It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye…

Recently several college football coaches have made decisions to leave their current programs to move on to better opportunities for their professional careers.

Notable coaches on the move include former Wisconsin Head Coach, Bret Bielema, who left his Badgers for the University of Arkansas. As a football decision I can understand why Bielema made this choice. Arkansas is in the nation’s premier football conference (SEC), has more resources than its Big 10 counterpart and more importantly, even if you lose one game, you can still play for the BCS National Championship. In most other conferences a one loss season means that a National Title is out of the question, but not in the SEC. Alabama’s current scenario is just this when they face undefeated Notre Dame in the coming weeks.

Arkansas Athletic director, Jeff Long, had Bielema on the radar even before this season ended though because Bielema sent Long a letter last year to congratulate him on his handling of the Bobby Petrino scandal.

Some might say that Bielema was recruiting Arkansas’ brass last April and that may be fair.

However, I always think, “what about Bielema’s current players?” Did he tell them the right way? This of course is a question that should be asked of any coaching departing for another program.

We all have heard the story of Todd Graham, current Arizona State Head Coach, who left the University of Pittsburgh after less than a year. It wasn’t that he left which necessarily bothered people. How can any of us say we wouldn’t take our “dream job” which also happens to be closer to family? I don’t think we could.

However, for Graham to contact his players via text message is simply unprofessional. How can a coach (a.k.a. teacher) conduct himself like this? Quite frankly it is irresponsible and pitiful. He is supposed to be responsible for teaching the college students on his team how to act as men. Not how to take the easy road out of town.

“Ironic”

I recall when I had to tell my team at Penn State Beaver when I decided to make the move to Clarion University in October of 2011. I interviewed in late September and revisited with my wife the following day to see what she thought of the school and people there. After accepting the position, I told my Athletic Director and Director of Student Affairs at Penn State that same day. I had a resignation letter ready for them, which I handed in person to them later that day. Then I called a meeting in our locker room which I told all of the players at Penn State that I was taking this position to better myself and my family. Although it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, it was the right way to tell them. The student-athletes deserved to be told the right way.

There is never a good time to leave a program, which I understand. In my case it was at the end of September, just a few weeks before the season began. However, I had two trusted assistants and a manager in place and felt comfortable in leaving the program I had built in their hands.

“Man-Up”

Even more recently, I had to tell my team at Clarion in November of 2012 that I was relocating with my wife to New Haven, Connecticut where she pursued her career in higher education at Yale University. In addition, we were expecting our first newborn and also sold our house. These factors were a blessing, but also complicated matters.

Although I was only afforded to notify my team two days before my last day of work by my administration and head coach, I was at least able to bring the team together after practice and tell them face-to-face. I saw many tears shed that day, but again it was the right thing to do.

Courage”

Which brings me to Head Coach Gary Andersen. He recently took the Head Coaching job which was vacant at Wisconsin once Bielema left for Arkansas, despite reiterating to his administration and players that he was going to stay at Utah State. Since Utah State had already played its bowl game the players were already home for their holiday break when Andersen accepted at Wisconsin. Nevertheless, Andersen valued the student-athletes he recruited at Utah State enough as players and people to personally make a phone call to each of them to tell them of his decision to leave. His reported 106 phone calls that took him until 2:30 a.m. to complete should be praised.

Although it was not face-to-face, it was the best Andersen could do given his circumstances and for that I applaud him. Having spent some time in Logan, I have a feel for their basketball program a little bit. I know the level of dedication that the Aggie faithful feel for Coach Stew Morrill due to all of the success that Utah State Men’s Basketball program has had during his tenure. Likewise, I am sure it was difficult for the Aggies fans to see Andersen leave after such a successful season on the gridiron.

It is easy to run and hide under the cover of a new job, new responsibilites and a busy schedule. Moving your family, finding a new home, and jumping into your new program are all musts when taking over a new coaching job. Still, Andersen obviously learned from the previous mishandlings of his colleagues’ departures.

