Summitt embodied “C” leadership

 

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The coach looked at his star player during the timeout, knowing that, if she could steal the ball, it would help cut the opponent’s five-point lead in the last couple of minutes. He still had four timeouts.

“OK, you’re on defense,” the coach roared out to his star.

The horn sounded, and the do-it-all player went back on the court on defense. As had been mapped out, she stole the ball from the bigger and more experienced team. The coach called another timeout.

“OK, you’re back on offense,” he yelled out, again to his star player.

Just as the play was diagrammed, the star player got the ball and put it in for two. She had cut the opponent’s lead to three points.

That was the first year at Roosevelt School in Montgomery County, Tenn., in what would become the Hall of Fame career of Joe Daves. The year was 1966. At the time, Tennessee girls were playing half-court basketball.

Daves burned all five of his timeouts during that last couple minutes, which allowed him to play his star on both sides of the ball, even though they were going to be one timeout and one possession short.

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The “C” part of “C” You In The Major Leagues comes from a character and leadership program that Dayton Moore and others in the baseball operations department with the Royals implemented throughout their minor league system during the offseason of 2006-07. Although it’s been tweaked, the “C” words are: Care, Character, Coach, Commitment, Competitor, Composure, Comprehension, Concentration, Confidence and Courage.

As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, the sports world lost one of its icons earlier this week with the death of legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt. She was 64.

Although she was a great X’s and O’s coach, who led her teams to 1,098 wins – the most in NCAA Division I history for men or women, along with eight national championships, she embodied “C” leadership.

“When you hear her former players talk about her and the impact she had on them as players and people, it speaks volumes,” former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning told ESPN this week. “She had a huge impact on everyone she met. I always felt better every time I was around her.”

I met Summitt one time, in 1995, when I was writing my first book, “Behind the Stats,” which focused on nine “legendary” coaches from the state of Tennessee. To qualify as a “legend,” the coaches not only had to have been successful on the court or field, but also in the lives of their athletes. And, all nine coaches were living.

When I first contacted Summitt’s office at the University of Tennessee, via a letter sent snail mail, I didn’t really think I’d get a response. After all, I was less of a nobody at the time. I was a 25-year-old punk who had the crazy idea he could write a book. Within 10 days of sending the letter, I got a phone call saying that Coach Summitt was happy to be included in the book, and asked if I’d be willing to do the interview in person in Knoxville, instead of over the phone.

After our two-hour meeting in Summitt’s office in Knoxville, I was ready to suit up for the Lady Vols. She was an intense but very caring person. It was easy to see why so many players wanted to play for Summitt.

At the time, Summitt’s teams had won three national championships, with a fourth to come in the season that followed our summer interview. By then, she had developed Five Keys to Building and Maintaining a Program:

1. Quality people: “You win with people,” she told me. “The better the players, the better the coaching. Great players make good coaches. Plus, to be able to assemble a staff like we have with honest and loyal people is a key.”

2. Have a system: “You’ve got to be organized, and by having a system we know organizationally how we want to do things here.”

3. Communication: “You’ve got to have the communication to be able to have a system and get the right people in the right place at the right time, doing the right things. I think we’ve been able to do that and we’re all on the same page of how we want things done.”

4. Work ethic: “We work hard; our players work hard, our staff works hard. There’s just a tremendous commitment here to be the best. You can want to be the best but it’s got a price tag.”

5. Maintain discipline: “You have to have it. I think when you lower your standards because you have great players, you hurt your program in so many ways. We’ve just always wanted to be fair, firm and consistent with our discipline, and so we are structured. This program’s not for everyone, but the ones who have stuck with it have been successful.”

Summitt’s teams took on those five keys. Even as she coached for nearly 20 years after we met, those five keys were evident. Sure, the styles of her teams may have changed throughout the years, depending on the type of athletes she had, but her commitment to her players, the program, her staff and herself didn’t falter.

There are great coaches in various sports who don’t necessarily lead with a “C” mentality. She came off hard-nosed at times, but Pat Summitt was one of the most gracious coaches in any sport — at any level — win or lose, and was a perfect example of a “C” leader. One from which we all can learn, regardless of your profession.

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Incidentally, in that 1966 game, Roosevelt School was playing an alumni team in a postseason fund-raiser game. Joe Daves’ star player was, of course, Pat Head Summitt, who single-handedly brought Roosevelt School back in that game, and then some after the coach of the alumni team inadvertently called a timeout when his team lost possession of the ball late in the game. Oops … the blunder allowed Daves, who was out of timeouts, to bring Summitt back into the game, and lead her team to the win.

One Response to “Summitt embodied “C” leadership”

  1. Pat Burwell

    Thankyou,, Matt. That was a wonderful tribute.

    Reply

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