Coaching Role Models


By: Bryan Snyder
Head Volleyball Coach/Assistant Athletic Director

I really enjoyed reading Adam Hutchinson’s blog entry last week about athletes as role models, and over the past week, I have thought a lot about the people whom I consider “role models”.  Much like Adam, one of my parents has been the major role model for me throughout my life, and since neither he nor I are big on a lot of words (and because I don’t think he has ever been on the internet and won’t be able to read this anyway – he is OLD SCHOOL even though he is not that old), I will just say … THANKS FOR EVERYTHING DAD!!

I also thought quite a bit about who my role models are with regards to my career.  When I was younger, I only really cared about the athletes when I was watching sports or following certain teams.  However, as I have gotten older and as I began my career in coaching, I began reading more books about coaches and written by coaches, as well as paying more attention to how certain coaches responded in certain situations and how they coached their teams.  So, I thought I would share my list of favorite and least favorite coaches – I started with a top 5 and a bottom 5, but the top 5 expanded to 9, which I think is a good thing, since it seems that I see more good in coaches than bad.  Here are the top 9, to be followed by the bottom 5:

9. Tommy Lasorda – Los Angeles Dodgers

This is one of those things, I really can’t explain.  I have always liked the Dodgers, even though the Cincinnati Reds are my favorite team, and I think the main reason is that I love their uniforms.  The Kirk Gibson homer in 1988 is also the “miracle on ice” for people my age.  Lasorda always seemed to be respected by everyone and the Dodgers were always contenders under him.

8. Andy Reid – Philadelphia Eagles

I am amazed at the consistent level of competitiveness that Reid’s teams display in the NFL, where parity reigns.  They have not really ever had a true “superstar” (although I would argue Donovan McNabb qualifies, I know Eagles’ fans would disagree) or the best players at any position, yet they are always a factor in the NFC, and their run of NFC championships earlier in this decade was very impressive.  He seems to get the most out of his players and teams, and they are all extremely loyal.  Plus, someone who can keep a job for that long in the Philly sports market without being run out of town must be doing something well.

Don Shula

7. Don Shula – Miami Dolphins/Baltimore Colts

Those who know me will say this is a “homer” pick, but Shula has the most wins of any coach in NFL history, is 6th in all-time winning percentage, won 2 Super Bowls with two different franchises, coached in 4 different decades, and is the only coach in NFL history to lead a team to an undefeated season.  Plus, he was the only coach I really liked when I was a young child and he played at a Division III school, so he had to make the list.

6. Al Scates – UCLA Men’s Volleyball

I have heard Al speak on several occasions, and although I am not sure how great he is with X’s and O’s and technique training (although he has won over 1,000 matches, so he must be doing something right), the whole idea of the “blue curtain” gets him on this list by itself.  For those of you who are not familiar with the blue curtain, I will give you the cliff notes version.  UCLA’s practice gym has a main court, where the top 12 or so players play, and where Coach Scates watches, and it also has a second court on the other side of the blue curtain where everyone else trains under some of the assistant coaches.  When someone is not getting the job done on the top court, Coach Scates calls to his assistant coaches to send that person behind the curtain and to bring up the top player on the second court, whomever that happens to be at the time.  When practice ends, the players who are on the top court are the ones who will dress, travel, play in the matches etc. until the next time they practice and everyone has the opportunity to move up or down.  The stories about their practices are legendary, and anyone who would send Karch Kiraly to the back-up court has got to get some serious respect!

5. Jim Tressel – Ohio State/Youngstown State Football

As a die-hard Michigan Wolverines football fan, this one it tough for me to admit, but I think Tressel is by far the best coach in college football today.  He has restored Ohio State to national prominence and has made Buckeye fans forget the Earle Bruce/John Cooper years in the post Woody Hayes era.  Many people think Tressel is too conservative and plays it too close to the vest.  However, I see his coaching style in a different light – he always puts his team in a position to win by keeping the game close and he never takes unnecessary risks.  They have been “out-athleted” a couple of times in BCS championship games in recent years, but he has never been “out-coached” in those games in my opinion.  Ohio State does not have the athletes at every position like some of the other perennial top 10 programs, yet they are in the conversation every year, win 10+ games every year, and are more often than not in a BCS bowl game.  I would trade Rich Rodriguez for Tressel any day!

Geno Auriemma

4. Geno Auriemma – UCONN Women’s Basketball

I know that Geno’s style is not for everyone, and usually, I don’t like his type.  However, two things that really make me respect him are that he dethroned the bully of NCAA women’s basketball (Pat Summit – whom I also like), and that all of his players are extremely loyal to him, even though he is very tough on them.  Also, as a male who has had a great deal of success coaching females, I try to learn from things he does well and implement those things into my own coaching.

3. Bill Belichick – New England Patriots

The ultimate preparation coach!  If you have not read any of the books about him, I highly suggest you do so.  This guy has the best game-planning ability of any coach I have ever seen.  He is also all about the team, not the prima donna professional players who are worried about their contracts and endorsements.  Who else has linebackers playing fullback, wide receivers playing defensive back in prevent defense packages, uses their MVP quarterback to routinely run QB sneaks (when is the last time Peyton Manning ran a QB sneak?) and has the respect and loyalty of all of his current and former players (with the possible exception of Randy Moss, but that is whole different story).  How many times is Kevin Faulk going to destroy teams in the playoffs before they realize that just because he only had 30 touches all year does not mean Belichick won’t make him the feature back when the season is on the line.  Besides, I am fully in support of his game day wardrobe.  Coaches who get decked out for games (basketball coaches – this one is aimed at you!) are taking themselves WAY TOO SERIOUSLY!  Nobody cares what the coach looks like, and nobody should even know what the coach is wearing – the fans are there to watch the players!!!