Or maybe he didn’t learn anything. Maybe he just did what was right because that is who he is and that is what he stands for.

Kudos, Coach Andersen! I will be cheering for you and your Wisconsin Badgers and I hope when the coaching carousel begins for college basketball coaches this spring they can learn from you.

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Follow @CoachDeSalvo on Twitter

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#WhatWinnersDo

On my twitter (@CoachDeSalvo) account I started a hashtag, #WhatWinnersDo, a few days ago.

These “isms” are things that I have either heard, witnessed, read, or implemented in my basketball program. I have found that sometimes learning what NOT TO DO as a player or coach is just as important as learning what TO DO.

Here is my complied list of the 100What Winners Do“.

As always your comments are welcome and appreciated!

1. Your way is outdated; mine is not #WhatWinnersDo

2. You complain; I find solutions #WhatWinnersDo

3. You lose interest; I keep them hungry #WhatWinnersDo

4. They fall asleep in your film session; they ask questions in mine #WhatWinnersDo

5. Your team has no identity; Mine knows who they are #WhatWinnersDo

6. Your team practices to get done; my team practices to get better #WhatWinnersDo #GetBetterDaily

7. Your team prepares during warmups; my team prepares in practice days before #WhatWinnersDo

8. Your team is weak minded; my team is galvanized #WhatWinnersDo

9. Your team shies away; mine is aggressive and takes control #WhatWinnersDo

10. Your team has one captain; my team is full of leaders #WhatWinnersDo

11. You can’t make adjustments; I thrive on them #WhatWinnersDo

12. You do the same thing everyday and expect different results; I keep it exciting and interesting #WhatWinnersDo

13. You are plain; I am ultra creative #WhatWinnersDo

14. You work just enough (or too little); I work my hardest #WhatWinnersDo

15. You are afraid to work hard; I am afraid to fail #WhatWinnersDo

16. You think you love it; I live it #WhatWinnersDo

17. You define complacency; I strive for perfection #WhatWinnersDo

18. You are negative; I am captivating #WhatWinnersDo

19. Your team avoids communication; my team appreciates my charisma #WhatWinnersDo

20. They have no faith in you; They go to battle for me #WhatWinnersDo

21. They see your true colors; They see my passion #WhatWinnersDo

22. You blame them; I take responsibility #WhatWinnersDo

23. You focus on weaknesses; I focus on strengths #WhatWinnersDo

24. You are not concerned with self improvement; I crave it #WhatWinnersDo

25. You see things in absolutes; I see a variety of possibilities #WhatWinnersDo

26. You are narrow-minded; I see all perspectives #WhatWinnersDo

27. You ALWAYS need others opinions; I know I am the leader #WhatWinnersDo

28. You wonder why; I solve why and how #WhatWinnersDo

29. You teach how; I teach the how and the why #WhatWinnersDo

30. You teach basketball; I teach LIFE #WhatWinnersDo

31. You never change; I never want to stay the same #WhatWinnersDo

32. You want wins; I want development #WhatWinnersDo

33. You see limitations; I see endless opportunity #WhatWinnersDo

34. You get comfortable; I stay engrossed #WhatWinnersDo

35. You are lazy; I will never be out worked #WhatWinnersDo

36. You say you work hard; I always think I can work harder #WhatWinnersDo

37. You want great players; I want great players with work ethic #WhatWinnersDo

38. You want players that fit your system; I want players who fit my system…or I will adjust to use their talents #WhatWinnersDo

39. You bring down; I motivate #WhatWinnersDo

40. Your players play in spite of you; my players are inspired by me #WhatWinnersDo

41. Your players play in spite of you; My players play for me #WhatWinnersDo

42. You watch sitcoms; I read and write #WhatWinnersDo

43. You are an introvert; I make personal connections #WhatWinnersDo

44. You create stress; I relieve it #WhatWinnersDo

45. You get through; I get better #WhatWinnersDo #GetBetterDaily

46. You run drills in practice: I execute a system in practice #WhatWinnersDo

47. You run drills to get through practice; I run practice to develop players and to prepare for competition #WhatWinnersDo

