The Doc Councilman Memorial Lecture: Winning by C.M. Newton (2005)


Introduction by Dale Neuberger: This is the Doc Councilman Memorial Lecture and today our guest speaker to do so is my pal, C. M. Newton and he is a basketball coach and some of you may wonder what a basketball coach is doing at a swimming coach’s world clinic, but I think by the time he finishes in a few minutes from now, that you will understand why because he truly is a coach’s coach. C. M. was born here in Ft. Lauderdale. He was raised here. He was a three sport star in football, basketball and baseball. In fact he was a pitcher in the New York Yankees minor league system. He has Bachelors and Masters Degrees from the University of Kentucky, the same alma mater as our previous speaker, Mark Schubert He was a letterman on the 1952 NCAA Basketball Championship team and that team was coached by Adoph Rupp, one of the most legendary coaches in the history of basketball and the history of American coaching and there was a pretty good football coach at the University of Kentucky at that time named Bear Bryant so they had a lock on some pretty fair coaching in both of those sports in the early 50’s at the University of Kentucky. He spent 34 years coaching Division I basketball at Transylvania, at Alabama and at Vanderbilt, 509 career victories in that period of time and a record that really is unmatched in terms of what he did in raising those programs to new levels. He has been chairman of the NCAA basketball committee, the most important leadership position in collegiate basketball. He is a member of FIBA central board, the equivalent of the FINA bureau in our sport, the international federation in basketball. He has won the most important awards in basketball, the Nasmith Award for coaching excellence and integrity in the sport. He was an Olympic assistant coach to Bob Knight in 1984, the Gold Medal team in Los Angeles. He has also been a guy that has been responsible for a number of firsts and also he has been a great risk taker and I think that is why he is particularly appropriate to be the person giving a Doc Councilman lecture today because Doc was a risk taker. He was a man of many firsts and I think that C.M. in his sport has been the same. When he went to the University of Kentucky that was a risk for him to go far away from home and to give up a dream of playing professional baseball to have a chance to play for one of the great coaches in America. He also, at the University of Alabama, recruited the first African-American basketball players to the University in a very difficult time in our nation’s history and also for the University of Alabama to become integrated in terms of its basketball team and C.M. was committed to that and it was one of the reasons he took the job and then in 1989, after a very successful coaching career, he was called back at the University of Kentucky after the University was put on probation for a variety of NCAA offenses. He came in at a time when virtually no one would have taken that position. He served for 11 years as athletic director at the University of Kentucky, hired a pretty good basketball coach named Rick Pitino who won two national championships during his tenure and also hired the first African-American basketball men’s coach, Tubby Smith at the University of Kentucky afterwards. As I say, I think he is a man that Doc would be very proud giving this lecture today. In addition to being a great risk taker and a man of firsts he is a man of unparalleled integrity and it is my great honor to introduce to you today, Coach C. M. Newton.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here and I can’t tell you what an honor and privilege it is for me to be the Doc Councilman Memorial Lecturer. This is a unique opportunity for me and it is a unique opportunity because Doc Councilman was really one of a kind. If you were going to put up a picture and a description of the model of an educator/coach you would put his picture up there. That is what Doc was.

I first knew him and knew of him as an educator. After graduation at the University of Kentucky I went to work at Transylvania College. I went there as a basketball coach and instructor in physical education. We had a physical education major’s program and as I worked and taught through that program I was familiar with Doc because of the amount of research and writings and presentations that he did for physical education through the IU school of physical education and the research quarterly and other professional journals and later began to observe, because of the attention he was getting, of the job he was doing as a coach at IU. Just year after year they seemed to win and then he was publishing all the physiology of exercise and physical fitness and the swimming articles and all the other things and I thought, boy this guy is special as a coach and truly, he was a master coach. One of the things that I have done over the years I have always felt that you can learn from other people in other sports.

I have always told coaches in basketball, if you really want to learn about organization, get yourself around a good football coach. You know, I have 15 guys max and a staff of a couple that I need to organize. Think of what that guy has to do? A hundred people, a staff of many. Organization is key. So I learned a tremendous amount about coaching from Paul Bryant. I watched him. I observed him. I always said, if you ever want to learn about motivation, get yourself and talk to a good swimming coach. What you people do is unbelievable. You get people up at 6 o’clock in the morning and get them to go into a pool. They can’t breathe. You get them in an unnatural element. You teach them strokes, you work them, then you put them in the weight training, then you bring them back in the afternoon. You talk about motivation. You folks have got the answer there and I am totally convinced that swimming coaches are the greatest motivators of all coaches so I have tried to learn from other people.

