What Makes a Good Basketball Coach?

When Tennessee developed a disconcerting trend this basketball season to go belly up on the road without as much as a whimper, coach Buzz Peterson sought out the services of a psychologist to reverse the perplexing pattern. In retrospect, he may have been better served by hiring a chemist, a headhunter, a teacher, a tactician, a motivational speaker and a visionary.

If you take into account the talents required for an enduring head coaching career you have to be successful in at least a couple of these fields. Of course, it all begins with recruiting which, like head hunting in a personnel agency, means finding the best available talent to perform a specific job along with the potential for advancement into a leadership position.

Another part of being an excellent recruiter is having the foresight to determine how these parts and personalities will blend or clash. That's where the role of chemist comes into play. The chemist is always vigilant for ways to create, correct or improve that psychological concoction of personalities and egos referred to as team chemistry.

The head coach also has to be an effective teacher which translates into conveying the right way to perform the tasks essential to the function of his players and assistant coaches. He has to be able to teach them how he expects them to execute the basics of basketball within a team concept and philosophy.

A coach has to be able to develop game plans based on how the teams match up in style, talent and depth. He has to not only make adjustments in the heat of competition but he has to anticipate the type of adjustments that might be needed depending on an opponent's tendencies and personnel. In other words, if he is getting good scouting reports there should be few surprises in the course of a game. Coaches that are strong in this area are generally referred to as bench coaches because they can break down the Xs and Os and implement changes during a standard 60-second time out.

The pep talk has been lampooned to the point where most believe they only exist in the movies. However the power of motivation should never been underestimated. And it's not so much the dramatic pre-game or half-time fire and brimstone lecture. More often it's the quiet one-on-one conversations that makes a bigger difference. Former LSU coach Dale Brown built an outstanding career on being able to do little more than recruit and motivate.

Finally a successful head coach has to know where he wants his team to go and how it can get there. That means adopting a style of play that best enables him to achieve his objectives. He must seek out players that can fit that system, fulfill his vision and adopt it as their own. This was the strength of former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson who designed a scrambling pressure defense he referred to as "40 minutes of Hell" and sold his players they could ride it to the top of college basketball. He routinely led the Razorbacks deep into the Big Dance, reaching three Final Fours and winning a national title.

It's rare to find a head coach who is successful in all six of these areas, but if a coach is especially strong in at least two categories he can consistently succeed. After observing Buzz Peterson the last three years most Tennessee fans have opinions on his strengths and weaknesses.

In part two of this story we'll examine how Peterson has performed and what areas he'll have to improve to return the Tennessee to the NCAA Tournament.

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