48. You are surprised at halftime; We are satisfied #WhatWinnersDo

49. You run as punishment; I run to out score the opponent #WhatWinnersDo

50. Experience is your ally; Ambition is mine #WhatWinnersDo

51. You sleep in; I am productive #WhatWinnersDo

52. You rest on your laurels; I want to accomplish more #WhatWinnersDo

53. You get your fill; I can’t get enough #WhatWinnersDo

54. You feel sorry for yourself; I find ways around obstacles #WhatWinnersDo

55. You say “it’s hard”; I say “it’s possible” #WhatWinnersDo

56. You plateau; I climb higher #WhatWinnersDo

57. You settle; I want more #WhatWinnersDo

58. Your goal is .500; my goal is championships #WhatWinnersDo

59. You stay home: I’m in the gym #WhatWinnersDo

60. You stay home; I hit the recruiting trail #WhatWinnersDo

61. Your players are lazy; my players are hungry #WhatWinnersDo

62. Your players complain; my players encourage #WhatWinnersDo

63. Your players take the short cut; my players understand that hard work pays off #WhatWinnersDo

64. You hate change; I embrace it #WhatWinnersDo

65. You make suggestions; I make decisions #WhatWinnersDo

66. You have a team; I run a program #WhatWinnersDo

67. You think winning just happens; I ensure that it does #WhatWinnersDo

68. You isolate players; I unite players #WhatWinnersDo

69. You create questions; I provide answers #WhatWinnersDo

70. You are insecure because of your weaknesses; I use weaknesses as a way to growth #WhatWinnersDo

71. You have stopped learning; I always ask questions #WhatWinnersDo

72. You see hurdles; I jump over them #WhatWinnersDo

73. You break bonds; I build them #WhatWinnersDo

74. You won’t; I will #WhatWinnersDo

75. You can’t; I can #WhatWinnersDo

76. You try; I do #WhatWinnersDo

77. You are short-term; I am long-term #WhatWinnersDo

78. You think small; I dream big #WhatWinnersDo

79. You want to be great in October; I want to be great in March #WhatWinnersDo

80. You see players; I see people #WhatWinnersDo

81. You think players shape the coaches’ season; I know coaches shape the players’ lives #WhatWinnersDo

82. You can’t say “yes”; I can’t say “no” #WhatWinnersDo

83. You don’t allow swearing on your team; I don’t allow “can’t” in my program #WhatWinnersDo

84. You inhibit your coaching staff’s growth; I allow my coaching staff to develop #WhatWinnersDo

85. You tell your players how hard you work; I want my players to decide how hard I work for them #WhatWinnersDo

86. You plead with you players to play hard; I never have to #WhatWinnersDo

87. You think games are tough; we think practices are tougher #WhatWinnersDo

88. You are worried about the post game meal; we are hungry for our opponent #WhatWinnersDo

89. You have no control in your huddle; All eyes are on me in my huddle #WhatWinnersDo

90. You save timeouts; I use timeouts to make adjustments and give players appropriate rest #WhatWinnersDo

91. You use your clipboard for show; I use my clipboard to show #WhatWinnersDo #GetOrganized

92. You leave the gym early; I never want to leave #WhatWinnersDo

93. You think people should; I think I should #WhatWinnersDo

94. You know only one way; I want to learn many ways and decide which one is best #WhatWinnersDo

95. You think your way is the best; I am continually changing my perspective #WhatWinnersDo

96. You make players have questions; I communicate to eliminate anxiety #WhatWinnersDo

97. You have fifteen individuals on roster; I coach one team #WhatWinnersDo

98. You think it should be easy; I know winning the right way is a challenge #WhatWinnersDo

99. You leave it up to luck; I prepare so nothing is left to chance #WhatWinnersDo

100. Your priorites are skewed; My dream is always on my mind #WhatWinnersDo

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I hope you enjoyed my #WhatWinnersDo series.

Have a Happy New Year!

