Steve Donahue, the University of Pennsylvania basketball coach, is a great example of a resilient coach. Donahue led Penn to an Ivy league championship last season. In the years prior to that Boston University had terminated his contract. He detailed the lessons he learned from that experience in a recent interview.
Donahue, who took Cornell to the Sweet Sixteen in the past, is the only coach since 1979 to win the Ivy League with two different teams. The two championships bookend his firing.
Writing at the Philly Inquirer Mike Jensen unpacks the keys to Donahue’s return to the top. Resilience is often an essential trait in a long career. Here are the three lessons learned by this resilient coach, plus one bonus at the bottom.
One is the ability to maintain perspective in the face of the setback.
“There’s a lot to do with my success here because I’m a failure at BC — there just is,” Donahue said. “That was very difficult, particularly on my family. There’s been the highest of highs and lowest of lows. I’m the national coach of the year [in 2010, at Cornell], and I’m told I’m not good enough to coach at this school. You can take it one of two ways: Man, they’re wrong and you’re bitter and you don’t learn anything from it. Or you move on.”
Study Your Errors
Donahue studied his errors in the year between Boston University and his return to coaching at Penn. As a result of this self reflection he made some necessary adjustments and returned to some of his core beliefs.
He changed his tactics and returned to the defensive roots that had been key at Cornell. At Boston his team’s offense had been as good as any in the ACC, but not its defending. Penn returned to a more defensive focus.
Values Always Matter
But, what he really focused on was values. Donahue spoke about them often and modeled them for his team.
“I probably assumed everybody was for team first,” Donahue said, noting that unity was at the center of those words for a reason. “I didn’t give examples. I didn’t live it. I didn’t try to get those guys to really understand it. I just assumed. Here, we’d talk about each of those things for an hour.”
In addition to these three, I am struck by the underlying lessons be authentic and find the right place for you as a coach.
The article which details a resilient coach is worth your time.
Another resilient coach who bounced back from being fired, reflected and returned to his authentic beliefs and values.