I have talked with Bob Knight who knew Doc Councilman, Micky King who knew him from a total different stance, Gary Conelly who was our swimming coach at Kentucky who swam for Doc, Don Gambril who is a good friend of mine was at Alabama during the time I coached there and is my neighbor now. They all say the same things, there is that one common thread that runs through about Doc Councilman and that is that not only was he the great educator/coach, but he genuinely cared about his students and his athletes both on the pool and off the playing arena. The genuine care and concern that he had was evidenced and was often reciprocated in nearly all instances.

I hope that what I can do for the next 15 minutes or so is give you an idea. An idea that will make you a better swimming coach. I attended clinics for years and there is a danger if you are not careful to try to get too much and I always decided if I could just come away with one idea that would make me a better basketball coach then my attendance at that clinic was worthwhile and I applaud you for being here. There are a lot of you who are not here and they are not going to get that idea, but I hope you can get one idea from what I am going to talk about that will help make you a better coach.

I think I know something about your sport, but I don’t know a lot, but I do know something and I know a lot about my sport, basketball. So I am going to go from my frame of reference. When I talk about winning and talk about the ingredients that it takes to win I am going to refer to basketball. I am going to depend upon you to make the transfer to your sport and I think you can do that because we are all in this, athletics, there is transfer from one to the other.

Winning is the title of this talk and when you think about winning as a concept or just think about it, it is a part of the sports culture. It is what we want to do. The fan’s mentality of winning or the parent’s mentality of winning, or the player’s mentality with winning, sometimes is different from ours as the professional educator. Winning is an athletic term and it really has no meaning other than in athletics. We don’t talk about a winning doctor or winning attorney. If you extend winning or that more narrow athletic term – if you extend it out into the broader term of success then it has some meaning from the standpoint of a total culture because as Americans our culture is success oriented. That is what we aim for is to achieve success so again, make the transfer if you choose, from this narrow athletic world we live in to the broader context of achieving success because we are all in the people business and in that people business we have to be concerned with more than just what that young person does in the pool or on the basketball court, but I am going to use my frame of reference – basketball – you make the transfer and again, I hope you get an idea.

First, about winning, I have four basic beliefs. The first basic beliefs that I held about winning is that winning never occurs accidentally. It never just happens. You have to make it happen. Winning never occurs as a result of an accident. I had the privilege, as Dale mentioned, of playing for the winningest coach in the history of Division I basketball at the time, Adolph Rupp. Coach Rupp was an interesting man. He was a great teacher, great organizer, great motivator, but he motivated by fear and I stayed afraid of him the whole time I played for him. I learned a lot how I wanted to treat athletes from that fear/non-fear factor of motivation. I remember just vividly one thing that my teammates will never let me forget. I was having a particularly bad day in practice one day and Coach Rupp stopped practice and he said, “Newton, go sit down,” so I started over to the sideline and he said, “Do you know what you remind me of?” I said, “no sir.” He said, “You remind me of a Shetland pony in a stud horse parade.” Now think about that just for a minute. That may be the ultimate put down, you know? A Shetland pony in a stud horse parade, but Coach Rupp, in his way had the same or got to the same conclusion that another guy that I had great respect for and had the privilege of watching as a young coach and working with for 12 years and I borrowed and borrowed and borrowed from him. Everything from his methods of organization to his situation work in practices and that is Paul Bryant who was the winningest coach in the history of Division I football until somebody came along and broke that record. Coach Rupp and Coach Bryant were so different that it reminded me of painting a house. You know, you can paint the outside of that house and you can roll it, you can brush it, you can spray it, there are a lot of ways to paint the house. The key is what the house looks like and whether the paint lasts when you get through. The same is true in coaching. There are a lot of ways to coach. The key is, will what you do last and can you win? They told me or taught me that there are really three steps to being sure winning and supporting this concept that winning is never an accident.

Three steps to the winning that Coach Rupp and Coach Bryant both agree on in different ways were first, you had to establish goals. Determine what it is that you want to achieve. Goal setting is critical and it was interesting how they did this differently and how I learned to do it differently. Team goals are important and team goals should be set, in my mind, where you involve the team in the goal setting process with you as the designated leader. Taking the lead and kind of putting the parameters out there so that the goals are realistic, but yet they are challenging. A little bit out of reach, but not so far out of reach that it just makes no sense. Goal setting from a team standpoint becomes important.