Follow @CoachDeSalvo on twitter

The Promise (and Majerus’ Curse)

In an era when events like “The Decision” are sensationalized and covered by every major news source around, I wanted to discuss something that was very important to me. “The Promise.”

The reason I created this blog was to give myself a creative outlet to express thoughts and insights during this waiting period in my basketball coaching career. With only three stories on my site, I think you have a general idea that I want to be creative, humorous and witty as I address topics that arise in the wide world of sports.

However, this entry will be a bit more personal.

Recently, Rick Majerus, a true basketball mastermind, tactician and historian, passed away. With his passing, many sports columnists and basketball coaches that were associated with him expressed their views on Rick Majerus. Doug Gottlieb’s article in particular did a great job capturing Majerus’ dichotomy as a person and coach.

This got me thinking of my brief experience with Coach Majerus.

I was at a Nike Coaching Clinic in Uncasville, CT at the Mohegan Sun Resort Casino. I believe it was in 2004. I am not exactly sure the year because my clinic notes, along with almost my entire life, sits in a 10’ x 11’ storage facility on the East side of New Haven right now (but I will get back to that later).

As an aspiring basketball coach, I was eager to move up in the coaching ranks and Majerus’ was presenting on a great topic that any coach should be familiar with. He was discussing the “9 Ways to Defend the Pick and Roll.” I think I could only name seven ways at the time, so I was very excited!

However, as Majerus began to talk, it was clear that he was never going to address all the ways to defend the pick and roll. He was so knowledgeable that the hour and fifteen minute allotment that he was given by Ed Janka, Nike Clinician, was not going to be able to touch on even half. He discussed trapping out of the ball screen, which led to a story. Then switching out of the ball screen, which led to a story. And so on, and so on. His stories were so vivid and detailed, all of us who were lucky enough to hear him speak that day felt like we were in the moments he was describing.

As the Head Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Utah, he had the opportunity to see John Stockton and Karl Malone in their glory years with the NBA’s Utah Jazz. Majerus was a former assistant with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and his connections to Frank Layen and Jerry Sloan (former Jazz Head Coaches) gave him access to Jazz games and practices. This allowed him to be quite the connoisseur on the pick and roll, a staple of the Jazz’ offense during Stockton and Malone’s careers.

However, it is not the pick an roll that really caught my attention. As I was fiercely taking notes, Majerus went off on a tangent. He began to talk about the 1998 NCAA Championship game which his Utah Utes lost to the Kentucky Wildcats, 78-69. It was here that he said, “Have you ever been so close to your dream that you could see it? I have watched that game countless times and know every possession in that game. I replay those mistakes in my head time and time again and realize that I was so close to my dream.” It haunted him.

Majerus continued that basically he loved watching game tape so much that he would routinely eat four to six pizzas in his hotel room, which is where he lived, while breaking down game tape. Needless to say, Majerus did not live in a traditional home. Also, it was because of his compulsive personality that he “was divorced and had no children.” He had basketball and basketball had him. That was his intimate realationship.

Majerus said this so matter-of-factly and then continued on his topic.

I thought, “Wow! This is a coach that is at the top of his game, has coached at the highest level and he is haunted by the thought of that one loss.”

It makes you wonder if it would have been better if Majerus had never reached the 1998 title game.
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Let’s fast forward to February 23, 2011…

My Penn State Beaver team was going for its fourth consecutive conference tournament championship. We were up 10 points at the half although we were not playing our best brand of basketball. As the second half wore on, I could see the game slipping away. This is an awful feeling for a coach, especially when you feel there is nothing you can do to gain the momentum back. I called timeouts, ran quality offense, used the bench, got to the foul line, but to no avail. Penn State Brandywine, with the game tied, knocked down a 3pt field goal on the left wing with just seconds remaining to give them a lead.

I drew up a press breaker and 3pt shot for my best 3pt shooter, who grazed the right side of the rim as time expired. We had lost, 57-54.

My team was devastated. I have only watched the end of that game once. It was at the start of the next practice as we received an automatic bid to the national tournament. We watched it in pain together to put it behind us and prepare for the national championship tournament. I haven’t watched it since.

