March Madness 2014: Is Coach K a Loser?

Winners and losers – it’s March Madness.  Seasons and careers end abruptly while we circle or strike the names on our brackets.  Circle the winners and cross out the losers.  It isn’t really that simple, though, is it?  Wichita State plays the entire season without a loss and then loses in the second round.  It’s hard to call them losers, but in the NCAA tournament, they are.  Men’s and women’s teams throughout the country with winning seasons didn’t qualify for the Big Dance and  were relegated to the NIT.  Their coaches will talk about redemption and proving themselves and using the opportunity to get better, but it’s still not the Big Dance – it’s the NIT, or the CBI, or the CIT, or spring break on the beach, but they still didn’t win.  The problem is that in our world, we tend to label and group other people into convenient categories, oftentimes into a pair of extremes that define our reality – Winners or losers.  Rich or poor.  Liberal or conservative.  Worth my time or not worth my time.  Believer or unbeliever.  That’s our human way of doing things, but God has a different way!

BASKETBALL – More Than Winning?

Roy Williams

The scoreboard tells us whose won and whose lost.  This past weekend, the losers included Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Syracuse, and Wichita St. – programs that even those least familiar with the sport would consider to be winners.  Their coaches, too, have been winners in the past, like Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, and Bill Self, but this year, they didn’t win.  Despite not winning on the court, however, we saw some character revealed as they handled their losses and that’s why it’s totally ridiculous to label somebody like Coach K as a loser, especially when he does something like this:

And when North Carolina’s Roy Williams handles a controversial loss like this, is he a loser?

What about All-Everything Doug McDermott?

The point I’m trying to make is that in trying to organize our own worlds, we categorize people quickly and unfairly.  The scoreboard says they lost or the selection committee may not offer them a bid, but every coach and team out there has had their own path, their own circumstances, and their own challenges.  Sometimes they rise up and sometimes they fail miserably, but our quick-to-judge, bandwagon-jumping society encourages us to circle them or cross them out!

LIFE – In or Out?

As we search for wisdom and consider the quick-to-label habits of our world, I want to challenge you to consider for yourself how much you fall into the trap of judgments.  Do you make snap judgments about people?  I’ll be honest, as I thought about it, I find that I do far too often.  I’ve certainly grown over the years and realize that in my youth, as a college student, and as a young coach I too frequently played the “in or out” game.  Who was I going to hang with?  Who was I going to date?  Who was I going to work for and who was I going to recruit?  It seems like every part of life involved those kinds of choices and before I knew it, I found that I was grouping and selecting people based on some subconscious list of categories.  Now, with a little more wisdom and age, I regret that.  With hindsight, it becomes easy to see how much those judgments limited my social, professional, and personal opportunities in life.

FAITH – We’re all the same.

Paul encouraged a fellow believer and all of us “to be ready to do whatever is good,  to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” (Titus 3:1-2).  So, even though we live in a label world, we should strive to get along with everyone and not rule them out because they don’t fit into our “acceptable” box.  The truth is that all of us are broken and all of us have sinned.  There’s no need for boxes like Saved or Unsaved, Saint or Sinner, Believer or Unbeliever, because even when we think we have it figured out or think we’re moving in the right direction, we stumble.  As I was pondering this, I walked into church on Sunday and heard a wonderful sermon about how Jesus views us.  When the church leaders of His day tried to trap Him by bringing in a woman who had been caught cheating on her husband, they asked Him if they should follow the law of the day and stone her to death (John 8:1-11),  Jesus gave His answer by asking which of them had not committed a sin.  If they hadn’t sinned, they could throw the first stone – but none of them could step up and neither can we.  We all have sins, mistakes, and losses.  We all have battles to fight, which means we’re all sinners in need of God’s mercy.  The good news is that He makes no distinction.  It’s free to everyone – no CBI, no NIT, no winning record required.  We all get in the Big Dance and we all can be winners.  God’s way is so much better!


March Madness 2014: Answering the Call

In the riveting opening rounds of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, one incredible moment stood out to me.  Sure, there were the overtime games, the buzzer-beater by Texas, and upsets galore like Mercer’s incredible win over Duke, but did you watch North Dakota State’s upset over the five seed, Oklahoma?  It was a classic 12 vs. 5 upset, but the pivotal performance occurred late in the game when a freshmen point guard who hadn’t played a minute answered the call of his coach.  It made me think about all the times in my life when I didn’t answer the call.  Maybe this young freshman can teach us all a little wisdom!