Coach Bryant did something that was kind of interesting with goal setting on an individual basis that I took and did much with in those three areas of life of academic, personal and athletic and sit down with that young person and determine what do you really want to achieve athletically you know, this year? What do you really want to accomplish. What are your goals? What are your goals academically? What are your goals personally? And as we talked about those things in a very private way, I said, “My job here is to help you achieve those. You are the one that is going to have to do the work, but I am going to help you.” So goal setting is where you start. That is the first step in winning.

The second step is to systematically and intelligently devise a plan that will help you achieve the goals. Planning becomes critical in this. My academic goals as an individual are to get through this math course that has been bugging me. Now here is my plan. I am going to have tutoring three nights a week. I am going to go to the library two days a week. I am going to do this, this, and this. I will not miss a class. This is my plan to achieve that goal. My experience as a coach has been that most of us are pretty good goal setters. Most of us are pretty good planners. Where we fail, if we fail is the third step which is the daily execution of the plan.

The daily execution of the plan is critical because that is where the discipline, the self-motivation, the toughness, and the decision making come into play in helping you reach those steps. Winning is never the result of an accident. It never just happens. You have to make it happen and those are three steps perhaps that can help make it happen.

The second basic belief is that winning is contagious. We have heard that old adage success breeds success, I believe this. I honestly believe that it is so much easier to come back off a win than a loss. Success breeds success – winning is contagious. I even extend this to another thought. My experience has been is that I have watched young people that I have coached experience success in one area, I have seen that carry over into other areas of their lives. For example, that young guy who gets some self-esteem by performing well in basketball suddenly finds himself in the classroom carrying that over. I think this belief that winning is contagious to me is important.

Third basic belief: it is a negative statement, it is easy to be average, it is easy to be mediocre, it is easy to be kind of in the middle of the pack, but if you are going to win it is going to require extras. I think as we talk to our teams and these are things we talked about with every team I ever coached and we point out just very realistically we can kind of be ordinary. It doesn’t require much to be ordinary if you have any talent at all. But, if we are going to be a championship team, if we are going to win, we are going to have to be willing to do the extras.

The fourth basic belief gets to something I said earlier that probably like many of the players I talked to it kind of went right there. We are in the people business folks and if you want to be successful and if you want to win, surround yourself with winners. If you really want to achieve success, surround yourself with successful people. I didn’t want to have to take time to teach people how to win and what winning was all about. I wanted to recruit people from successful programs. I didn’t want to take the time to take a guy that had come through a program where they had never won. That was just me, but I honestly believe that if you want to be a winner, then surround yourself with winners and that is a conscious choice that students and athletes make or it is a conscious choice that a coach will make, but ultimately I have decided that ultimately, my success or failure as a basketball coach more often depended on my people skills, rather than my ability to attack a zone press, the type of offense we ran or, the type of defense we ran because I use the vehicle of a basketball and a court. People are what make those things happen and I think the same thing is true in your sport. You are in the people business and please do not forget it.

Those are the basic beliefs. If you were my basketball team and I were talking to you there are six things that it will take for us to be winners. Six vital ingredients to winning and we will talk quickly about each and the first is talent and ability.

You win first and foremost on talent. I can give you an example: When I was hired as the Alabama basketball coach in 1968 and Dale mentioned the integration of that program and I will tell you, you go to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and the school headlines in the paper – “C. M. who with a ? Named Bama Coach,”and that is your first thing you see. They had expected Coach Bryant to hire Frank McGuire, or Babe McCarthy or somebody and here he goes for Transylvania College and hires C. M. Who to come to Alabama as the basketball coach. You are hired to turn a program around with going from a 2,500 arena, the Old Foster auditorium, to 15,000 seats in the coliseum and a team that had won 7 games the previous year. We turned it around immediately. My first year we went from 7 wins to 4 so go in as C. M. Who named Bama coach, win 4 games, go 4 in 20, and recruit the first African-American in any sport. Now I got the Klan after me and everybody else. Now put this into some historical perspective, George Wallace stood in the school house door in ’63 to keep blacks from entering the University. I come along in ’68 – ‘69 and sign Wendell Hudson. I was not the most popular person in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It was an interesting time, but we go from 4 and 20 to some 4-5 years 22 and 4. I had coached 14 years before I got to Alabama so now suddenly, have I learned to coach basketball in that short amount of time? The answer obviously is no. I went from nobody wanting me on clinics to people wanting you on every clinic everywhere and boy, that is heady stuff. God, all of a sudden you are going to clinics with Dean Smith and Bob Knight and all these big shots but, Evelny, my wife, having been an athlete herself, sat me down and said you know, you know you are doing a nice job, but could it be that maybe Wendell and T.R. Dunn and Leon Douglas and Charles Cleveland, maybe those guys have had a little more to do with you being 22 and 4 than your great coaching ability? And the answer obviously is yes.

