pushing the tempo with the secondary break.

“That’s what I knew and what I believed when I got the job,” Miller says. “And I lost a ton of games.”

After absorbing some bruising seasons early in his career he changed course and built something successful at UNCG.

Lesson Two

He studied from other master coaches to adapt a new style that would work with his program. He happened to be on a plane with Oregon coach Dana Altman who took some time to speak with him.

“I was fortunate,” Miller says. “I’d studied his 1-2-2 zone press, but I didn’t know him at all. I think he was as ready to get off that plane as anyone I’ve ever seen because he was ready to get away from me. I wore him out for two hours on a flight from Dallas to New York during the recruiting period.

Lesson Three

He’s made it his own and found success.

“I was able to come away with some of his principles and teaching points. That gave me some confidence to put it in. That’s evolved. It’s become who we are.”

The article can be found here.

Here’s two other profiles of coaches– Tony Bennett and Steve Donahue

Tony Bennett, A Coaching Original

University of Virginia men's basketball coach

Tony Bennett, the University of Virginia Men’s Basketball coach is an original.

I had just finished reading Adam Grant’s book Originals when I came across a great profile of Bennett in the Washington Post.  Bennett pretty clearly exemplifies the qualities of an original.

He’s a hard working guy who has created a plan that goes against convention, stuck with it,  sold it to his team, and come out the other side a consistent winner.

Grant makes the point that originals are often pushed into the spotlight by others. He uses the example of Martin Luther King and Lincoln. This is certainly true of Bennett who reluctantly chose coaching as a professiona and eschews the spotlight.  He believes that most things are better without the glare.

The Washington Post profiles the media shy coach examining the keys to his success. The UVA team has been excellent for awhile winning the ACC three out of the past five years.

Much of his success can be attributed to the ways in which his success mirrors that of others. He works hard and is a fierce competitor. The article tells of his own work ethic as a player. While his friends went to parties he practiced extra in the gym or in a darkened racquetball court.

He delivers the same belief system to players believing they are made and not born.

There are no short cuts in his and the team’s approach. But look behind the curtain with most successful coaches and some version of this would be true.

Here is how he is different.

Comfortable with his choice

He really knows himself and sticks adamantly to his principles.

He eschews the spotlight for both himself and his program believing that work ethic and depth of character would be more significant than attention and celebrity.

“There’s a lot of things, just like in sports and our society today, that weren’t as interesting to me,” Bennett would say much later. “I felt comfortable, but I also knew who I was.”

He wants to be one of the greats and is a deep competitor, but not at the expense of his own belief system.

Bennett is ruthlessly competitive and driven to prove that his name belongs among the game’s great coaches (or at least that of his father, Dick, who in 2000 led Wisconsin to the Final Four), but he is almost defiantly unwilling to conform to the trends that seemingly would make that rise easier.

Invest in loss

There’s a phrase he used early on at Virginia which confused his staff. He said “we have to lose before we can win.”

He wanted to take a step back and return to the basics he thought would drive an ultimate success.

Cavaliers would run a most unglamorous version of the man-to-man defense called the “Pack Line.” They would minimize possessions, even as successful programs took more shots. They would be slow, not fast. They mostly would avoid blue-chip recruits and the entitlement he had witnessed in the NBA. “We have to lose before we can win,” Bennett told his confused staff in those early days.

The phrase reminds me of Josh Waitzkin’s term “invest in loss” in The Art of Learning. Waitzkin was willing to lose while he competed a particular way against stronger opponents in order to steadily surpass those same opponents

Not for the cameras

Last season after winning the ACC  his staff convinced him to allow the players to cut down the nets publicly. He relented. They lost their next game.

Lesson learned. When they won regular season the next year. They waited to return home to their own quiet gym.

Where they cut down the nets.

Tony Bennett, the University of Virginia Men’s Basketball coach is an original.

Tony Bennett, the University of Virginia Men's Basketball coach is an original.References:

Tony Bennett and UVA hoops aren’t for everyone

How Tony Bennett turned UVA into College Basketball’s Spurs

Meet Phony Bennett

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A Resilient Coach

University of Pennsylvania Coach Steve Donahue

Welcome to March Madness and the slew of awesome articles about coaches.  One excellent example of resilience is University of Pennsylvania Coach Steve Donahue, who has led Penn to an Ivy league championship after having been fired at Boston University.

University of Pennsylvania Coach Steve Donahue




Donahue, who took Cornell to the Sweet Sixteen in the past,  is the only coach to win the Ivy League with two different teams since 1979.

In between those two championships he was fired from Boston University.

Writing at the Philly Inquirer Mike Jensen unpacks the keys to Donahue’s return to the top.

“There’s a lot to do with my success here because I’m a failure at BC — there just is,” Donahue said. “That was very difficult, particularly on my family. There’s been the highest of highs and lowest of lows. I’m the national coach of the year [in 2010, at Cornell], and I’m told I’m not good enough to coach at this school. You can take it one of two ways: Man, they’re wrong and you’re bitter and you don’t learn anything from it. Or you move on.”

Donahue studied his errors in the year between Boston University and his return to coaching at Penn.

Some of what needed to change was tactical. He returned to the defensive roots that had been key at Cornell.  At Boston his team’s offense had been as good as any in the ACC, but not its defending. He changed that at Penn and returned to his defensive focus.

But, what he really focused on was values. He spoke about them and modeled them for his team.

“I probably assumed everybody was for team first,” Donahue said, noting that unity was at the center of those words for a reason. “I didn’t give examples. I didn’t live it. I didn’t try to get those guys to really understand it. I just assumed. Here, we’d talk about each of those things for an hour.”

