March 28, 2023
by Stephen T. Messenger
March Madness is in full swing, and we’re down to the Final Four of the original 68. This year has been particularly interesting because of the number of underdog wins. After the Sweet Sixteen round, only one team from the original top eight remained.
You can credit these surprise wins to many different factors, but I always start with the coach, the leader.
A head coach at the competitive level is the difference maker and the most important person on the team. To steal the Army definition of a commander, a coach is responsible for everything the team does or fails to do.
I’ve noticed that the post-game interview is a telling indicator of where the heart of a great coach lies. Below are comments from the four highest-seeded coaches remaining in the Elite Eight and the first thing on their mind after winning:
Coach Dusty May. Florida Atlantic University. Ranked #9: Go to Battle
“It feels great to go to battle with these guys every day. They love to compete, they love the game, and they love each other.”
Coach May understands that people in the trenches need to have a deep love, respect, and passion for those around them and their trade. This generates mutual trust and understanding so when the bullets fly, they act as one.
Coach Greg McDermott. Creighton University. Ranked #6: Be Humble
“First of all, Congrats to Princeton (their opponent) on an incredible year. That is one heck of a basketball team.”
The #15 ranked Princeton only had a 3% chance to make the Sweet Sixteen. They were tough. And when Coach McDermott beat them, he had enough humility to acknowledge his competitor’s efforts.
Coach James Larrañaga. University of Miami. Ranked #5. Give Credit
“All the credit goes to this guy (Nigel Pack, Point Guard). He just makes every shot.”
Miami blew out the #4 seeded Tennessee. After the game, Coach Larrañaga gave the credit to his guard Nigel Pack, who scored 26 points with 7 three-pointers. Leaders always deflect praise to others.
Coach Brian Dutcher. San Diego State University. Ranked #5: Focus on the Future
“We played Aztec basketball. We played together, we played the right way, and came home with the win… We’re proud of this group, and we’re not down. We’re not going to over-celebrate, and we have another game to play.”
Author Simon Sinek talks of the infinite game. There are no permanent winners or losers, just another game to play. Coach Dutcher, in the adrenaline of a huge win over #1 seeded Alabama, was looking to the future.
When you put these four themes together, you get a leader who both understands people and how to accomplish goals. They see competition as war, where winning matters at the elite levels. Success takes dedicated effort to your master your craft, but people are at the center. This takes a level of being humble and giving credit to those on your team. Finally, great leaders look to the future to see the next objective ahead.
Kansas State was ranked #3 and has not been an underdog the entire tournament. But I loved the coach’s post-game interview comments the best.
Jerome Tang, Kansas State University. Basketball Coach. Ranked #3
“We got a ton of faith in each other. They have faith in me. I got faith in every one of these guys right here. They probably did more coaching than I did. I just try to love them. And when you love people, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”
Well said, Coach Tang–Lead well!
Subscribe above to The Maximum Standard. You are a coach that leads your team into competition be it from boardroom to the battlefield. Come join us on our no-ad, completely free leadership platform. We are always looking for guest authors to share their ideas.