Tuesday, November 18, 2008 Updated: November 20, 5:53 PM ET
Meyer back, coaches Northern State from wheelchair
By Buster Olney ESPN The Magazine
ABERDEEN, S.D. -- Don Meyer returned to the sideline Tuesday night for his first game since a devastating automobile accident, and he took one more step closer to history. After Northern State beat Mount Marty College 98-57, Meyer is 10 wins from tying Bob Knight for the most victories for any coach in NCAA men's basketball history.
But it was the first game he coached from a wheelchair, and Meyer -- mostly leaning more on his right side because his left side is healing from broken ribs -- said before the game that his return to coaching remains a work in progress, with an uncertain future.
Meyer, 64, is still recovering from the accident that occurred Sept. 5, and doctors are in the early stages of determining a course of action for the treatment of cancer discovered in the aftermath of his collision. His energy has been high on some days, and some days he has been exhausted.
"I have to find out if I can be effective," Meyer said. "If I can't be effective, I can't do this anymore.
"I have to find out if I can physically handle it. If I can't handle it, I'll have some decisions to make at the end of the season, or maybe sooner."
Meyer's left leg was amputated below the knee, and he uses a wheelchair, for now. In the days leading up to the game, there was some uncertainty whether he would resume his usual role on the bench or whether assistant coach Randy Baruth would take on a greater role. But from the initial jump ball, Meyer was in front of the bench, rolling forward and back as he shouted to his players, his voice -- which has boomed over more than three decades of coaching -- was softer, but audible.
At the halftime buzzer, Meyer placed his hand-held dictation recorder, which he uses during games, into his pocket. Assistant coach Mark DeLaney walked up behind Meyer and put his hands on the wheelchair and began to roll him off -- and Meyer immediately rolled himself away from DeLaney, heading back to the locker room and following his players to make adjustments.
Thirty-five seconds into the second half, Mount Marty's Justin Peters grabbed Wolves senior Kevin Ratzsch from behind by the jersey to prevent a breakaway. A foul was called -- not an intentional foul -- and Meyer screamed at referee Ted Krize. When Krize did not respond, Meyer called a timeout and rolled onto the court to pick up the argument, yelling. Krize listened, and nodded.
"I didn't think he would be back this semester," Ratzsch said. "I thought he might come back and watch. It was great to have him back."
Jerry Meyer, Don's son, was in attendance, and he said afterward that he was sure his dad would do what was necessary for him to be an effective coach. "His greatest strength throughout his [coaching] career is adaptability. That's what he does."
After the game, Don Meyer went to the scorer's table, held a microphone and thanked the Northern State fans for everything they did.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Don Meyer is the subject of an upcoming "E:60" feature. ESPN will follow him as he continues to recover and makes his way toward college basketball history.