Sunday, Lipscomb University hosted a memorial service for Coach Don Meyer, who died of cancer May 18 at age 69. Coach Meyer created his collegiate basketball legacy during his 24 years as “Coach” at Lipscomb with a 1986 national championship and 12 other trips to the national tournament. At Lipscomb he coached John Pierce and Philip Hutcheson, who still hold the record for all-time scoring leaders in the history of college basketball, and hundreds of young people who learned about basketball—and life—in his summer camps. Our community gathered as family and friends to share their sadness in his death but also to celebrate his life.
I followed Coach Meyer at two institutions before meeting him. Rhonda and I arrived to work in the president's office at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., in the summer of 1975, just as Coach Meyer left that institution to become the head basketball coach at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. Then in 2005, we joined the Lipscomb University community, several years after Coach Meyer moved to Northern State University in August 1999. It was not until 2009 that I met him and understood a bit about why he was so successful and respected.
Coach Meyer was an outstanding basketball coach. In January of 2009 he claimed his 903rd victory to surpass Bobby Knight as the winningest coach in men’s college basketball. His final record of 923 wins speaks for his understanding of the game, his ability to shape talent and his strategic coaching skills. But, as those across the nation have articulated during the days since his death, he impacted lives beyond the court. His players learned more than basketball when playing for him. They learned about life from a man of strong values, tremendous courage and the unrelenting determination to turn young athletes into men who reflected the same characteristics. Yes, he was a coach highly skilled in the tactical aspects of his sport but he was much, much more.
The impact he made cannot possibly be measured. A 1996 student survey revealed that more than 70 percent of all Lipscomb undergraduates (all students; not just student-athletes) had attended a Don Meyer basketball camp at Lipscomb. Many of the players he coached were heavily influenced by Coach Meyer and have passed along his 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.
It was a special moment as a crowd of over 1,000 family, friends, broadcasters, sports writers and competing coaches gathered at Allen Arena to celebrate Coach Meyer’s life. Many of the 98 former players, student assistant coaches and program administrators who attended came from out of state; two that I know of traveled from Switzerland and Russia. Their presence was a living testimony to his lifetime of investing in countless young men and the blessing he was to their lives.
As I listened to the many who spoke about their relationships with Coach Meyer and how he influenced their lives, the quote attributed to St. Francis that he was fond of quoting came to mind as a good description of how Coach Meyer lived his life, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”