2017 NCAA Tournament: The Other Side of March

While many are finding this year’s version of March Madness to be a tad dull (see Where’s the Drama? from SI.com’s Pete Thamel), the NCAA tournament still holds its place as the most entertaining three-week drama in sports. We may not always have the Cinderella upsets (and as Thamel explains, the traditional concept of Cinderella may be a thing of the past) or the buzzer beaters, but we certainly have intriguing match-ups, inspiring coaches, and heart-warming player stories.  And while the drama unfolds, we also have the underappreciated regular occurrence of the coaching carousel.  Many fans will keep track of it, especially if their teams have finished playing, but few will truly consider the ramifications for many hard-working family providers.

BASKETBALL – The Carousel

Tom Crean is understandably receiving the most attention after being let go at Indiana this week. While completely expected, Crean’s dismissal has been the focus of those watching the carousel.  Having worked at Marquette when Crean landed his first head coaching spot, I saw the passion and dedication he applied to his profession.  While I often thought he was a little too driven and had some quirky expectations, I learned a great deal from watching him up close.  And as I watched his progress at Indiana over the years, I also noticed a man who seemed to be getting a better hold of his priorities, including a much more eager expression of his faith (see Tom Crean off the court: Quiet, random acts of kindness), only to see the door slam on his progress.  Since it’s a different level when you see the contracts and buyouts involved, most of us have trouble relating to Crean’s experience because he’s already been paid more money than the rest of us will see in our lifetime.  (For an explanation of how it all went down read IU Fires Tom Crean and  Tom Crean opens up on Indiana basketball firing, coaching …)  And while Kentucky’s John Calipari explains some of the “suffering” that will occur:

. . . most of us will have trouble relating.  What we don’t hear about are the support players involved – the assistant coaches and younger staffers who clip film and are doing all they can to move up in the profession or about the spouses and families who will  experience uncertain times in the months and, possibly, years ahead.  Calipari has been there as a head coach, but it’s compounded exponentially for assistants or coaches at lower levels, the ones just making enough to support their families or contribute to a spouse’s income. I’ve been there and the hits taken are extremely difficult.  For many of us, it’s not as rosy as it is for Crean.

LIFE – Job Loss

For most of us, job loss is much more traumatic.  NBA and college veteran assistant coach Brendan Suhr, known as a mentor to coaches at CoachingULive and as a key cog on Detroit Pistons’ head coach Chuck Daley’s staff, has experienced job changes and job loss – in fact, his head coach at LSU this year, Johnny Jones, was let go just like Crean.  Suddenly, a man nearing the end of his coaching career is without a job.

That’s why I appreciate so much this article from the Charlotte Hornets Director of Scouting Scott Howard that he wrote for George Raveling’s Coaching For Success. While Howard doesn’t have the same concerns for a family, he has seen his share of job losses and job changes and provides great insights for anyone who has lost a job, whether it’s in coaching or any other profession, and needs to go through a new search. Read his complete explanations at Lessons I’ve Learned From Getting Fired and listen to his conversation with Brendan Suhr.  Here are his main points to remember:

  1. WELCOME TO THE CLUB
  2. IT HURTS
  3. DON’T BE SHOCKED
  4. BE GRACIOUS AND TAKE IT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL, BUT DON’T LET THEM BEAT YOU UP!
  5. OWN UP TO YOUR MISTAKES
  6. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF PHYSICALLY
  7. DON’T WASTE TIME TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT HAPPENED
  8. BREATHE
  9. EXPLORE
  10. YOU DON’T HAVE AS MANY FRIENDS AS YOU THINK YOU DO
  11. YOU CAN’T EXPECT YOUR FRIENDS TO HIRE YOU FOR YOUR NEXT JOB
  12. IT’S A DEMEANING EXPERIENCE
  13. DON’T SIT AND WAIT FOR THE PHONE TO RING – IT WON’T RING AS MUCH AS YOU HOPE
  14. YOU WILL HEAR A LOT OF “NO’s”
  15. IT WILL ALWAYS WORK FOR THE BEST

When my head coach was fired at WIsconsin in 1994 and when I left Division I ten years ago, I wish I would have had these suggestions.  I made some critical mistakes, specifically numbers 5, 7, and 10.  I beat myself up quite a bit and vowed to make changes.  But even if I never coached again, which at one point I had decided I would do, those experiences led to a more significant realization.  These experiences shaped me and developed me, but in no way do they define me.  It’s natural to lose some confidence or to question how you’ve done things or what improvements you can make, but each of us have much greater value to our families and to the people we encounter.

FAITH – Go Deep

The other terrific opportunity we have as Christians when we experience something as difficult as a job loss is to crank up our prayer life.  I don’t mean just asking for a job or a better job.  I mean to focus our attention on God.  I love the Message’s version of what Jesus says in Matthew 6:34:

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

nytimes.com

But prayer can be tricky. You don’t always get exactly what you pray for, and if you do, it’s often not how or when you expect. But we are called to pray even when prayer didn’t keep us out of the trouble we are currently in.  In fact we probably prayed to keep our job!  Why would prayer do any good then? All I know is that God calls us to pray.

One of my go-to guys in the Bible is Habakkuk who was questioning why God had not protected his people. He thought God wasn’t being fair. God didn’t answer Habakkuk with a clear answer. Instead, he simply told Habakkuk, “the righteous will live by his faith” (2:4). In other words, we are to trust God no matter what is going on. Even if it seems like God dropped his end of the bargain.

