"Coach's coach" recovers from car accident

September, 10, 2008
Northern State men's basketball coach Don Meyer was pinned in his Toyota that had skidded into a ditch after he abruptly crossed a center line on two-lane South Dakota Highway 20 last Friday at 5 p.m. CT. Meyer was leading a six-car caravan to a hunting lodge 50 miles from the Division 2 school's campus in Aberdeen, S.D., for the team's annual preseason retreat of 24 hours of basketball and bonding.

Update on Coach Meyer's Condition (Sept. 12)

Northern State coach Don Meyer issued a statement Friday updating his condition through his son, Jerry. The news wasn't good as Meyer announced that during surgery doctors found that he had cancer. Doctors continue to fight to repair major damage to his left leg. He had his third surgery in a week on his left leg and remains at Sioux Falls' Avena McKennan Hospital.

Meyer, entering his 10th season at the Division 2 school in Aberdeen, S.D., has 891 wins, 11 shy of tying former Indiana and Texas Tech coach Bob Knight for the all-time win mark in men's NCAA basketball.

In a statement, the 63-year old Meyer said: "My trauma surgeon, David Strand, from Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD just told me they found carcinoid cancer in my liver and small bowels. The cancer was discovered during the emergency surgery after my wreck on September 5, 2008. What's great about this is I would not have known about the cancer had I not had the wreck. God has blessed with the one thing we all need which is truth. I can now fight with all of my ability. What I now ask is that everybody who believes in God would praise him for this discovery and pray to Him to give me the strength, patience and peace to be a man of God on this journey. I am looking forward to coaching this season and am forever thankful to my team who saved my life and the coaching staff who has stepped up to the plate."

Jerry Meyer said his father was told that the cancer is slow growing and that treatment for his cancer won't inhibit his leg rehabilitation. The Meyer family wanted to thank everyone for their "outpouring of love, support and prayers."

--Andy Katz, ESPN.com
According to eyewitnesses, his left leg was losing blood. He had internal injuries that were unknown at the time but likely severe by what eyewitnesses said was his obvious traumatized presentation after a side-swipe accident with a semi-truck.

Still, despite the horrific state he was in, with every minute waiting for help the potential difference between life and death, Meyer was still coaching.

No one expected anything less from the consummate "coach's coach," as he is termed by countless disciples. Meyer, entering his 37th season as a head coach, has 891 career wins and is just 11 wins shy of the all-time leader, former Texas Tech and Indiana head coach Bob Knight, who retired last February with 902 wins.

So it was no surprise then, as graduate assistant coach Matt Hammer and senior Kyle Schwan took turns sitting with Meyer in the passenger seat, encouraging him to breathe and stay conscious, that Meyer tried to reassure them he would be fine.

Assistant Randy Baruth, who was last in the caravan, arrived on the scene to find Meyer determined to finish the goal of a trip gone tragically wrong.

"The first thing he said to me was 'take the guys on the retreat. I'll be fine. Keep the team focused.' Literally, that's the first thing he said to me," said Baruth.

The players didn't go on the retreat, though, instead returning to campus in the vehicles that could drive while a few of the coaches followed the helicopter that airlifted Meyer out to a Sioux Falls hospital.

"When they removed him from the car, you could tell his leg was messed up, but I never once -- and I still don't -- have any issue about him coaching this season or [thought] that he wasn't going to be here," said Baruth.

Meyer is scheduled for his fourth surgery in a week on Thursday, according to Northern State vice president for communications Brenda Dreyer. He is still in intensive care at the Avera Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. The 63-year old Meyer has been conscious throughout his stay in the hospital, save the surgeries of course, and "is still coaching," according to Dreyer.

Northern State athletic director Bob Olson said Meyer's first surgery was to remove his spleen and part of his intestines while also repairing internal injuries. The next two surgeries were on his leg, trying to get blood flow. A vascular surgeon was called in for this process.

"He's going to recover, but it was a significant accident," Olson said. "We're very fortunate that he made it through and that there were no other fatalities behind him."

To the mainstream fan who follows the sport Meyer's name may not resonate. To those in the coaching community there may be no one who means more to teaching the game who is still actively coaching.

Don Meyer

AP Photo/Fred Beckham

Northern State coach Don Meyer sits second on the all-time coaching wins list behind Bob Knight.

"He's a tremendous teacher of the game, the way he breaks it down," said Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith, who spoke at Meyer's Coaching Academy last spring and has seen him speak a number of times and watches his videos.

"I'm glad his life was spared, he means a lot to a lot of people. His system, his style and as a God-fearing man, he understands and put things in perspective."

This is Meyer's 10th season at Northern State. Prior to that he spent 24 years at NAIA I David Lipscomb in Nashville. It was there that Smith first went to listen to him speak. Smith was a coach at Tulsa and drove to Nashville to hear him. He later would play Meyer's team at Kentucky in an exhibition and even today Smith will pop in a Meyer video. Smith scheduled Northern State in an exhibition at Minnesota on Nov. 6.

"He's so innovative and creative," Smith said. "He has a way of putting everything in writing that not many of us can. He can communicate. Most coaches understand the game, but he can communicate it. There's no magic to it. But he has an ability to get his teams to execute to their fullest. I'm very grateful to the pointers I've picked up from him."

