Lessons From a Coach

It’s funny, every year starting around December 28th people start talking about the New Year.  A buzz of excitement begins as the idea of changing a simple number on the calendar means that some big changes are going to happen in the coming year. People will resolve to lose the 25 pounds by doing something they couldn’t do – putting down the donuts and getting in the gym –  since mid January of last year when they broke their 2008 resolution of losing 25 pounds. For some they believe that the new year will bring them fortuitous financial endeavors, or that special someone, or a resolution to their many problems.

Whatever they’re hoping for, it’s typically not something tangible, and is a lot to expect from a clock turning from 11:59 pm on December 31, 2008 to 12:00 am on January 01, 2009.  A clock can’t change you, can’t make you better. That takes self-determination and understanding of your position in life. Need an example? Bruce Pascoe brings one to you in his coverage of Jay John in this New Year’s Day’s paper.

I know what you’re thinking, I said I was covering Arizona Basketball and I’m bringing up an article about Jay John?! It doesn’t fit. Actually, it does. John is a class-act who is doing things the right way, and has a lot of Tucson ties. He was born in Tucson, graduated from the UA and was an assistant coach for the UA, and various other schools within the PAC-10. But I’m not going to repeat to you what you can learn on wikipedia, or in Pascoe’s article.

What interested me about this story is Jay John is a guy that is doing it right. After failing to make Oregon State a competitor in the PAC-10 and each year perpetually getting worse, John had decided that he needs to take a step back and become a coach again. I like this, not because I think John should be an assistant coach, but because he’s not pounding the same pavement hoping for a different result. He’s going back to the basics, so to speak.

In doing so, John has shown that he is a self-aware man who is willing to do what it takes to succeed in the long run. He takes a disappointing situation and uses it to better himself. Clearly, John realizes that it takes time, determination, and a process that doesn’t happen just because the calendar changes from December to January.  Therein lies the biggest tie to the present-day Arizona Wildcats program, and a big lesson that Jim Livengood can learn from.

If there is one thing that is certain, 2009 will bring a different head coach to the Arizona basketball program. As fans, we may like the direction that the coach takes the program or we may not. But one thing is for certain, things will change. It is up to Livengood to make the proper decisions and to ultimately hire the new coach that will bring about these changes. My hope in all of this is that Livengood looks at what Jay John has done, and takes a few pointers as to what a good program coach looks like.

Lesson One: It’s all about the students and the school.

I don’t want a guy like Billy Donovan who had a few great recruiting classes, won the National Championship and nearly bailed on the program. I don’t want a guy like Reggie Theus who had a few successful years at New Mexico State, and bailed on the team to try his own agenda. I don’t want that because that is somebody that isn’t here for the program, but for self promotion. And if Arizona basketball is going to transition from the Lute Olson era to a new one and continue its tradition of success, while it’s all about the coach, the coach can’t be about himself.

Lesson Two: Make the Adjustment

Ever heard the quote “Chaos is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result”? Many coaches fall into this habit. They have a certain style for their recruiting, coaching, game plan, and how they make decisions in life. Livengood needs to look carefully at the wake that potential coaches have left. Do they ruin programs or run them into the ground? Do they have problems with personnel or players? Is there signs of growth after failure or do they stick with their “plan”?

I don’t want a coach like Kevin O’Neill who has been bounced from job to job and ultimately run off from 3/4 of them because of his attitude. I don’t want a coach like him because he can only coach to his strengths and not the strengths of the team.

Third Lesson: Know when to pull the trigger

Jay John knew he had an opportunity to become a head coach with Oregon State – granted he failed to be successful in the long run – but at least he knew when to make the jump. Had he stayed at Arizona he probably would’ve become entrenched as an assistant his whole life. He saw an opportunity, took a risk, and went for it. Livengood has to know when to pull the trigger on hiring a new coach. Make sure you’ve got the right guy for the job, and pull the trigger – don’t just take the first coach that shows interest. Set your goals and go after them, but be ready with a “plan B” if that should fail.


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January 2009
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PAC-10 Power Rankings

1. Cal 2. Washington 3. UCLA 4. Arizona 5. Oregon 6. Oregon State 7. Arizona State 8. Washington State 9. Stanford 10. USC

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