A coach can only do so much and unless you’re a veteran with a long-term deal or a Hall-of-Famer, you’d better have the kind of charisma that captivates everyone in a room, no matter the setting. Former coaches John Wooden, Al McGuire, John Thompson and Bob Knight immediately come to mind. Current coaches with that type of scent, beyond the obvious Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, are Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, Paul Hewitt, Gary Williams, John Thompson III, Bill Self and Ben Howland.
Independent of whether a coach is in this kind favorable situation is less important than what each of them, and all their other colleagues face, and that is to find a team leader -either a spokesman, like a rah-rah guy or the silent type, better known in the coaching world as the “leader by example” - the player who will outwork everybody else. Which is better depends on the personality of the coach, but even more so, on the make up of the squad. Are the others, especially the young bucks, impressed with a teammate chirping - be it backing up confident trash talking (if such a thing exists) or with positive support when one of the youngsters is struggling or is it the case where the best player (or at least one of the best) on the club is, far and away, the hardest worker?
Talent is, and always will be, paramount to a team’s success but leadership is, and always will be, the most important intangible to winning. I was part of a staff where we had one of the two best leaders I’d ever been around - in both the outgoing and all-out hustle categories - and I experienced, arguably, the best season in my 30-year career as an assistant. Then, he graduated and we made a horrendous recruiting mistake, replacing him with someone who was as close to his antithesis as possible. The program suffered, never regaining the same heights we’d had during that magical season.
While the newcomer wasn’t the sole reason for the downfall, the following quote sums up the problem he had with the team - and, more importantly - the coaches had with him:
“Leadership is the art of getting others to do something you’re convinced should be done.”