2. Phil Jackson – Chicago Bulls/LA Lakers

The Zen master is one of those coaches that people either love or hate, and I am clearly in the first camp.  If it is so easy to win championships with MJ or Kobe or Shaq, etc. then why hasn’t anyone else done it?  Only Pat Riley in Miami (with quite a bit of help from D-Wade) was able to do that.  This guy gets the superstars to buy into the team concept while simultaneously getting the role players to believe that the superstar can carry the team – AMAZING!  He is talking out of both sides of his mouth at all times, and everyone only hears what he wants them to hear.  The Laker teams that he has coached have had some pretty good role players, but in Chicago, the list of characters he won with is unbelievable:  Will Perdue, Bill Wennington, Randy Brown. Stacey King, Scott Williams, John Paxson, Steve Kerr, BJ Armstrong, etc.  You are probably saying to yourself…”those guys are all good players”.  Wrong!  If they had been on any other team other than those Bulls teams with Jordan and Pippen in the triangle offense, they would have been no-names.  Also, Jackson was able to harness (at least most of the time) the incredible talents of Dennis Rodman (who should end up in the NBA Hall of Fame, but probably won’t) after Rodman had gone off the deep end – that in and of itself is enough to get him on this list.

Mike Krzyzewski

1. Mike Krzyzewski – Duke Men’s Basketball

For those of you who know me, this comes as no surprise, and just for the record, I spelled his name without looking it up!  I know all of the Duke-haters out there are cursing me and thinking about not reading the rest of this blog, and I understand where you are coming from, since I absolutely despise the Yankees and Notre Dame football for a lot of the same reasons most people dislike Duke.  However, when I became a Duke fan, (1984 ACC Tournament) North Carolina was the bully on the block, and Duke was the new kid in school who stood up to them – more on the Tar Heels later, I promise!  Coach K is a phenomenal recruiter, and as a college coach myself, I understand how hard that part of the job is.  There is so much negative stuff thrown around about Coach K and the Duke program that it is amazing that anyone would want to go there and play, yet year after year, he just lands one after another top level recruit … Kyrie Irving this year and Austin Rivers next year, anyone?  I also think Coach K is the best at teaching the players how to play the game, and then letting them play it.  They hardly ever run set plays, and even the ones they do run require the players to make decisions based on the situation and how the defense reacts.  He has overriding offensive and defensive principles that all of the players must adhere to, but after that, they are free to go play the game.  I think last year’s national title really cemented him as the best coach of this era.  That team did not have the great players like his other championship teams, but they played the best as a team of any team that I have seen in many years.  Also, the fact that he has won championships 19 years apart and been in final fours 24 years apart speaks to how he has been able to evolve as a coach as the game of college basketball has evolved during that time.

And now for the bottom 5 – I will keep the discussion short, as I don’t want to offend anyone:

5. Bill Parcells – New York Giants, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, etc

Phil Simms played out of his mind for one day in his career, and that translates into Parcells being a genius?  I don’t buy it, and he has never had great success anywhere else he has been.  He also seems to leave every NFL team in worse shape than when he got there – coincidence?  Probably not.  I don’t necessarily dislike Parcells, but I do think he is highly overrated.  Besides, he looks too much like one of my most disliked athletes (Colin Montgomerie) for me to not put him on this list.

There's a reason Gary always wears a dark suit!

4. Gary Williams – University of Maryland Men’s Basketball

I am so tired of watching Williams sweat through his suit as he stomps up and down the bench telling the players who are not in the game all the bad things the players on the court are doing.  His act is tired!  I also have a soft spot in my heart for Ohio State basketball, and he completely hosed that program when he left.

3. Pete Carroll – Currently with the Seattle Seahawks

Slimeball!  Mercenary!  I don’t really have anything else to say about him.

2. Dean Smith – University of North Carolina Men’s Basketball

For the longest time, he was #1 on this list, but has recently been surpassed.  I once worked at a VMI-UNC basketball game when VMI needed some extra help because the game was being televised and they were on break.  After the game, I was walking in the lower hallways of Cameron Hall and passed Dean as he was on his way to the press conference.  All of the other people with me stopped him to shake his hand and say hello – I just walked past and got angry!  Sometimes in life, you just have to choose sides, and I bleed Devil Blue!!

Roy Williams

1. Roy Williams – University of North Carolina Men’s Basketball

For all of the same reasons I didn’t like Dean, I now don’t like Roy.  The reason he is at the top, is for the way he treated the Kansas players, fans, alums, etc. when he left.  Once he said he was “not interested” in the UNC job, he should have stood by his word.  What a traitor!  If he was interested in the Carolina job, there are many other ways he could have handled and deflected those questions.  I imagine Dean had something to do with the whole thing going down that way, so I guess they can flip-flop back and forth from day to day.  Also, remember when I talked about basketball coaches wearing coats and ties for games (see Belichick above)?  How hideous is that light blue blazer!?!?!

So there are my favorite and least favorite coaches who I try to model my coaching after.  I try to be like the good ones, and learn from the mistakes of the ones I am not so fond of.  Feel free to engage me in conversation about any of these – it’s always good to argue sports, which is one of many things I learned from my Dad!


2 Responses to “Coaching Role Models”

  1. Holly Snyder Says:

    Enjoyed reading! You learn something new every day about those you love. Thanks for sharing.

  2. scott Says:

    “Coaches who get decked out for games (basketball coaches – this one is aimed at you!) are taking themselves WAY TOO SERIOUSLY! Nobody cares what the coach looks like, and nobody should even know what the coach is wearing – the fans are there to watch the players!!!”

    Well in the NBA, coaches can be fined for not dressing like that…

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