Coach’s Advise to Younger Self

Nicole Auerbach, USA Today (

No two coaches experience the profession the same way — in large part because no two coaches get into coaching and advance along the same exact path. USA TODAY Sports spoke with some of college basketball’s premier coaches, asking them one fairly simple question and letting them answer however they wanted: 

Knowing what you know now, what is advice you would give your younger self about coaching and your career if you could?

Here are their answers, edited for space:

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

“Get to Duke earlier. (Laughs.) That would be the very first thing. No, I’d say be who you are. I think I was really lucky at 28 to take over a 7-44 program at Army, my alma mater, and to have to do everything — and my wife had to do everything, and our whole family got involved. We ended up 73-59, and we learned how to win by looking at everything, counting pennies. Then we needed to do that to build Duke.

So I wouldn’t change it. I think we’ve maintained that family and looking for pennies. I think we’ve maintained the hunger because it was ingrained for eight years in our life.”

Jay Wright, Villanova

“I don’t think anything has changed in that you’ve got to coach because you love the relationships with the players and your coaches. That’s what’s got to drive you. If that’s not what you really enjoy, the day-in day-out relationships with your players and your assistant coaches … because they’re kind of like players, your assistants. They’re going to move on, and you’re going to feel good about their success. You’re going to feel good about your players’ success.

I just got a great call from Randy Foye before I came in here. It just made my day. I was coming in here in a great mood, and that’s what you’ve got to be in it for in college. If you’re just in the Xs and Os and the basketball part of it, you’re probably better in the NBA. The longer I’m in this, I still believe that’s true. I think the most successful coaches, that’s really what they’re in for.”

Tom Izzo, Michigan State

“I wish I would have had a little more balance. As hard as I think I’ve worked, as hard as I looked at all the people I idolized back then — Vince Lombardi, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes — I didn’t idolize about as many basketball guys, which probably tells you how much I like the other sport. But you just didn’t hear as much about the grinders in that sport. I think it hurts you because it doesn’t give you the perspective that you need to have.

“I wish I had done a little better job of working more efficiently — not getting less done, but doing it more efficiently … Balance, whether it be with my family or with myself. I think coaches burn out, too. It’s about finding a way to enjoy other things. Early on, the pressure was to keep my job. But the university has been good to me, and I’ve never felt threatened in the last 15 years about my job. It’s self-imposed pressure, but I’m sure that’s the same for 90% of people who are successful (in anything).

Also, I would say: Enjoy some of the accomplishments. I listen to (Nick) Saban, and he’s watching film on the way home from the championship game they won. He’s watching recruiting tape. All that is good, it’s driven — but how do you not (burn out)? He’s done better; I know he has a place in Georgia. He does go there. When he was here, he had a summer home up in Northern Michigan. He’d take a little time.”

Roy Williams, North Carolina

“How demanding the season is in terms of your stamina. You can’t try to win your February games your first week of practice. I’d do a little bit of a better job trying to plan for the whole year instead of trying to beat them to death every single day and push them as hard as I could. Trying to emphasize the long-term goals much more, and keep that in mind for the kids. But I had such a great teacher (Dean Smith), so I wouldn’t change too many things that I did because I just followed what Coach Smith taught me.

I’m not going to say I was too demanding, but I put too much emphasis on that early season stuff. It’s a long season, and they get tired of listening to you. You get tired of yelling the same things.” (Laughs)

Sean Miller, Arizona

“When you’re emotional, you’re irrational. At the beginning, whether it’s during a practice, during a game, right after a game, at halftime at a game, if you just take your time and let some time pass, it’s amazing how you see it completely differently eight hours later, or the next day. I’m still probably the emotional, passionate coach. Even now, that’s something I try to guard against.

And it’s important that the staff that you’re on is the same way, but also that they kind of help. Because the head coach has a lot going on, and I think when they can recognize, ‘Hey, not now. Let’s wait. Let’s take a look at the film. Let’s deal with it tomorrow.’ Or, ‘I’ll deal with that, you don’t have to.’

No. 2 is: You are so much at the mercy of your coaching staff, and the athletic director that you work with. You have to have a great staff, and you have to have an incredible athletic director who’s supportive and good at what he does to make it.”

Chris Holtmann, Butler

“Have your career goals — and for me, I wrote those down and had some specific goals — but don’t obsess about your goals. The guys I’ve seen do this really, really well obsess over helping whatever program they’re with at the time be as successful as possible.

“When I first got into coaching, I certainly had goals and aspirations. I wanted to coach the highest-level player I could coach. But if it got to the point in the offseason where I was obsessing over it, it really did take away from what was important, and that was being as effective as possible in my current situation. I’ve learned even more being a head coach now for a few years and also it goes for starting out in coaching is this: Don’t compare yourself to other people. Don’t compare yourself to other coaches and other paths that guys go on. It’s hard to do when you’re young, and it’s hard to do in general.

“I think the challenge is to try to stay away from the comparison track. There are some guys who have built-in advantage, whether it’s playing or a network of people they know. If you’re constantly comparing yourself to other people, you can go down a road that’s not healthy. Embrace your path, do as well as you can do and stay committed to that. See what happens.”

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

“The major thing is you need to let your assistants and the people around you do a lot of the lifting. You can’t do everything yourself. As you get older, you realize that more. The key for any young coach, and anyone, really, is to have good people around you. I’ve always had that. But it’s important to let those people go to work, and not obsess over every little detail.

“It will not make you the best coach you can be if you’re worried about every little thing. You need to delegate to your assistants because it gives them power, it gives them more buy-in to what you’re doing, and I think the players recognize that the assistant coaches are very valuable. It’s a fundamental thing, when you’re younger, to kind of get over yourself — and the idea that you have to do everything.

“Early on, in the summer time I went to Puerto Rico to coach so I was out of touch for about eight weeks. When I came back to Syracuse, I found out things were better than when I left. (Laughs.) Not only wasn’t there a disaster of any kind, but everything was running very smoothly and people were engaged. I really wasn’t missed that much. It was probably a good lesson. You don’t have to do everything.”

Steve Alford, UCLA

“It’s hard, because you cannot predict how the eras are going to change. When I got in to coaching, the shot clock was longer. I was recruiting guys who were pretty much staying for four years. When I first started getting in, even past Division III, when I got in to Division I at Missouri State and then Iowa, nobody was leaving early. It was almost unheard of if somebody left after three years, and now it’s evolved in to how quickly can you get out of college basketball. That’s hard.

“(My advice) would depend if I knew eras would stay the same. I think it’s just the thing I’ve tried to be, that I’ve tried to learn and if I had to do it all over again, is just continue to be true to yourself. Believe in what you do and how you do it and the culture that you build and stay true to that. Don’t listen to the outside, don’t pay attention to the noise. It’s what you’ve grown up knowing how to teach and what to teach and just being true to yourself.”

Mike Brey, Notre Dame 

“Don’t try to do everything, and don’t try to get it all done in one day. Understand there’s a pace to it, and pace yourself through it. But be confident enough — and it’s easier said than done because you’re not as experienced — or try to be confident enough to delegate to staff so it’s not all on your shoulders.

“I wish I could have done that better at Delaware. … I think I spread myself so thin with all the details and trying to cover everything I didn’t give enough thought to my team. I think that’s where I’ve gotten better — getting away from the office or the day-to-day grind with a great staff, and I have more time to think strategically about my guys and my team during the season. That I was not as good at (early). I think sometimes a practice plan was hurried and maybe not as organized when I was a younger coach because I was doing a million things up until 20 minutes before practice.”

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