In interviewing Washington coach Mike Neighbors for this story, he said, “I made 418 mistakes last year.”
I thought he was joking at first, but I quickly realized he was serious. He elaborated on that later by sending me a copy of an old issue of his personal newsletter, which he sends to colleagues, associates and friends. The issue was called “418 Mistakes Later: My Transition From Assistant Coach to Head Coach….18” is further than you think!!”
Here’s the intro and table of contents:
Everyone who knows me well, knows I am a “lister.” I make lists for almost everything. I have my Top 1000
Movies of All-Time ranked in order. I have my Top 1000 Songs of All-Time on a playlist. I have my Top 500 this
and my top 25 that. I guess it stems from my love of baseball statistics growing up. Over the years, my lists have
helped me grow in many areas and reach a rhythm with life on the court and off.
So, it should come as no surprise, that last year, I kept a log of the “Mistakes I Made” in my first year as a head
coach. I kept it in a running list format in the Villa 7 Notebook that I received at the Nike event the year before.
The Nike event that finally inspired me and gave me the courage to break out of my comfort zone of being a 14 year
assistant coach. I kept it handy wherever I went because it was very apparent, very early that mistakes could take
place anywhere, anytime. Some were small and probably went unnoticed to anyone watching. Others were huge
and were obvious to everyone. Regardless of the size or the impact of them, I kept the record from Day 1 to Day
365. Grand finale total… 418!! An average of 1.14 per day.
In the end, my conclusion… The 18” you move over from Assistant to Head Coach, is a lot further than you think!
1. I assumed being an assistant coach would prepare you to be a head coach
2. I told people the TRUTH before I had earned their TRUST
3. I got out of shape
4. I got out of alignment between Process and Results
5. I tried to do too many “things”
6. I was afraid to do “what I thought best”
7. I exhausted my daily decision energy on stuff that didn’t affect winning
8. I stopped confronting things that needed to be confronted
9. I let the Urgent overcome the Important
10. I forgot to keep myself “charged”
11. I didn’t realize how tight my friend circle would become
12. I had no idea how to manage a staff or how to “manage up”
The first chapter: “I assumed being an assistant coach would prepare you to be a head coach”:
We all know the saying about assuming (ASS-U-ME)… if you haven’t, asked one of your kids to explain. Well, it was never more true
than in the case of me assuming that my 14 years of being an assistant coach would have me fully prepared to be a head coach. While
those years certainly helped and probably kept me from making 936 mistakes, it just isn’t that simple.
The job description of a Head Coach is completely different from being as assistant.
So many of my actual mistakes fell in this category and some will overlap with later topics we discuss. I believe simply knowing that
would have saved me from the first mistake I made that fall under this header. Over the course of 14 years I had accumulated resources
that allowed me to be productive in my day. I had forms for this and that. I had a routine that led to an efficient day. So on
Day 1 as a head coach, I expected that to be the same. But it wasn’t. Not even close.
I didn’t have a form for keeping up with people contacting me for jobs.
I didn’t have a form for what to do when a recruit didn’t want to come to Washington.
I didn’t have a plan for delegating assignments to my staff.
I didn’t have a plan for what do to when one of my “recommendations” didn’t work.
For my entire professional career, I had been making suggestions. Some were used. Some weren’t. Some that were used worked.
Some didn’t. None of them however ever came back across my desk to explain to the media or administration. Now my decisions had
consequences. We will cover Decision Making much more in detail in a later piece.
For the last 14 years my decisions pretty much just directly effected me and maybe my immediate family. Now my decisions effected
the lives of every player, coach, aide, manager, strength coach, athletic trainer, etc.
My biggest mistake was just ASS-u-ming again that “things would slow down” or “you’ll get adjusted to the new demands”… I wish I
would have gone in knowing that it was okay to be overwhelmed. That is wasn’t going to slow down. That it wasn’t going to just
adjust. I needed a better plan. I needed support. I needed help. I wasted valuable time waiting for things to slow down or adjust.
What would I do differently: I would have spent “free” time as an assistant reading up on the area. I would have paid more attention
to the job my head coach was doing. I would have picked their brains about how they manage their time. I would have asked to sit in
on meetings with marketing, facilities, administration. I would have not kept expecting what I knew in the past to be good enough.
My last observation concerning this category of mistakes is also a reminder of my PaPa Neighbors and his sayings. He always said:
“Someone who is good with a hammer always makes everything into a nail.”
I know it wasn’t an original quote of his, but he was the one who best illustrated it to me over my childhood. And it certainly had
application to me and to this situation.
When I was an assistant coach, I believed it was all about Player Development, Scouting, Defense, and scheduling . Recruiting was
over rated. Give me a player that wanted to be there and I could make them good enough through skill development sessions. Give
me enough tape on an opponent and I could help us win a game regardless of the opponent. Offense was for fans, defense wins
championships. Give me the time and I could put together a schedule that would get us a good seed for a deep run into the NCAA
Tournament. NOTHING else mattered. Nothing.
Well, guess what? Those happened to be areas I was in charge of and “had a hammer for.”
I didn’t think all those other duties I had been doing on my way up the coaching ladder really mattered anymore. Since I wasn’t in
charge of them, they weren’t important. Some other coach needed to worry about Academics. Not me. Some other coach needed to
be interested in Community Service. Not me. Housing? Please, don’t bother me with that mess. Per diem on travel? Don’t interrupt
my film session.
That type of thinking can’t happen for a head coach. Everything matters. You need a hammer, a screwdriver, a wrench, a saw, a
shovel, a level, a tape measure, etc. You can’t just be good with a hammer.
If I hadn’t been narrow minded in this area, there is no doubt we might have won a game or two more. There is no doubt my staff
would have been much more sane. And, there is no doubt I would have been a better leader.
In the end…
Just know that your previous experience in the game will help, but it’s not a guarantee your successes there will carry over.
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