LipscombSports.com
Former Lipscomb coach Don Meyer now NCAA's winningest men's basketball coach
Don Meyer speaks to the crowd after earning his record 903rd coaching victory. (AP Photo/Doug Dreyer)
Don Meyer speaks to the crowd after earning his record 903rd coaching victory. (AP Photo/Doug Dreyer)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — Four months after a car accident nearly killed Don Meyer, the former Lipscomb coach passed Bob Knight as the NCAA's winningest men's basketball coach.

Northern State University's 82-62 win over Mary on Saturday night gave Meyer his 903rd victory.

His .750 winning percentage (903-301) was compiled at three universities in a career that began in 1972 and nearly ended last September in a car accident that sent him to the hospital for 55 days, forced doctors to amputate his lower left leg and led to the discovery of a slow-growing cancer.

Coaching from the sidelines in a wheelchair, the 64-year-old Wayne, Neb. native moved past Knight, whom he credited for his love of coaching. The career victory leader in men's coaching is Harry Statham of McKendree University, an NAIA school. He has won 979 games in 43 seasons.

"I haven't had this much fun since Carmen and I were married," he told the capacity crowd.

He said he was grateful for the people who had helped his family during the recovery.

"And I want to thank this group of guys for hanging with me during a difficult time," he said.

Taped remarks from legendary UCLA coach John Wooden were played after the game. The university plans a formal celebration on Jan. 17 to mark the record.

Meyer was critically injured on Sept. 5 when his compact car collided with a loaded grain truck west of this university town of 25,000. Alone in his car, his was the first of several vehicles taking the team to an annual weekend retreat when he either fell asleep or was distracted.

Assistant coaches and team members rushed to his aid.

"He was making some crazy sounds because he got the wind knocked out of him times a million," fifth-year senior Kevin Ratzsch said of the accident.

"We were holding his hand, keeping him fighting because he was wanting to call it quits, but he kept fighting."

What followed were multiple operations in a hospital 200 miles from home to remove Meyer's spleen, repair cracked ribs and deal with a mangled left leg that later was amputated below the knee.

Meyer now calls the accident a blessing; without it, doctors would not have found the slow-growing cancer. Cancer treatment was put off until his injuries and the amputation could heal.

During his hospital stay, Meyer lost 20 pounds and went through rehabilitation to rebuild his strength and learn how to move with a walker or in a wheelchair.

Assistant coach Randy Baruth directed practices but spoke daily with Meyer.

The day after his hospital dismissal, Meyer was on hand for the team's 5 a.m. practice. Five days later he accompanied the NCAA Division II team to exhibition games at Minnesota and Purdue.

A standout baseball and basketball player in college, the 1967 graduate of Northern Colorado began his coaching career at Hamline University in 1972. He then spent 24 seasons at Lispcomb University in Nashville, Tenn., where he twice was NAIA coach of the year and led the Bison to the 1986 title. Since taking the Northern State job in 1999, the Wolves have seven straight 20-win seasons.

Meyer's 37-year record is 37-41 at Hamline University, 665-179 at Lipscomb University, and 201-81 at Northern.

It was nearly a year earlier — on Jan. 19, 2008 — that Northern's 87-78 win over the University of Mary put Meyer in second place on the all-time career win list. He tied the record of 902 victories at Upper Iowa on Jan. 3.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.