March Madness: Who is the Best Coach?


March 15, 2012 by Jay Helms

Today is the start of March Madness, the 68-Team Tournament that will determine the NCAA Champion for this year. It’s got me thinking about what separates the best coaches and teams from the rest of the field.
Do you have a favorite coach in the NCAA tournament this year?
One of my favorites to watch is Tom Izzo, the coach of the Michigan State Spartans.


When I watch him engage with his players and hear him talk in interviews, I find there appears to be a lot to admire about his way of coaching. I’m wondering if the new NC State coach Mark Gottfried is of a similar breed. I don’t know much about these two coaches beyond what I’ve seen and heard on TV.

Taking a look at the coaches and teams in this tournament, I think there are four kinds of coach-player relationships that can be noted (I think these are applicable to all teacher-learner, manager-worker, parent-child relationships in any field or area of life):

1) The Broken/Apathetic Relationship. This kind of relationship lacks two distinct things, a mutual relationship and thoughtful & direct challenges issued by the coach to the player. In short, this is the “no relationship, no challenge” scenario. Have you ever seen a player and coach who dispassionately ignore each other?
Examples: My high school basketball coach & our whole team, Gary Williams & John Gilchrist, Mike D’Antoni & Carmelo Anthony, and Ben Howland & Reeves Nelson at UCLA.


2) The Stressed/Discouraged Relationship. This relationship is characterized by a lot of challenge toward the player on the part of the coach, without a mutual exchanging of important parts of their lives on and off the court. These players play “not to lose” rather than to win. They order their way of playing around making sure not to invoke the wrath of the coach. There is mutual resentment in this relationship.
Examples: Matt Doherty & Sean May, Wojo & Shavlik Randolph, Bob Knight & Everyone after 1994.


3) The Hot Tub/Easy Relationship. Have you ever seen (or been guilty of being) a coach or parent who prefers to be a friend rather than a coach or teacher? In this relationship, the coach invites players to have access to his/her life as friends, yet fails to offer any meaningful challenge to the player. In short, this is high access or high invitation into life and low challenge.
Examples: Sidney Lowe & CJ Leslie, Phil Dunfee & Luke on Modern Family


4) The Thriving/Empowered Relationship. This involves a high level of the coach inviting the player to have access to his/her life as well as a high level of thoughtful, wise, and direct challenge opportunities to the player.
Examples: Pat Summit & Kellie Jolly Harper, Tony Dungy & Peyton Manning, Mike Hollis (of Net-Works) & Shavlik Randolph, Mark Gottfried & Calvin Leslie


We all tend toward one of these categories of relationship, especially when it comes to a relationship with God. Consider this question: what if God was not content to allow his relationship with you and me to remain as a broken/apathetic relationship? What if God really did do something about that? What if God made a supernatural move toward you and me through sending Jesus to reconnect us and him? What if God has truly made an offer to us, an invitation into a thriving relationship, to you and me?

Through the ages the life of Jesus is characterized by Thriving/Empowered relationships, with an amazing mix of high access & invitation into his life (and to the God who made us) along with a high amount of challenge to call us to live as he does. Jesus is the best teacher and coach who ever lived. It’s a shame he’s not coaching in the NCAA tourney this year, because I need help filling out my bracket.

2 thoughts on “March Madness: Who is the Best Coach?

  1. mom says:

    Watch Bobby Lutz, assistant at NCSU!

  2. Jay Helms says:

    He was mentioned in the VT coach search, but didnt get the job. I’ll keep an eye out for him next year.

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