Episode #314: John Calipari & Michael Lombardi – Building & Sustaining A Culture Of Excellence

John Calipari has been the head coach of the University of Kentucky basketball team since 2009, with whom he won the NCAA Championship in 2012. He has been named Naismith College Coach of the Year three times (in 1996, 2008 and 2015), and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. Calipari has coached Kentucky to four Final Fours, in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. He also led UMass and Memphis to the Final Four in 1996 and 2008 respectively.  Coach Cal’s players have made over $1 Billion in NBA contracts.

Michael Lombardi was an assistant to the coaching staff of the New England Patriots (until 2016) and is a former analyst for the NFL Network and sportswriter at NFL.com.  Lombardi also previously served as an NFL executive with the San Francisco 49ers working withBill Walsh, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, and Oakland Raiders working with Al Davis. 

This was recorded in front of an audience at an event called the NCAA Final Four Coaching Consortium.  The people in the audience were college basketball coaches and athletic directors.

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“You can a have bad deal with good people.  Stuff happens.  But you can never have a good deal with bad people.”  

Show Notes:

  • The “Players First” credo:
    • “When I worked for Larry Brown he told me, if you care about the kids and you really care, you’ll always have a job.”
    • “Larry was a coaches coach, but a players coach, who wasn’t afraid to coach.  Right now, we’re moving in a direction where we’re afraid to coach.  Correcting in real time is so important.”
    • “Everyone said the 1 and done rule would ruin college basketball, they wanted to replace me.”
    • “If you’re about your kids, whatever happens good for them, will not be a negative for you.  It’s about them first.  It’s about us second.  If you want them to be servant leaders, they have to see it in you.”
    • “If they don’t see you getting involved in the community, they won’t get involved in the community.”  Players first is not just them playing basketball, it’s everything.
  • “We all should be reading.  The more curious you are, the more curious your players will be.  Read books, give your players books to read.”
  • Lombardi — Coach Walsh was all about the players, he was the first to go on fishing tournaments with players.  He bought Bubba Smith a big tv, he made Michael sit and eat all meals with him.
    • Bill Walsh had a book club in San Francisco
    • Bill Belichick is all about the history of the game and the history of our country.  When you go in the cafeteria and you see the great players on the wall, he expects you to know the history and the culture of your team.
    • You should ask all coaches, “who assigns the jersey numbers?”  The coach should assign those numbers, not the equipment manager.  Your player needs to know the history of that number.
  • Calipari — Process on getting guys to want to play as a team:
    • It all starts in recruiting.  “If you promise every kid 25 shots, good luck.  Because at some point, someone will be upset.  If the relationship starts with a lie, you’ll never recover.”
    • “Whatever you do here is earned.  If you’re good enough you’ll start, but you’ll decide that.”
    • “If you want them to be great teammates it starts immediately when you meet them.  They have to earn it.”
    • You can’t oversell and under deliver.  People will not buy in to that.
    • “Pat Riley gave me one of the best compliments ever, he said, ‘Your players are some of the best teammates in the NBA.'”
    • Marcus Camby — “I said, what position do you want to play?”  he said, “Shooting guard.”  I said, “Okay, but we do post up our shooting guards a lot.”
  • Lombardi — Putting together a great roster — Roster construction:
    • The law of 3’s
      • Whenever you take over a team you have three groups of people
        • One — They’ll do anything you want them to do
        • Two — They’re unsure
        • Three — They are never happy
      • Focus on the people in group one and you’ll win the whole team.
    • The Four areas of leadership
      • Command of self — Must be discipline
      • Command of plan
      • Command of meaning/message
      • Command of trust — You cannot lie.  If you lie, you’ll lose the player forever
  • Calipari — Took over UMass — Terrible team at the time
    • When he left, he got advice from a business man (Pat Nardelli)
    • “You can a have bad deal with good people.  Stuff happens.  But you can never have a good deal with bad people.”
    • “The reason I’ve had success, I’ve had the best staffs.  Top to bottom.  When you get your job, you surround yourself with great people.”
    • “Assistant coaches must be able to work together.  They are each other’s PR machine.  Each guy needs to promote the other guy.”
    • Was on football field with Bill Parcells — Could coach all 22 guys on a football field.  He had incredible vision.
  • The importance of mentors in your career– Calipari
    • “Who’s your kitchen cabinet?  Who do you go to when things aren’t going well?”  Who can you listen to?
      • Ken Blanchard – The One Minute Manager
    • Decision making — you need to run it by someone.  Don’t make big time decisions when you’re still emotional.
      • “I’ll take the job the grass is greener…. Well you have to cut the grass on both sides.”
      • You need people to say, “Stop.  Tell me what you’re thinking…”
  • Lombardi — Meeting with George Raveling
    • “This man reads more than any human being alive.”
    • Take an hour a day to read
  • Calipari — Look at adversity as a challenge and failure as a learning opportunity
    • “How does someone look when things aren’t going well?  That’s what I need to know.”
    • “The best moments are when things aren’t going well.  Give me four games in a row when you lose… Now, I want to see what kind of person are you?”  You’re on the stage by yourself, you’re looking for friends.”
    • “You have issues?  People have their own issues.  They aren’t worried about you.”  It’s about “How do I get restarted?  What’s my next step?  Ask an AD, how can I be better?”
    • “When you get fired, make amends with the people who fired you.  The next job you want?  They’re going to call those people who fired you.”
    • Be a ‘pay it forward’ person.  The opportunities we have to change lives… And the ripples it causes from it.
  • Lombardi — The Obstacle Is The Way
    • How to bounce back when you’re wrong?
      • When you get a new job, figure out why you got the job and why the person before you got fired.  Take the time to understand the mistakes made.
      • “The only way you’ll correct them is to learn them.”
      • There’s two kind of jobs:  Jobs you can grow from and jobs you can make a difference in.
      • Al Davis would ask Mike — “Do you know why we won today?”  He wanted to know why the team won and lost and put it on paper.
      • Bill Belichick does an autopsy after every game (win or lose).  You need to understand why the outcome happened (good or bad).  Take stock of your career every single day.  Every obstacle needs to be used to your advantage.
  • Calipari — “I will not coach if I’m cheating these kids.”
    • He signed a lifetime contact with Kentucky
    • “My leverage has always been the job I’ve done.”
    • Why talk to other teams? “I want to help someone I know.  A player or another coach.  The whole thing we do is about relationships.”
  • If LeBron James calls you and asks you to coach his team, what will you say?
    • “I’m not doing it.  Pat Riley said Coach Cal coaches and corrects in real time during a game.  He takes a guy out, corrects, puts him back in. You can’t do that in the NBA.”
  • Lombardi — At college pro days
    • Belichick observed Coach Cal during a game… Watching him coach
      • “It was so impressive, Belichick was admiring how much Cal was coaching.”
  • What skills should we develop?  The commonalities among the most successful coaches:
    • Curious minds — not a single playbook.  The sport moves.  Adapt.
    • They are about other people — Servant leaders
    • Wired and driven to work – they love practice more than the games
    • Smart —
  • Lombardi — Divergent in thought.  Figure out what’s needed with that team.  Passion.
    • “The greatest reward for winning is the opportunity to do it more.”

“The greatest reward for winning is the opportunity to do it more.”

More Resources:

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Episode 216: Jim Collins — How To Go From Good To Great

Episode #300: AJ & Keith Hawk – How To Instill Work Ethic & Curiosity In Your Children

Episode #303:  General Stanley McChrystal – The New Definition Of Leadership