BASKETBALL – He was ready!

Carlin DupreeI have no idea how a kid from the inner city of Milwaukee ends up playing at North Dakota State, but for 43 minutes of an overtime game, Carlin Dupree was on the bench.  With 1:17 to go in overtime and the score tied 70-70, Dupree barely had the ball for a few seconds when he was fouled.  On the year, Dupree sat the bench for seven games and then averaged only eight minutes in a season where he made only 58% of his free throws.  What does he do after sitting cold on the bench for the entire game?  Knocks them both down to give the Bison the lead and then follows it up thirty seconds later with a fearless, driving lay-up over two Sooner defenders to give NDSU a four point lead that Oklahoma could not overcome.  When the Bison’s leading scorer, Taylor Braun, fouled out and head coach Saul Phillips turned to the bench, who did he call?  Carlin Dupree, and he answered the call.  Phillips called it “the loudest two minutes in the history of the NCAA basketball tournament.” (NDSU Post-Game Presser)

LIFE – Do you answer the call?

Have you ever felt “the call?” We certainly get called upon for a variety of reasons – students get called out to answer a question in class, your wife asks you how her outfit looks, and your supervisor asks you to add a last-minute assignment at work. How often do you respond well? What about that gentle prodding call when you know you should feel something, say something, or do something? Those moments happen every day in this life, yet many times we don’t answer the call like Carlin Dupree did.  Many of us don’t even get off the bench!   I’ve had positions and jobs in Christian settings where answering those types of calls were no-brainers, but I’ve also worked in public and business settings where it seemed a little more difficult.  Too often, though, it’s easier to remain silent, even when you’re with other Christians, or to walk away and stay out of the fray all together.  As I’ve been involved with young people, but even with older and supposedly wiser adults, I’m often given the opportunity to encourage others or to present a more positive perspective and I find myself holding my tongue and walking away.  It may be a chance to get a young person to reconsider reckless life-style choices, encourage a fellow parent to take more responsibility for their children, or to take a moral stand on ethics in the workplace or within a team. Those opportunities come every day and we each have the choice to respond.  I’ve found that when I don’t answer the call, regrets begin to pile up.  And I’ve also found that when I do step in, even when I’m not completely sure of what to say or do, it at least opens the door for something good to happen.  As a coach, when I overhear negative  or reckless comments, or I sense a player is battling with something, I believed I’m called to explore the opportunity.  What about you?

FAITH – Get off the bench!

In my church, “being called” is the term used for placing pastors, missionaries, and teachers to positions within church work.  It’s an extremely serious and formal decision.  Each of us as Christians, though, are called regularly by our Creator to stand up and proclaim the message of the Gospel.  It can be with bigger decisions like serving on a mission trip, organizing food and clothing drives, providing disaster relief, and leading Bible studies – however, God’s call also comes in the conversations and responses of our daily lives.  God calls us to be a light when the societal issues of our day are discussed.  He wants us to speak up when abortion, marriage, and the freedom of religion are discussed.  He wants us to encourage each other in discussions of ethics, morality, and bringing up children – not to judge or condemn or divide, but to bring His message into every aspect of life.

AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

When I saw Carlin Dupree answer Saul Phillips call to go into the game, I thought of God calling the prophet Jonah to take His message to the people of Nineveh, an evil and immoral city (you can read the short, four chapter Book of Jonah here). Like us many times, Jonah did not want to go and faced the consequences with God, but in the end, once he did go, God used him to make something good happen.  He calls you and me to do the same, both in big decisions and in daily opportunities:

 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

I pray that each of us is ready, willing, and able to answer those calls!