You win first and foremost on talent. We all know that. We all know that skill or ability and we all know that God doesn’t give us all the same ability. We are not all Mark Spitz’s. We are not all Michael Jordan’s, but the key is to be the best C. M. Newton or whatever that you can possibly be. That is where the coach comes into this to help people realize their potential and then takes it the next step. This is something I think we as basketball coaches fail to do. Maybe you do in your sport too. We fail to truly help young people understand when they win.

The yardstick is there. The guy that touches the pool first at the other end without fouling in the interim has the best time, wins in your sport. Whoever is on the right side of that scoreboard wins in our sport, but that is not always the best judge of whether people performed to their potential. I think one of the coach’s real responsibilities, particularly in today’s climate, is to help young people know when they truly win. I would just say very simply to you with my players and my teams, any time we performed to our potential, we won. Regardless of what the scoreboard said and I would relay that to the player either individually or to our team as a whole. One quick example of that we were playing IU in ’76 and the only team I ever had good enough to win a national championship was our ’76 team at Alabama. We played North Carolina in the opening game in the tournament, but this was before they seeded and they were the #3 ranked team in the country and got upset in their tournament. We were the #5 – 6th ranked team in the country. We played 6 and 3 in the first round of an NCAA Championship and then our next game was against Indiana that was the #1 ranked team in the country. If we get by Indiana in Baton Rouge, we win the whole thing. There is not anybody that can beat us. We lose by 3. I was devastated. I went back and looked at the film immediately and I thought God, we played better than we know how. They played almost a perfect game and we played as good as we could play. Don’t tell me those guys were not winners. I don’t care what the scoreboard said.

The second ingredient it takes to win is organization. That is the coach’s job. If I had to give you a job description for a basketball coach it is to take the talent that is available, organize that talent, the staff and the support people with that program in such a way that the talent consistently performs to its potential. That is the job description for a coach in my sport and I think it is probably a job description in yours. Organization is key and I have seen a lot of very talented teams that do not win because they are not organized. I have also seen a lot of very talented teams who do not win because they are over-organized. The balance there becomes critical, but organization is a vital ingredient to winning.

The third ingredient is the development of a team concept. You are in an interesting sport and I marvel at swimmers. I think this is one reason I really have a respect for swimming coaches is you have to challenge individuals in those individual events at the same time you got to bring everybody together as a team. I heard a coach talk about Doc a while ago that this was a unique ability that he had was to develop a family and team and a team concept. I will just tell you that the single most difficult job I had as a basketball coach was to help 50 who were different achieve similarity. That to me is what a team concept is. Take your squad and they are all different and thank God they are, but for you to really win you have to achieve similarity. Don’t make the mistake that I made of wanting them to all be alike. I had a bunch of years where I wanted them to be like-minded. We have to be alike. Well, that is too much to expect. That is unrealistic. Just achieve similarity. That is what you want to do and that is what a team concept is. I don’t know how you go about it. Let me give you an idea or two of what we tried to do.

The first thing we did we talked about it. We sat down as a team and we talked about how difficult it was to become a team. It is not an easy thing of meshing different wills and different personalities, but we talked about it and what it meant to be a team. We didn’t want everybody to be the same. We don’t want to be clones, but we want to achieve similarity of purpose and similarity of mind. Then, we would take that after talking about it and extend it into our actual practice. For example, we would talk about, let’s substitute the word we for I in our vocabulary. Let’s try to get “I” out of it as much as possible and let’s talk about “we.” We as a team and then as a basketball coach I became very attuned and attentive to anything, any act on or off the court that would break down a team concept and was very quick to jump in on that and be critical of that. It could be the very simple fact of I have got the ball on the wing and my post man is open and I don’t make the pass. I would stop them right there and I said, “John, you know, why didn’t you pass the ball? You got a man open. You have your post man open”. The standard answer was I didn’t see him. I mean, it was all. I didn’t see him coach well then, look and see, you know? But that breaks down the team or the guy who interchanges rather than setting a screen for a teammate. He doesn’t want to give his body up so he doesn’t screen him. Stop it right then. Then conversely, be very quick and attuned and attentive to praising any act regardless of how big or little it is. That fosters a team concept. That simple pass into the post, “Gee John, that was a great pass.” They would look at you like well coach, that wasn’t anything spectacular about that. I think you get the idea, but I think if you will take this is one of those things to me that was very difficult to achieve, but once you achieved it, you knew it.