I think about that game from time to time. It was one we should have had and my seniors would have won four conference championships to cap their storied careers. However, I will not memorize that game because I do not want those memories to haunt me each an every day. Coach Majerus taught me that. I felt his pain in our loss. Both, Majerus’ and mine, are still very, very real.

Our team rebounded, won three games in a row and made it to the national finals. Again we lost, 80-55. The seniors walked off of that floor together at the final buzzer, as they should have. Despite the score, they were champions in my eyes.

That game, I have NEVER watched.

And I never will.

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Let’s fast forward again…

It’s now the beginning of October 2012. My wife and I are expecting in December (we just had a beautiful baby girl on December 2nd, ironically the day after Coach Majerus passed) and we are excited about the huge change in our lives that is about to occur. Although we own a great home near Clarion, Pennsylvania, we both have applied for positions to better our family and our career and financial situations.

I have made it no secret to my administration and head coach that I wish to continue the climb up the coaching ladder and run my own Division II basketball program or get back into division I basketball once again.

Amazingly, my wife, who works in higher education, was offered a job at Yale University during our search. This is truly a great opportunity for both of us. She can pursue her career ambitions and we will be closer to our family in Rhode Island when the baby arrives.

In the short term, we decide that I will take a week or so to see the birth of our child and then I will return to Clarion to finish the season and take care of our home during the selling process. However, our home sold in four days and after seeing how my wife was living in our new apartment, by herself with limited (basically no) furnishings, I decided that I could not live with myself seeing her like that or focus on anything. Plans had to change. I was afraid to be a 50/50 husband and father and a 50/50 coach. My family and my players deserved better than that. I had to make a tough decision.

An emotional three weeks ensued, where I had to say goodbye to my players rather hastily. It was one of the most difficult things I had to do.

I coached my last game on Saturday. Finished packing up the house on Sunday and moved to New Haven, Connecticut the next day, Monday, November 19, 2012, so I could be reunited with my wife and soon-to-be newborn. We now live in a good sized apartment, with most of our belongings in that 10′ x 11′ storage facility I so fondly referred to earlier (I hope you can sense my sarcasm).

Not having a basketball season these past few weeks has been difficult for me. My whole existence up to this point has evolved around “my promise.” My promise is what motivates me, although it has evolved through time just as I have.

My first “Promise” was to be a college head coach and earn my master’s degree before I was 30. I accomplished that.

Then I redefined my “Promise” to support a family once again though coaching. I accomplished that.

Then my “Promise” was to get my dogs, Murphy and Benny, a yard. Again supporting a family but having a home to call our own. I accomplished that.

Then my “Promise” was to become be a NCAA Division II Head Coach or NCAA Division I Assistant Coach. I was so close to realizing my dreams with all of my interviews in the summer of 2011 that I could taste it. Just like Majerus.

However, that “Promise” has not come true yet.

My recent resignation from basketball, has led me to have this empty feeling where I have relived the sacrifices I have made to pursue my basketball journey and coaching career. I have questioned my very existence from a professional standpoint. I find myself wondering where I will end up once job openings begin come available in March and April.

Then I think of my wife and my newborn.

Then, I recall that Coach Majerus lost his family because of his obsession. No wife. No children. I remember the emptiness in his voice that day. I remember the suffering. The loss haunted him, but I believe that he was expressing that day was that he had lost much more than a the 1998 Men’s Basketball National Championship game. I have never forgotten that.

And I never will.

“Don’t Press Send!”

Like it or not, social media has woven itself into the very fabric of our lives. No matter what your age may be, it seems like everyone has a twitter account and Facebook page.

From an athletic standpoint, university/college athletic departments now must take appropriate measures on how to educate their student-athletes. All student-athletes must be aware of how to conduct themselves in these public realms. It is part of a learning process, just like their classroom or athletic experience.