Truth is, the Holy Spirit steps in whenever we pray, and in His time God responds to the cries of his people and will use the ugliness we encounter to weave the tapestry of life. It took job transitions for me to understand that.  So as we get wrapped in the excitement of the games this weekend, consider the other side of March Madness as well.  How will handle similar circumstances?

2017 NCAA Tournament: Don’t Stop the Madness!

The Madness is upon us. With the college tournament brackets under way and high school tournaments playing out all over the country, what basketball fan would ever want this to end?  And with the fantastic finishes and the endless debates about seeding and snubs, why should it ever change?  We love the drama.  We love the highs and the lows.  It arguably makes college basketball in March the best three weeks of any athletic competition.

BASKETBALL – The Struggle

Usually, after the Selection Committee has announced the tournament field, we spend the entire evening and the next couple of days debating who got snubbed and who was treated wrongly by the committee.  This year, other than a few questionable seeds like Wichita State as a 10, Minnesota as a 5 )while Wisconsin and Michigan received an 8 and a 7), and possibly the decision to give North Carolina a 1 and Duke a 2, the committee seemed to get it right, but there’s always a little madness.  Did they get it right with Syracuse?

I think they did.  C’mon – three losses against teams outside the Top 150? Go prove you belonged, Syracuse, by winning the NIT.  Madness, I tell you, madness!  But none of us as coaches would want it any other way.  There will be winners and losers.  There will be times you get snubbed and there will be times your team survives a difficult season (see Michigan State).  There will be the first timers like Northwestern and there will be the usual suspects like Kansas and Duke.  And, there will be teams playing without star players (like Oregon) or those dealing with tragedies (like Wisconsin which played the final games of the Big Tern Tournament without Khalil Iverson who was dealing with the loss of a family member).  These struggles make the madness worth it.  They help us appreciate the craziness of March even more.

LIFE – Madness

Basketball and life crossed paths when I recently attended a high school sectional final to watch a terrific player we are hoping to sign.  With a huge crowd expected, I arrived early only to see an ambulance and fire truck leaving the school parking lots, lights flashing and sirens blaring.  As we talked with the coach prior to the game, we learned that the mother of one of his players had apparently fainted and fallen and was on her way to the hospital. Not knowing her fate, this woman’s son helped lead his team to victory and a spot in the state semi-finals later this week only to find out after the game that she suffered a brain aneurism that led to her tragically passing away.  It was a horrific tragedy – madness!  And now, a small-town community will mourn her loss and somehow find a way to deal with her passing.

Greg Bartam – USA TODAY Sports

In this life, in this world, there will be madness and often, that madness can’t be explained. Anyone of us can suddenly lose a loved one, find out we are sick, or have a job taken away from us. Some of us have had a father walk out on our families, a friend betray us, or a spouse give up on us. These events all hurt and lead many of us to question why bad things happen.  We wonder how a loving God can allow such madness and for some, it leads to the denial of the existence of God all together.  And indeed, if you believe the evolutionary theory and believe there is no Creator, all of this pain makes no sense. There’s no purpose in the suffering since we just die.  And if you subscribe to any other faith or worldview outside of Christianity, the purpose of suffering is to point out your failings and inability to do enough good to avoid the madness.  However, if you believe in a Savior who walks through the madness with you, the madness can shine a clear light on our sufferings.  It does not take away the hurt or magically make things better, but it provides comfort and the opportunity to draw us closer to a God.

FAITH – Don’t Stop

I don’t enjoy suffering.  We all have sufferings and disappointment.  I don’t welcome any of the disappointments of a broken home, job loss, or health problems, but through all of it I have been brought to my knees and felt the comfort and hope of my Savior and friend, Jesus. The band Tenth Avenue North released a song a few years back that has helped shape my perspective:

Don’t stop the madness
Don’t stop the chaos
Don’t stop the pain surrounding me
Don’t be afraid, Lord, to break my heart
Just bring me down to my knees . . .

Through the madness, we can find hope and joy in life, no matter what we experience. Imagine the joy for the Northwestern Wildcats after years and years of struggle and failure.  They’re now in the dance and hopefully, the madness has provided them with appreciation.

As a hoops junkie I appreciate the intriguing crossover between March Madness and the season of Lent. While we immerse ourselves in the madness and experience the travails and triumphs of our teams, we are also remembering the madness of Jesus’ path to the cross.  Madness? Yes, for many of us the thought of Jesus taking our sins with him to the cross is madness. Can any of us truly comprehend the suffering, the agony, and the painful realization of his task?  Can any of us understand why He did that?

Through our own sufferings of this life we are reminded that Jesus went through just as much suffering and more, for us. Like teams in the midst of March Madness, we will suffer in this life; but in the end, just as there will be one final victorious champion, Jesus has risen victoriously in the final battle.   I realize basketball pales in comparison to the sufferings of life, but in three weeks we will have our college champions.   However, more than that, we will soon celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the madness of sin and death.  Bring on the madness!

Joel Embiid and Trusting the Process

Any of you dads of teenagers out there can probably relate to the moment when you first turn the keys of your car over to your newly licensed teen. Well,  today I agreed to turn over the keys to the website to my son Caleb – after all, while he is following in my coaching footsteps he’s picking up some wisdom of his own and wanted to share his experience as a first year high school coach:

In the 2014 NBA draft, a deep draft that saw the likes of Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins get drafted, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid with the 3rd pick.  Unfortunately for the budding star, Embiid broke a bone in his foot and missed the entire 2014-15 season.  Then that summer the 21-year old suffered a setback and was declared out for the entire 2015-16 season.  However, Embiid finally made his debut this past season Continue reading