Al McGuire Was A Revolutionary Coach

By Ryan McNeill

While reading through Andrew Blauner’s book “Coach” I came across yet another McGuire gem that I wanted to share with readers. According to Frank Deford, McGuire told him that;

“The trouble with coaching, the prevailing image, is that coaching is like what you had in high school, because that is the last place where most people were involved with coaching. But coaching college is not pizza parties and getting the team together down at that A&W stand. People can’t understand my players screaming back at me, but it’s healthy. Also, I notice that the screaming always comes when we’re fifteen, twenty ahead. When it’s tied, then they’re all listening very carefully to what I have to say.

Can you picture Scott Skiles giving his players this kind of freedom? There’s no chance! This is the same coach that flipped out about something trivial like Ben Wallace wearing a headband.

Now try to imagine George Karl lasting more than 10 years with one team. It’s not going to happen because of the way he gets under the skin of his players because he plays mind games with them and he is known for yelling at them during games and practices. While Karl has always enjoyed immediate success wherever he has coached, after a couple years players always start to tune him out.

I think coaches like Al McGuire and Phil Jackson are successful because they know how to relate to players. In the past coaches who would yell and run a dictatorship in the locker room were the coaches who had success. The game and players have changed now and players need a coach they can relate to. Modern players respond better to coaches that are teachers and resemble father figures. Coaches like Mike D’Antoni, Avery Johnson and Lawrence Frank are the next wave of coaches because they can calmly relate to players without being a dictator.

In a recent article for ESPN The Magazine Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni told Dan Le Batard that he’d never scream at Steve Nash but “he’s yelled at me a few times though.”

Can you picture Scott Skiles or Jerry Sloan putting up with a player screaming at them? No chance! However, it’s this understanding of Nash’s competitive nature that allows D’Antoni and the Suns to enjoy success because Nash’s creativity and fiery leadership isn’t hindered by his coach.

D’Antoni explains why he doesn’t yell later in the article when he says:

“You have to be careful how many times you yell, because they will turn you off. I always played better for a coach who worked with me.”

As a player I know that I can faintly hear my coach during games. Due to adrenaline and being focussed in the game at hand I rarely hear my coach because I get wrapped up in a game. I have had a couple of coaches that were “yellers” and I found that I heard them even less because I unconsciously tuned them out.

Another great point was raised in Le Batard’s article when Avery Johnson was quoted as saying:

“People confuse meekness with weakness. If a guy doesn’t holler or if every other word isn’ a curse, he’s not tough.”

My favourite line in this entire comes from Le Batard when he closed off the column by writing:

“New age leaders like D’Antoni don’t see the need for spilled blood. It’s more rewarding when you can persuade your men to donate it.”

I couldn’t think of a more fitting ending to an article on effective coaches. After all, isn’t getting your men to play their best the purpose of being a coach? Who cares if you look good ranting and stomping along the sidelines if your players tune you out. It’s coaches like D’Antoni and Johnson who are ushering in the next generation of coaching in the NBA.

I think it’s a huge statement to how brilliant Al McGuire was that he was 30 years ahead of this coaching trend.


8 thoughts on “Al McGuire Was A Revolutionary Coach

  1. Great insight, makes perfect sense. There’s little or no room in the NBA for yellers anymore, that’s for sure. Regarding the Bulls/headband thing, it’s not Skiles’ rule. At least that’s what he implied when interviewed about it on local radio. It’s Paxon’s rule put in for that no-talent ass clown Eddie Robinson (remember him?) and Eddy Curry. Oh, those were the days…….

  2. This summer I watched Marcus Davenport’s hoops documentary on the Flint basketball community called “Flint Star” and Eddie presented himself as a self-centred jerk in this documentary. I remember watching in disgust as he talked about being unable to give money back to the Flint community (who desperately need some extra funding) because the bills for his mansion, car and jewellery were too high.

  3. Wow, do they ever need it? Things haven’t changed very much since “Roger & Me”, from what it sounds like….Thanks much for all the info,etc. you post. You’re slowly turning me into an admirer of the young Raptors. CBosh is on two of my fantasy teams, and their young guns are awfully talented. I’m looking forward to an Eastern Conference final a few years down the road (it may be even sooner if the talent from the East keeps getting traded to the West) between them and my Beloved Bulls….

  4. Great article. My only contention is your end. This coaching stlye is hardly a trend. I’m a high school coach in Houston who coaches this way. I’m by far more of an exception than the norm. I’m seen as young and dumb and that I give my players too much freedom. Everyone thinks coaching is plays, and discipline is yelling and punishment. Keep writing articles like this so hopefully our game become beautiful again.

  5. K Dawg: Thanks for the compliments on the site! The writers here on are trying to add articles to this site that challenges basketball fans to think about the game in a different way than the mainstream media portrays the game. We all love basketball and have different experiences that we try to portray in these articles in an attempt to get readers thinking about the game in a different way. Reading comments like yours are encouraging because it lets me know that our goal is being reached.

  6. Coach Tuk: Thanks for checking out and I’m glad to hear that you liked this article. Like you I’m a coach at the school where I teach, however I coach elementary basketball instead of high school. Most of my peers like to rant and rave on the sidelines however I’m more calm so reading these quotes were a great reminder that coaches can have success without having “temper tantrums” on the sidelines.

    If you liked this article I’d recommend you check out Brian McCormick’s stuff out as well. He’s currently coaching in Ireland and he has a blog set up for coaches ( and a FREE newsletter that you can sign up for by sending him an email at (just add “subscribe” to the subject line of the email).

    Good luck on the remainder of your season!

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