Lipscomb legend Don Meyer loses battle with cancer

By Mark McGee on 5/18/2014

   
   

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Don Meyer has left this world physically and is spending eternity in heaven, but he is still very much alive in this world.

Don MeyerIt would not be surprising if the first words he hears are, “Welcome home. Buddy,” from Lipscomb “super fan” Chuck Ross.

If the legacy of a person is the number of people he influenced then Coach Meyer’s will be taller than any memorial made of stone.

He impacted the lives of thousands upon thousands of basketball players. Not only did he teach them the skills of the game he loved, he taught them the fundamentals of how to be the best they can be whether it be in their church, their family or their career.

Meyer taught them that living a life of positive influence starts with the simplest of acts – picking up trash, saying yes sir and no sir or expressing gratitude.

To say that Meyer, who passed away peacefully at his home in Aberdeen, South Dakota after a long and courageous battle with cancer, was just a basketball coach is far too inadequate of a description of his life. He was a talker. He was a listener.  Most of all he was a philosopher who could find a lesson in almost any aspect of life.

He was a note taker and those that played for him also took notes. They did more than scribble words. They took what he said and allowed it to sink into their minds. But most importantly they allowed what those words meant to find a place in their hearts.

Those players have passed along much of Coach Meyer’s philosophy to their own children, other family members, their employees and co-workers. In the continuum of life his words will be heard by generations who never met him personally or heard him speak, earth’s version of immortality.

The man with a brief case loaded with Captain D’s coupons could be intimidating, inspiring, infuriating but most all intriguing. He could scowl and ferociously rant with the best of them on the sidelines. Off the court, however, he was known for helping many in need. He was also blessed with a quick and often desert dry wit

Coach Meyer came to Lipscomb University in 1975 to take over a basketball program sorely in need of a change in direction, a team with only one season with 20 or more wins in its history. He was a relatively unknown coach from Hamline University, a man with a 37-41 record, who would take the Lipscomb program to historic heights.

By the time he left following the 1998-99 season he had led the Bisons to 12 seasons with 30 or more wins. In 1986 his team won the NAIA National Championship. The 1989-90 team set a national season record winning 41 games, losing only five.

His players also succeeded at record levels. He produced the top two scorers in the history of college basketball, three national players of the year and 22 All-Americans. He also produced all-time career leaders in 3-point shooting, steals and assists.

In the summers he didn’t rest on his laurels. He started the most successful basketball camp in the country with an average of 5,000 campers each year. He became known of his instructional videos and was sought out by coaches for advice and for visits to coaching schools and seminars.

It is almost impossible to find a basketball coach at any level of the game who has not attending one of Coach Meyer’s camps or clinics or studied his videos. In both Tennessee and South Dakota, the two states where he spent the majority of his career his influence can be seen on almost every high school basketball court.

When Lipscomb decided to start the process of moving the athletic department to the NCAA Division I level Meyer chose to leave his position as head coach of the Bisons. He had reached the 500-victory level faster than any coach in collegiate history while with Lipscomb.

At his next stop Northern State in Aberdeen, he continued his winning ways and retired as the winningest coach in college basketball history. The 2009-2010 season was his last on the bench, but it was not his choice.

On Sept. 5, 2008 Coach Meyer was injured in an automobile accident. Eight surgeries would be needed, including the amputation of his left leg below the knee. During the course of his treatment it was also discovered that he had cancer in both his liver and small intestine.

Many people faced with such a diagnosis would resign themselves to wait for the inevitable, but Coach Meyer was a fighter and he would go the canvas without a fight. He was invigorated and spent his time criss-crossing the country speaking to all type of audiences from the Lipscomb women’s basketball team to the managers and coaches in the Atlanta Braves baseball system.

In 2009 Coach Meyer was presented the “Jimmy V Award for Perseverance” named in honor of the late college coach Jim Valvano, from ESPN at the ESPY Awards.

He is a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, the Lipscomb Athletics Hall of Fame and the Northern State Hall of Fame. 

The court at Allen Arena was named in Coach Meyer’s honor Dec. 3, 2011. The playing floor at Northern State is also named in his honor.

Coach Meyer was born in Wayne, Neb.; He graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in 1967 majoring in physical education and minoring in English.

His first coaching job was as an assistant at Western State in Colorado from 1968-70. He also served as an assistant coach at the University of Utah from 1970-72 and earned his Ph.D. during that time. His first head coaching job at Hamline was from 1972-75.

Memorial Details

A Nashville memorial service is planned for Sunday, June 1, at 2 p.m. in Allen Arena on Don Meyer Court. The memorial can be viewed online at www.lipscomb.edu/ets/live-events.

A memorial service will be held in Aberdeen, S.D., on the campus of Northern State University at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 24, in the Joseph H. Barnett Center on Don Meyer Court. A live video stream will be broadcast at http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/northern.portal#.

Visit www.coachmeyertribute.com for memorial gift information.