Fourth ingredient to winning is a winning attitude. A belief that you can win, boy isn’t that hard. Particularly when you go into a program like I went into at Alabama or the program that I went into at Vanderbilt because you have to have some success. You have to have some winning in order for it to change attitudes. Which comes first? But I know this that as you win then you start expecting to win and you know these programs, obviously Doc had the program at IU where they just expected to win and pretty soon other people expected them to win, but truly the belief you can win is a critical part of winning.

The fifth ingredient is leadership. I am not talking about the leadership that the coach provides as the designated leader. I am talking about the emergent leadership that has to come from within the team itself if you are going to truly win. You can be with them just so long. You can just do so much, but you have got to have strong emergent leadership from within your squad that will at that critical point where they are away from the court and somebody is going to do something stupid. For somebody to stand up and lead and say hey you just don’t do that. That is the emergent leadership I am talking about or someone when the coach has pushed and pushed and pushed to put their arm around that person after practice and hey he loves you man. That is why he is doing this. He is trying to make you better. Don’t let the fact that he called you a Shetland pony in a stud horse parade get you down. Emergent leadership is critical.

If you are going to have emergent leadership in your squad you have to plan for it and you have to make it happen and you have to allow it. Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves in coaching are control freaks to the point where we give a lot of lip service about wanting leaders on our team and then we won’t let them lead. Now think about that. I did that for years and I said we have got to have good senior leadership. Every good coach says that, and then you do every dang thing possible to keep them from leading because you are doing everything for them. You have to give up some of the control, but you have to plan for it, you have to nurture it and you have to allow it.

The last ingredient is discipline. Now when I would get to this point, as I talked to our teams about this, I could see eyes starting to roll in their heads and they are thinking, “Oh God – now we are going to hear about walking four miles through the snow to school and all that kind of stuff” The thing that I have found whether it is assistant coaches, support staff or players they don’t want to be talked to or preached to about discipline and yet, without exception they want it and expect it and actually demand it. Now that is an interesting paradigm isn’t it? Any program that wins starts with what I call boss discipline, imposed discipline and that is what a coach does. But, if that program is going to win it has to work from boss discipline to self-discipline and again, the coach has to be a big part of that and trust, nurturing, talking about, educating for this to happen.

Let me just give you one idea here and I made the mistake as a young coach of having a bunch of rules. I don’t know whether you guys are rules coaches or not, but I had a bunch of rules and I had a rule how long their hair could be, whether they could have facial hair, what they dressed when they went on the road, what they ate for a pre-game meal, what time they came in and I just hadn’t realized it seemed we were always having a little bit of a discipline problem and so when I thought why is this? So then it dawned on me maybe we got so damn many rules that you just can’t keep up with them. What are the things that I have to have for our basketball program to be successful? I came up with three things that were absolutes: there is no gray area it is black and white.

There are only three things and I made those rules: First Rule: No Drugs or Alcohol, Period. Second rule: You have got to go to class and I couldn’t get it in their heads and make them study – I couldn’t motivate them in that, but by golly – I could get them to go to school. Third rule: you had to be on time for every basketball related activity. Those are the only three rules that I came up with. The rest of them were guidelines. The rules were imposed. The guidelines we talked about and the team actually set the guidelines. What length of hair?: neat and clean. Facial hair: neat and clean. What do you want to eat for pre-game meals? Within reason, I could lead, but we could talk about that. Those guidelines came up and I would just tell you when it gets to discipline, if you are going to work from boss discipline to self discipline minimize rules and maximize guidelines and there is a distinct difference between both.

Well, you win with talent, organization, the development of a team concept, a winning attitude, a belief you can win, strong emergent leadership within the team and discipline. That is what wins in basketball. I hope you got an idea and I want to do three things in closing: First, I want to thank you Dale and John for letting me come here. This to me was an important thing to ask an old guy to come in and be the Doc Councilman Memorial lecturer. That is pretty heady stuff for me and I really sincerely appreciate it. Secondly, I want to wish each of you success. You are important in what you do and remember that we are in the people business and what you do with those young people is just so critical. They are our most valuable commodity, but I hope you win, but most of all I hope you help young people really understand when they truly win and then thirdly I would just challenge each of us in our personal lives and in our professional lives to be winners in all that we do. Thanks so much for letting me share with you.

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