Jon Teitel's Coaches Interview Series: Former Northern State Head Coach Don Meyer
In the latest installment of his coaches interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent time with college coaching legend Don Meyer, who made his mark at both Lipscomb and Northern State. Now retired from coaching, Coach Meyer still teaches at Northern State in addition to running an online coaching academy.
Jon Teitel: At Northern Colorado you had a career pitching record of 22-2 and were named All-American on the basketball court. Which sport did you enjoy the most, and which one were you better at?
Don Meyer: It is easier to be better at baseball than basketball, as it does not take as much athletic ability. I wanted to go as far as I could with baseball, but I could not throw hard enough.
JT: At the start of your career at Lipscomb you used a slow-down fundamental style, but later adopted an explosive offense. How were you able to change from one to the other, and how quick were you able to accomplish this?
DM: We did not change our fundamentals; we just played faster, especially after the 3-PT shot came into the game. However, you cannot play faster on offense unless you play faster defensively. We had All-American post players for 10 straight years, but the thing that really keyed our offense was our defense.
JT: In 1986 you won the NAIA title. What did it mean to you to win a title, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus?
DM: My first reaction was that if we did not start recruiting, we would not get anything done the following year. We ended up recruiting four kids who helped us win a ton of games. We played in a tourney in Japan against their Olympic team but when we came back to campus it was a big deal. However, the brother of one of our players died of cancer during the tourney, so that put a damper on everything.
JT: In 1990 your team set a college basketball record with 41 wins. How did you even play 41 games in a season and do you think your record will ever be broken?
DM: We played in two separate three-game tourneys, and our district and league tourneys were each three games, and we played four games in the NAIA tourney, but they have since reduced the number of games you can play. Those extra tourneys made the difference, so I do not think our record will be broken unless they change the legislation.
JT: You were named national Coach of the Year in 1989 and 1990, and were later selected to the NAIA Hall of Fame. What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors?
DM: It does not really mean a whole lot because you are always thinking about your team. I did not even realize we were #1 in the country until I looked up and saw the banners. It is sad to say, but it is hard to enjoy it until after you get out of coaching.
JT: Your motion offense helped lead the nation in scoring for several years, as you often averaged over 100 points per game. How were your teams able to score so many points, and did you focus on recruiting shooters or athletes or all-around players?
DM: We were not going to get the best athletes, so we just tried to get the best skill players. Our style was so fast that it was really hard for people to defend us. When we played against teams that wanted to play slow, we just had to make adjustments.
JT: You coached both of the top-two leading scorers in NCAA history (John Pierce and Philip Hutcheson). Which of the two was a better player, and do you think their records will ever be broken?
DM: They were different players. Hutch was fundamentally sound and one of the smartest people I have ever been around (4.0 GPA, MBA, and he is now the AD at Lipscomb). John was more athletic and talented. They were both very consistent, and always scored in double-figures.
JT: You wrote a book called "Becoming a Great Shooter". How does one become a great shooter, and what is the most important part of shooting?
DM: I think the key is a willingness to learn and accept instruction. It is all about having great hands and wrists, and then you can work on footwork and quickness. The difference between a shooter and a scorer is footwork. There are no secrets: you just need to have quality repetitions at game speed. If you practice at half-speed, you will not be able to get your shot off during a game.
JT: Your son Jerry broke college basketball's career assist record. How proud are you of him, and what is he doing now?
DM: He does all the evaluations for rivals.com on their recruiting list. He probably has the best basketball mind of anyone I have ever been around. He was a great player, and one of the best guards I ever coached. He knew how to manipulate a game without taking a single shot.
JT: Marcus Bodie holds the single-season and career record for steals in college basketball, while Andy McQueen holds the career record for three pointers made. How much of your success was based on defense, and how much was based on long-range shots?
DM: We have always been a defensive team. It helped when we started getting guys who could shoot, but you still have to play defense.
JT: In September you were involved in a life-threatening car accident while taking your players to a team retreat, and while getting surgery to recover part of your left leg it was discovered that you had cancer.
DM: How close did you come to dying, and how on earth were you able to get back on the sideline? I should have been dead, but I think God had a reason for me living, and now I get to speak all over the country and reach out to others. We had a doctor diverted to the small road I was on in South Dakota, which was very fortunate. I would not have found out about the cancer if I had not been in the accident.
JT: You have won over 900 games, the most in NCAA history. What is your key to winning games, and how were you able to maintain your success for so many decades?
DM: We had great players who won their fair share of games in the NAIA, where we play more games than they do in Division I. I thought I would coach forever, but it became hard to deal with the stress of coaching, recruiting, practicing, fundraising, teaching, etc. After a while I realized that I would kill myself if I kept putting in 16-hour days.
JT: You recently changed from an on-campus coaching academy to an online coaching academy. Why did you make the switch, and how is it working out so far?
DM: We are getting a lot of interest. The big reason for the switch is that I do not have a team to work with anymore, so we shot some new videos of practices and I give comments throughout. I think it is a great tool to see what it takes to have the edge to be on top.
JT: In February you announced your retirement from coaching at Northern State, but you remain a professor. Why did you decide to retire, and why did you decide to stick with teaching?
DM: I kept teaching because I would go crazy if I did not have anything to do. Retirement from coaching allows me to speak all over the country, and I get to help raise money when it is feasible.
When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most? Everyone would like to be remembered as a teacher, but your legacy is what the players you touched did with their lives.
Belmont: Rick Byrd (1986-present): 488-273, 3 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, one-time national COY, one-time conference COY
Campbell: Billy Lee (1985-2003): 216-286, 1 NCAA tourney, three-time conference COY
East Tennessee State: Murry Bartow (2003-present): 138-86, 3 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, one-time conference COY
Florida Gulf Coast: Dave Balza (2001-present): 143-101, 1 NCAA tourney
Jacksonville: Joe Williams (1964-1970): 92-61, 1 NCAA tourney
Kennesaw State: Tony Ingle (2000-present): 170-142, 1 Division II national title, one-time national COY, 1-time conference COY
Lipscomb: Don Meyer (1975-1999): 663-181, 1 NAIA title, two-time national COY
Mercer: Bill Bibb (1974-1989): 222-194, 2 NCAA tourneys, two-time conference COY
North Florida: NO COACH HAS BEEN THERE FOR 5 YEARS
South Carolina Upstate: Eddie Payne (2002-present): 115-121, 2 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, one-time conference COY
Stetson: Glenn Wilkes (1957-1993): 552-435