Count Arizona State coach Herb Sendek as one of Meyer's strongest supporters. Sendek said that Meyer, a person he called a "tremendous human being," said "no one, no one has given back to the game more than Meyer through his camps, coaching clinics and videos."

"He's a true ambassador for the game from the grassroots level all the way up to the very top," Sendek said. "He shared more information and helped more coaches than anyone in our profession."

Sendek said he first met Meyer when Sendek was an assistant at Kentucky under Rick Pitino in the early 90s.

"He immediately embraced me, had me over to his house to talk basketball," Sendek said. When Sendek got the head coaching job at Miami of Ohio he said Meyer came to talk to him in Oxford, Ohio. Sendek said he and Meyer spent one day driving together to visit Dick Bennett at Wisconsin to "talk basketball."

"He's not somebody who coaches to wear an Armani suit or drive an expensive car or be on SportsCenter," Sendek said. "He's somebody who is truly passionate about the game. I have seen him on the bench with a handheld tape recorder like a reporter saying something that will help him later. His mind is constantly working. He'll take walks and talk into the recorder any idea he'll get. He shares what he knows. He coaches because he loves to coach."

The news of Meyer's accident spread throughout the coaching community across the country. Olson said the school has been inundated with requests for updates on his condition. And across the country coaches are remembering how they have been helped by Meyer in some way.

All-Time Wins Leaders

The NCAA's all-time coaching leaders in wins, regardless of division. * (still active)

Coach Wins/Years
Bob Knight 902 (42 years)
Don Meyer* 891 wins (36 years)
Dean Smith 879 wins (36 years)
Adolph Rupp 876 wins (41 years)
"He's a cult figure," said Colorado State coach Tim Miles, a former head coach at nearby North Dakota State. "I worked at Northern State for six years. Bob Olson [now the AD] was the coach then and told me that I was the post coach. So the first place I went to learn was to Nashville for coach Meyer's camp at David Lipscomb. His emphasis on fundamentals and teaching the ability to pass and catch, the guy is a walking library of information."

The loyalty for Meyer becomes clearer with the former players from Lipscomb and Northern State, according to Olson, who are making the trek to Sioux Falls to see him this week.

"I've never been around anyone like him in my life," Olson said. "He has a passion for coaching like I've never experienced. The basketball coaching fraternity is incredibly tight and coaches from all over the world are checking on him."

Olson said when he visited with Meyer earlier this week Meyer felt bad about how this will affect his team. He said he wanted to make sure the team would be ready for the season to start late next month.

But Olson still doesn't have the answer as to why the accident occurred. For some reason, still unknown, Meyer's car drifted across the lane into the oncoming vehicle. Olson said he spoke with the highway patrol officer reconstructing the accident who told him that the truck driver was pleading for Meyer's car to get out of the way but finally couldn't avoid him anymore and swerved. Meyer's car hit the side of the truck and then went into the ditch.

"The semi-truck lost its power steering and that's why [the player's cars] were dodging the semi," Olson said.

"We all hit the ditch to get out of the way," Schwan said. "The semi hit my back rear and took the light out and had I not hit the gas and gotten to the ditch then we would have been smoked."

The quick reactions of all of the players who were driving avoided a catastrophic accident for the players, their families and the university.

"I saw the impact," Hammer said. "All of our guys did a great job of getting out of the way."

Players scattered out of their cars as soon as they came to a stop. Two of the players called 911 on their cell phones, a few others aided the truck driver and others started directing traffic, and Hammer and Schwan took turns staying with Meyer, according to Baruth.

"It was amazing to see the poise by our players," Baruth said. "They kept telling [Meyer] that 'this isn't your fault, comforting him.' What was even more remarkable was how poised they were Saturday night after we had a team meeting. No one has missed a workout. They know coach."

The new motto in honor of Meyer is for the team to go "hour-by-hour because that's how slow it's going to move for coach Meyer. He's going to improve a little bit each hour every day."

Baruth said Meyer's teams have always been known for their toughness, for defending for 94 feet, for feeling like it was a blood bath after every game.

Don Meyer

NSU Athletics

Meyer's teachings have influenced
countless coaches across the country
and the world.

Schwan, who has been in the program for six years because of injuries, said that "people should understand coach Meyer's commitment to his program to his team, to his tapes, to his clinics," and added that, ''all coaches in the coaching community," know coach Meyer.

Getting Knight's record for Meyer has taken on even more importance for the players.

"If he gets it it's even more validation of his coaching philosophy and methods that validate the test of time from the '70s, '80s, '90s and to today," Schwan said. "This program has not been about milestones but how can you not feel so much pride if he can get to it?"

Especially, and even more so now after Meyer survived. When he returns is still unknown but Baruth is adamant that Meyer will coach this season.

"He may not be at the gym or at practice or a game for a while but he'll be running the show," Baruth said. "I took him some DVDs on Monday to look at it. He can still do a lot of coaching right where he's at, even if it's not in the fall. You can call me the interim coach, but we all know who is running the show."



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