The article is worth your time.

Cut the Cord and Still Watch Sports

cut the cord watching sportsThis is the persistent question among my friends.  How do you cut the cord and still watch sports?

Especially, if you want to be able to watch a wide variety of sports?


Cable keeps charging for channels that I will never watch. I kept paying so that I could watch soccer whenever and on whatever channel it may be on.

Younger people would say to me ‘just cut it and stream it.”

I was very happy to do so, but that took me through a mine field of different technologies and devices.

There is apple tv and roku and fire tv and google something or other and by the time you have bought one or two and set them up your TV tells you –You need a cable provider.


Now, I’m sure there are people who know how to bypass that, but I’m pretty much a rule follower.

I still buy music.

And movies.

OK, so what’s the solution?

Well there are a couple of decent solutions none of which are perfect. Here are my two best options to cut the cord and still watch cable

Sling TV

I understand why people like Sling TV.  It is relatively affordable  with its Orange and Blue TV options and $5 or $10 add-ons at the bottom.

You can take it on the road with you.

But, I have two complaints.

First, my stream goes out at least twice a game and I need to go back to home and then back to sling and find it.  Is this a Sling problem or an internet problem?

I don’t know the answer to it, but as an end user it feels like a Sling problem.

I do buy a high speed internet because I’m on it a lot.

Second, why do they split the soccer options up between the two Orange and Blue?

I mean I know why–they want me to buy both–but it defeats the low cost purpose and makes me feel a bit cheated.

You can try it for 7 days free and try for yourself.

You may be very happy with the two options. Each on their own is a fair price. And, you may not have any issues with your internet.

Cable streaming

My provider just began their own streaming service where I can choose any 10 channels I want. For the first thirty days you can change those selections as you figure out what you really watch.

You can also buy add ons for $5 at a time.

This combined with my digital antenna is pretty much all I need… or so I thought.

The other day I wanted to watch something on ESPNews.  We are still within our 30 days so I called on over to switch to it.  Alas, they don’t allow that channel as a streaming option.

All in all I spent quite a bit of time and a little bit of money to solve my problem. I was highly motivated to see this particular game.

Usually I would just move on, but that’s probably not true of all sports viewers so ask the right questions at the front end.

My third option, and one I consider when I think to myself “time equals money”, just return to cable.

If you know simpler and cheaper ways to cut the cord and watch March Madness (men’s and women’s), the Olympic sports and soccer let me know.

I’m aware that what I don’t know I don’t know is pretty darn expansive.


Weekend Links



To Outlast Duke’s Youthful Exuberance, UNC Needed Senior Moments


“I made a big time turnover that I needed to make up for, and I’m going to be honest, I was like, you’re making these two free throws,” Pinson said. “Like, you just almost blew the game for your team, so you have to make them.”

Spoken like a senior.

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DePaul’s Doug Bruno


Homegrown Players


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Be Like Ronaldinho

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The Courage to be Yourself

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Start Lifting Weights and Don’t Stop

f you can do just one thing, assuming you’re already eating reasonably well and sleeping okay, it’s lift weights. “Start lifting weights and don’t stop.” This is a habit that can set you up for a lifetime of avoiding the sort of injuries that lead to permanent decline (broken hip, back problems). There’s no need to spend 20 hours a week competing in grueling endurance competitions, just lift weights and do strength training a few days a week, consistently, no matter where you are – hotels, at home, etc.

The Future

Your Next Car Might Be A Subscription

Luke Romano’s Journey to the All Blacks

A Late Bloomer

I love it when we come across an example of a successful late bloomer in sports.

Few stories are as inspiring.

Along the way are different coaches and influences who play a significant role. Some who turn him away, some who inspire and some who push him. All matter.

Luke Romano of the All Blacks exemplifies the athlete who struggled early, but did not give up on his dream. It was not an easy journey.

He was a little guy and as a result was never selected for a contract to an academy as a youth. He got his first real shot at 23 and was woefully unprepared when it came.

But, now he is a ‘lock’ with the All Blacks and just played his 100th game for his professional team.

free play versus coach led training



How to be a successful late bloomer in sports

How did he do it?

What led him to succeed well past the point many would have quit or shifted their goals?

What can we learn to be late bloomers ourselves?

Believe in Yourself

When nobody else will believe in you you have to manage to keep that faith.

Even when the doubt creeps in –and it will– you have to keep moving yourself forward toward the dream.

“I just had that belief that I could get there. It didn’t matter, my age. I kept banging on the door, so to speak. The door got opened a little bit, I stuck my foot in, held it open. And with hard work and determination I managed to kick the thing down.”


Enjoy the Game

Loving the game and the people you play with can go a long way to staying the course.

At the time he was just enjoying playing some code with his mates. “That sort of attitude allows you to play your best footy; when you are having fun, it’s a pleasure to do,” Romano says.

A Coach who believes in you

Someone who believes you can get to the highest level can make a big difference. In sports it is often your coach.

For Romano specifically he impressed an opposing coach who gave him his shot.

His own coach kept encouraging him to battle for it.

Encouraged by HSOB coach Duncan Doig, Romano kept battling, and when Penney contacted him he was unaware he was about to take the first tentative steps to eventually earn a big wage as an All Black.

Each coach has a strong opinion of the way the game should be played. You might not fit that coach’s plan.

You just have to still be playing when the opportunity does present itself.


Late Bloomer Scott Romano

Luke Romano Hits 100 for Crusaders

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