Men of Faith Coaching in the Big Dance

BU PrayerI took a little heat last year when I mentioned that these days it often takes more courage for an athlete or coach to proclaim publicly that they are a Christian than it does to reveal most addictions, mistakes, or life-style decisions (Should Christian Players Come Out of the Closet).   With the proliferation of media attention, as well as social media, coaches and their behavior will take center stage this week. One of the first things I do when the bracket is released is to find fellow coaches who not only talk the talk, but go a step further and walk the walk.  These days, we rarely see the full picture of high-profile coaches. Having been around a few of them over the years, I’ve seen firsthand how carefully they craft their image. So, however a coach chooses to portray himself, I respect those who wear their faith on their sleeve, even when, like all of us, they make mistakes and let emotion and temptation get the best of them!

BASKETBALL – Faith on Display

I’m sure there are a number of coaches with strong Christian faith and I realize the risk being taken whenever you single anyone out for taking a public stance.  These days that target can be a complicated issue for coaches making a boatload of money or for those coaching at public institutions who strictly monitor any issues regarding faith and religion.  I also realize that one or two comments from a coach do not clearly demonstrate his level of faith.  That’s why I really enjoy listening to extended interviews that delve deeply into matters of faith and coaching philosophy, like those produced by Sports Spectrum and Coaching U LIVE.  So, here are four coaches that I’ve got my focus on in this year’s tournament, not only for their coaching styles, but also for their commitment to integrating their faith into their coaching:

Tony Bennett, Virginia: Following in his father’s footsteps, Tony uses the same core values – based on the Biblical principles of Humility, Passion, Unity, Servanthood, and Thankfulness – that Dick Bennett inspired in countless programs at all levels around the country.  Tony  calmly handles criticism and the scrutiny that comes when living your faith in an atmosphere often unfriendly to those who try.  Listen to Sports Spectrum podcast: Formulate a Winning Game Plan and read Humility, Faith at Core of Tony Bennett, the Man and Coach.

Scott Drew, Baylor:  Drew has resurrected the Baylor program that suffered through multiple scandals – all at a highly intentional Christian school.  Drew has the advantage of coaching at a school with a mission of faith and doesn’t shy away from interjecting Christian principles – despite those looking for inconsistencies in his walk and for ways to attack his success.  Listen to Helping Others Succeed and check out  Baylor’s Extraordinary Season Has Left Lives Changed and Rebuilding Baylor Puts Its Faith in New Coach Scott Drew from when Drew was first hired .

Billy Donovan, Florida: Donovan is an incredible teacher and tactician who blends his Catholic faith into the Gator program.  His deep faith has been strengthened through losses in his own family and in the families of his staff.  Most impressive is his consistent message of serving others.  He defines his coaching through service to others and raises the expectation for his players.  Listen to CoachingULive with Billy Donovan and take a look at Billy Donovan’s Secret Sorrow.

Kevin Ollie, Connecticut:  The young coach of the Huskies is making a mark as he replaces Jim Calhoun, but Ollie left his mark all over the country during his NBA career in which he led vibrant player Bible studies with the franchises for which he played.  As you’ll read below, Ollie has used his principles of faith in running his program, despite negative attention in another state school setting. Listen to Living With Eternity in Mind and read about his impact on Kevin Durant in Quiet Thunder.

LIFE – Faith on the job.

As a coach, I have enormous respect for Connecticut’s women’s coach Geno Auriemma, but recently his view on Christianity in sports got under my skin when he claimed that God doesn’t care about sports and, more significantly, that Christian faith should not be shown in public, as in a basketball program.  Thankfully, Geno’s priest at his Catholic church responded to that, which you can read in a fascinating article in the Huffington Post, God and Basketball at UConn.  And as noted, Kevin Ollie has found the respectful way to live his faith without offending those in and around his program.  It’s a case where the young buck may have a chance to encourage an entrenched legend like Geno!

Don’t all of us as Christians have that obligation to live our faith?  I challenge you to consider your own situation.  Do you compartmentalize your faith?  Do you leave it out of your work?  Or do you use it when it’s convenient, as in attracting a client for your business or in recruiting a player?  Do you keep your mouth shut when co-workers or teammates are discussing matters of morality?  Does your faith shine through in how you treat your boss, your employees, or your co-workers?

Faith – Let it shine!

Enjoy all the tournaments this week and cheer for your favorites, but take a little time to read up on and listen to ( I know it sounds like homework!) these coaches who from a distance seem to heed these important words:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)

And then, do the opposite of what Coach Auriemma says and live your life loud. Live your faith in every part of your life!