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Coaches Worth Admiring

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA, CIC

We all have coaches we admire and try to emulate. It’s an important part of growing in the profession and striving for greatness. I was no different in my days as a basketball coach.

As a new coach right out of college, my boss, the head boys’ basketball coach at the high school, made arrangements for the junior varsity coach and me (I was the freshman coach) to attend a coaching clinic. This learning opportunity was about six weeks before the start of the season and it took place on a college campus. The presentations were done by well-known college coaches and used the college athletes to demonstrate the various drills.

One of the speakers was Dean Smith, the long-time, successful coach at the University of North Carolina. His presentation covered his Run and Jump Defense--one of the many innovations he introduced to the game. At the conclusion of the session, one attendee asked why Smith was willing to speak on this topic and the answer was very straight-forward and enlightening.

He said something like this: “In the Atlantic Coast Conference, we play all opponents twice and possibly a third time in the conference tournament. All teams have scouted us extensively and they have tapes of our games. As we get ready for this season, our Run and Jump is no longer a surprise or a secret. Therefore, if I can help you, I’m glad to do it.”

While I loved Dean’s Smith’s innovations and style of play, I also admired what he did off the court. One of my high school classmates played for Smith at UNC and this allowed me to know how much Smith cared about his players--long after graduation. I also respected that Smith was involved in the social issues of the day such as the Civil Rights Movement. Simply, he was a great role model.

At another clinic, I heard Hubie Brown, the ESPN and ABC commentator and long-time NBA coach. While waiting to be introduced, several attendees approached Brown and offered that they were sorry to hear he had been fired by the Hawks.

Interestingly, Hubie Brown started his session with, “Don’t worry about ol’ Hubie. He is going to be just fine. The Hawks still owe me $4 million and I get paid to do these clinics. And shortly, I’ll go back to my TV gig. If you want security you stay at the high school level, where I got my start. But as you step up each level, the risk of being fired increases. As a matter of fact, you are hired and paid to be fired. You just don’t know when. So, ol’ Hubie is going to be just fine!”

Why did I like Hubie Brown? I never heard any coach explain the details and intricacies of the game in a clearer, more concise manner than he did. Whatever points he was clarifying made sense and were very easy to understand. As I grew as a coach, I realized why this ability to communicate effectively was so important. Daily, I had to explain drills and concepts to our players and occasionally with parents. Being a good communicator, at any level, is a major aspect of coaching!

While I probably could list Dr. Jack Ramsey, coach at St. Joseph’s College and with stops in the NBA, as another coach I emulated, I’d say my third pick would be Abe Lemons. This might seem a little strange, since Lemons may not be a universally well-known coach. He coached at Oklahoma City University and had a legacy of taking lesser talent and turning them into exciting, high scoring, winning teams.

But the real key to Abe Lemons was that he is the funniest coach that I ever heard! Yet in his humor, there was extremely sound advice. When asked if he liked to use multiple offenses, his response was: “There are only two plays: Romeo and Juliet and put the darn ball in the basket.”

Abe Lemon’s hour-long sessions were hilarious and they always contained nuggets of wisdom. You can still find many of his quips and one-liners online. And the hidden messages are still pertinent today.

In the coaching profession, there are a lot of coaches from whom you can learn something in terms of drills or strategy. But when you come across someone who has excellent character, demonstrates sincere concern for his or her players, is an excellent, effective communicator, and is able to use humor to interject meaningful teachable moments, this is a person to emulate!


David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach. In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association’s Athletic Director of the Year. Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at:

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