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Don Meyer's legacy remembered at Sunday's memorial

Sunday, June 01, 2014
by Mark McGee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It was an afternoon for telling stories, remembering the good times and the hard times and discussing the life lessons learned from Coach Don Meyer.

Sunday afternoon at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena more than 1,100 friends, family and fans gathered on the floor that bears Meyer’s name for a memorial celebration service. Included in that total were 98 former players and student assistant coaches.

Coach Meyer passed away May 18 in Aberdeen, South Dakota, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He spent 24 years of his coaching career at Lipscomb starting in 1975. He directed his team to the NAIA National Championship in 1986 and was 665-179 at Lipscomb. He finished his career at Northern State in Aberdeen and finished with 923 victories.

There were songs from soloist Martha Ann Hawkins and pianist Phil Sanders.

G. David England led the group in “To God Be the Glory” which had special significance. While Coach Meyer was going through the painful process of having the first dressing removed where his leg had been amputated as the result of an automobile accident, he and his wife, Carmen, both started singing the song.

“Through the pain of that horrific moment they chose to praise God,” England said. “I have never been injured as seriously as Coach was in that car accident and I hope I never will be.  But I have broken bones playing sports. I can tell you that in the treatment of those injuries I never chose to sing, much less praise God at that moment.

“So Coach continues to instruct us today.”

Lipscomb President Dr. L. Randolph Lowry spoke. Jonathan Seamon, former Lipscomb athletic director and the “Voice of the Bisons”, provided the welcoming and closing remarks.

Greg Brown, a former student assistant coach and current Lady Bisons basketball coach, read Coach Meyer’s obituary and led a prayer.

Former players Greg Glenn, Richard Taylor, Wade Tomlinson and Ricky Bowers spoke.  Tom Kelsey, another former player, read a letter from the Meyer family. Carmen, Coach Meyer’s wife of 45 years, and children Jerry, Brooke and Brittney, were present along with their children.

The theme of the afternoon was that Meyer was the classic example of a servant-leader. Many in the audience were observed taking notes, something he always encouraged and apparently began doing when he was still a player.

Coach Meyer was a godly man and there were many references to his favorite Bible verses which include Ecclesiastes 5: 19-20, Luke 14:11, James 3:13 and 4:10, I Peter 5: 5-11, I Thessalonians 5:16-19 and Galatians 2:20.

Glenn, the first former player (1985-88) to speak was also a student assistant coach. He came to the podium after a video of an interview with Coach Meyer was shown. He was visibly moved and had some difficulty beginning his remarks.

“Coach didn’t say anything flowery about you while you were around,” Glenn said. “He would say something complimentary about you to others, and sometimes it would get back to you. But there was never a time when I didn’t feel like Coach was in my foxhole.”

Glenn was impressed with Meyer’s continuous pursuit of excellence and his ability to get others to follow him on that same road.

“He had the ability to see every detail,” Glenn said. “He was a master of studying other people. He understood the importance and urgency of mastering techniques that led to execution.

“He was ahead of his time in understanding the importance of process trumping over product.  He was courageous enough to not compromise or let anyone blur his focus. He was all in.”

Taylor thought one of the secrets to Coach Meyer’s ability to instruct others was the truthfulness of his messages.

“What draws people to Coach Meyer is that he simply used basketball to teach lessons that were much deeper (than the sport) and were about truth,” said Taylor, a forward from 1983-87. “Once you get a taste of that and once you know that is what his role is then you get thirsty and you can’t get enough of it.

“It is so humbling to think about the thousands of people he touched, through his player obviously, but through his camps and classes. I know there are networks of people he was invested in. He loved to encourage people. Basketball was a way for him to do that.”

In the video Coach Meyer talked about learning that coaching kids was more important than coaching basketball. Kelsey, who serves as director of basketball operations at Louisiana State University, stressed that is a lesson that is learned over time.

Coach Meyer was known as a disciplinarian on the court who drove his players to be more than they even thought they could be.

“You don’t learn that right away,” said Kelsey, a forward from 1982-86. “I think Coach had to learn that. It takes a while to develop that part of your psyche as a coach. At first you are an Xs and Os guy and then you figure it out that it is about the kids. All of us go through that.”

While Meyer was tough on his players Kelsey pointed out his players never held a grudge over the criticisms.

“It was never personal,” Kelsey said. “We knew Coach cared. It was always about the action. I never remember leaving a practice when I was mad at him. I left the court being mad at myself.

“I could see where players may have left the court mad at me because of the way I treated them as a coach. I had to change some things about the way that I coached. You would leave McQuiddy Gym upset at your own performance in a game or practice. But you were never upset that you didn’t play enough or that he said something derogatory top you.”

So many of Meyer’s former players, especially those who went into the coaching profession, have strived to be like their coach.

“There is a fine line,” Kelsey said. “You want to be like him, but that is hard. You can’t be. He was a one-of-a-kind personality with a one-of-a-kind dynamic.”

Coach Meyer expected a lot from his players both on and off of the court.  He stressed the importance of doing the simple things in life like picking up trash and saying “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” and “yes sir” and “no sir” as well as “please” and “thank you”. He recruited talented players, but he also sought out the type of player that could understand and thrive under his system.

“He recruited players with great character,” Kelsey said. “If a player didn’t have great character then he took the time to mold it. Because of basketball camps and the way the rule were back then we had a year-round opportunity to be around Coach Meyer.”

Another legacy Kelsey will remember is never going out on the court for a game without feeling completely prepared to be successful.

“You might fear a team two days before the game but he did such a good job with the scouting report and getting you ready that by the time you tipped it up you were confident as a team,” Kelsey said. “You weren’t cocky, but you just knew that your team had the coaching advantage in every game.

“That’s huge for an 18-to-22-year-old kid. When you know in your heart you have the better coach that is a big deal.”

Coach Meyer will also be remembered as a teacher as well as a coach. Ricky Bowers, a former point guard for the Bisons from 1980-84 and one of the top football and basketball coaches in the state of Tennessee at Ensworth here in Nashville, thinks that is an aspect of Coach Meyer’s life that will be missed the most.

“Could he have taken his approach as a coach to another profession and been successful?” Bowers asked. “I think so. He had such a passion and coaching was the vehicle.

“But he had a passion for coaching that was unlike anyone I have ever known. We have lost our friend and our mentor, but the coaching profession, and I am talking about all sports, has lost the greatest teacher. “

Bowers is certain the lessons Meyer taught have been and will continue to be passed down to future generations.

“We are all a product of his teaching,” Bowers said. “There is no escaping his goodness, his influence and his message.  He was a rare teacher.  He was a special guy.”