How do universities/colleges educate their student-athletes? Some do not allow twitter or facebook accounts, which although may be effective from a public relations perception, does not address the real issue of having a filter/boundaries. Other departments and even professional organizations have hired ex-players/ex-coaches to remind players of the dangers of social media. Who could forget Herm Edwards classic “Don’t press send” speech at the June 29, 2011 rookie symposium?

Needless to say, coaches also have to have a filter. Just like players they not only represent themselves but their families and institution too.

Therefore, I wanted to put together a “Don’t Press Send” list of things that head coaches should try to avoid. Having been a head coach and assistant coach at a variety of levels, I felt my perspective was unique so I decided to offer my Top 10.

“Don’t Press Send” Top 10:

1. Don’t get on officials before the first media timeout – Yelling at the refs too early gives off a negative vibe. You need to build a rapport with and then pick and choose your battles as the game develops. In addition, your overall body language will go a long way in how this rapport is built throughout the contest.

2. Don’t pit players against each other – If playing time is the issue do not get players in the same room and have them defend themselves against one another. This will deteriorate team chemistry and relationships.

3. Don’t not worry about your next job – Each player and institution deserves your undivided attention while you are with them. Make each head coaching job your masterpiece, no matter what. Plus if you aren’t focused now, what makes you think there will be a next job for you in the future?

4. Don’t not “big time” your assistant coaches – As a head coach, be a shining example of teamwork for your coaching staff and players. Be a leader, not a dictator. As a head coach, I used to drive vans, carry equipment, do laundry, etc. No task is too big and no task is to small. Also be sure to say “thank you,” “please,” and “I appreciate you.” It goes a long way.

5. Don’t treat your managers as merely managers – Your managers are working for free and volunteering tons of time. I was fortunate to have been associated with two GREAT managers, Amy Green and Jocelyn Wensel, as a Head Coach at Penn State Beaver. They were both instrumental to our success and I always reminded them of that, I always said my managers were just as, if not, more important than my players. Therefore, making sure they are geared up, traveling them on all road trips and setting expectations for them are musts.

6. Don’t treat players differently – No matter if it’s your #1 or #15 player on the roster, take your time to get to know ALL of your players. No matter where they are on the depth chart, if you make it a point to spend time with your players and communicate with them, they will have a bond with you. It is on the head coach to build trust and communication. “Invest the time, or suffer your own crime.”

7. Don’t bury their legs – At the college or professional level, it’s all about having legs for the playoff run. As head coaches, it is your responsibility to give your team some “light” days to recover for competitions. I try to treat my players like professionals, so it’s a give and take relationship. It’s a healthy relationship built on trust, in that the head coach gives the players a medium to light practice before game day and the players give the head coach maximum effort on gameday. As I always say, “if I am still having 2-3 hour practices in February, then I’m either a bad coach or the players just don’t get it.” Either way long practices at the end of the season will catch up with you.

8. Don’t discuss budgets or budget constraints around your student-athletes – Players to do not need to know certain things. Some things are better left unknown. I had a very embarrassing budget as a head coach. However, if I bought something for my program (which I did a TON!) with my own money or we went without, I never let my players know or gave them a guilt trip. You have to make sure all of your players believe they are at Kansas or Kentucky and they will “buy-in,” no matter where you are coaching.

9. Don’t want players wanting more – This is not the final episode of Seinfeld or when Jay-Z “retired” after The Black Album prematurely. Make sure your players are getting enough. Players need enough reps, shots, in-depth scouting reports, community service opportunities, etc. If they don’t get want they need/want in your program, they will get it somewhere else.

10. Don’t forget Herm – as Herm Edwards once said “Don’t press send.” Use social media as a promotional, informative, thoughtful tool. Avoid using social media to promote unnecessary controversy or to make a fool out of yourself or your program. Eventually, someone will tweet or Facebook a nasty message which will cost them their job. It’s only a matter of time.

Hopefully, this friendly public service reminder was thought provoking for coaches at all levels.

I have had the opportunity to coach many talented players and coach with many dedicated coaches.

However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the best things you learn is what NOT to do.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on twitter @CoachDeSalvo