Basketball and Life with Al McGuire

Marquette Golden Eagles athletic logo

Marquette Golden Eagles athletic logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a great article that I found on the internet a while back and have had saved on my computer.  I apologize as I do not know who wrote the article or where I found it; but it is great so I decided to share it!


Every coach must be himself.  Here are some of the things that I feel are important in life as well as in the game of basketball.  Only take what fits your personality and your style of coaching.
Live In the Moment
When I was 12 or 13 years old, I was down at the beach, body-riding the waves.  I came home for lunch, and my grandmother fixed me a triple sandwich of fried bread with catsup.  I loved them, and I used to eat them all the time.  When I finished, there was this big beautiful yellow banana.  She said “Alfie, take the banana.”  And I said “No, Granny, I want it, but I’ll take a pass.”  She said “Why?”  And I said “I want it, but if I eat the banana, I’ll have to stay out of the water for an hour because of cramps.  I rushed back to the beach.  The wind kicked up, and it got too cold to swim.  I sat on the boardwalk stairs looking out at the ocean, too young to understand what I was thinking.  But I thought, it’s too cold to go swimming; I wish I had eaten the banana.  When I was 21, I thought about life and finally said to myself, “I will eat the banana”.  Live in the moment that you are in.  Make your life exciting.  Do what you have to do, as long as you don’t hurt people.

Dream Big

Every one must dream.  I don’t care what your dreams are, but dream big.  Want something.  Don’t let things pass you by.  Don’t get caught in a corner.  Don’t be another guy going down the street going nowhere.  Get on the top shelf.  Touch the Camelot, the Shangri-La, and that type of stuff.  Live for the moment.  There are two ways to travel in life  One is with the eagles in the mountains.  The other is at the nauseous level of your feet;  you can play handball against curbs, you’re so small.

Fear of Failure

Most people in our profession are afraid they might be wrong.  I can understand this.  I’m wrong too, almost all the time.  But I can’t wait until the fifth time-out to make a correction.  I can’t wait until they chart it or take a picture of it.  When a coach sees something, he can’t hold anything back.  Don’t be embarrassed.  Don’t be afraid to be wrong.  You’re not an executive who can postdate a memo.  What you do as a coach is out there in the open.  There is no equity in your profession.  You have to accept that.  It’s a very, very manly type of pressure.  When you win a national championship or a state championship in high school, you have got one-year equity.  You have one year of grace; you can’t let it pass by.

Don’t fear failure.  Get out of the shallow water.  Take the tide out.  There is no problem if you go out and come back without a fish.  The only disgrace in life is not going after it.   If you go out and don’t catch the fish, what’s the difference?  But you must go out.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful life.
Be Yourself

Be yourself. All the X’s and O’s are not worth it.  You’ve got to like the person you are.  I always liked being Al McGuire.  I didn’t want to be Bart Starr, a Mickey Mantle, or a Joe Louis.  I just always liked my way of living.  There are a lot of people who didn’t like it, but I always enjoyed it.
Do What You Think is Right

You’re all going to leave your profession.  The moment will come when you have to gently pack coaching away–everyone else had to do it so why not you?  No one can keep it up.  Enjoy it while you’re at it.  Do what you think is right.  Don’t try to please the administration.  They will jump ship on you if they need to.  Your loyalty should be to your family first, your players second, and your school third.

Stay Together in the Coaching Profession

One of the things I am most proud of in my coaching career is that I think I started a little more love between coaches.  I remember going to a major conference tournament, and all the big-time coaches refused to associate with each other.  This has been changing, and in the past seven or eight years, we’ve seen coaches showing much more consideration for each other.   So stay together in your profession, because it’s certain that none of your superiors will help you.  No one can help you but yourself.  You are born alone, and you die alone.  Don’t try to get a better position.  Do the best you possibly can with the material you have and without fear.

Give No Excuse–Accept No Excuse

All you have to do in life is to give no excuse and accept no excuse.  I don’t care about 106-degree temperature.  I don’t care about a sprained ankle.  You either win or lose a game.  And you cannot have indecision in your program.  I didn’t allow any fooling around on the court.  You talk about disciplined teams.  The most disciplined team ever on the court was Marquette University.  We didn’t have a fast break all the years I was there.  You want to thrill me, do it out-of-bounds.  No bad shots.  No surprises.  You’ve got to be dictatorial but always pick them up before the end of practice.

Eliminate the Fifth Column

The fifth column is the column from within.  The fifth column is internal jealousy and selfishness.  This must be eliminated.  It is the cancer that destroys teams.  Get that cancer out before it grows.  The competition is not the problem.  the problem is from within.

I try to teach players in a rough way to avoid jealousy.  You have to make them work together and the only way to have teamwork is to eliminate jealousy.  Eliminating jealousy is the answer; it’s the key to the game, so you’ve got to work on it.  All I really did was work on the minds of the players and hope that we succeeded together.  If we all went uptown together, it was all worthwhile.

Make Five People One

All I ever did at Marquette was to make five people one.  Sometimes you have a situation on your team in which one guy constantly throws the ball to a buddy.  They come to practice together and leave together like husband and wife.  You must break up the husband and wife act, and you must watch them closely.  A lot of times this happens subconsciously.  I don’t care. They have to knock it off.  If they don’t break up this act, I let one go early or rearrange the locker room.  Don’t allow your lockers to sit the same guy going to the same spot.  This is how cliques form.  It’s up to you to watch those things and take care of them.

Keep Coaching Simple

Keep things simple.  We try to get too complicated too much of the time.  I’d say to myself “keep it simple, stupid.”  Don’t get complicated.  You forgot the obvious when you try to force knowledge into young people who can’t absorb our knowledge.  Give them only what they can absorb.

Are You An Offensive or a Defensive Coach?

You must know where you are an offensive or a defensive coach.  You can’t be both, you can’t please everybody.  I was a defensive coach.  My reasons were:  (1) if you practice defense, you know what you are doing; and (2) defense is like water.  It finds it’s level.  It is there day-in and day-out.  Plus, when I played, I couldn’t shoot, so I taught defense.

You Must Act the Part of a Leader

You are the leader and must set an example.  Don’t let your players see you tight.  They pick up on it, then they get tight.  It’s like free throws.  One player misses, and they all start to miss.  The rain barrel becomes a teacup.  You must set the example for your people.  As a coach you must have no indecision–none!   That’s why at the end of the game, when it’s prime time, you must have automatic moves.  For 23 years, if the opposing team call a timeout with 10 or 15 seconds left in the game, I’d automatically go to a combination defense, such as a box-and-one or a triangle-and-two.  If the score was tied, and we were at home, we drove the basket for the shot.  If the score was tied, and we had the ball on the road, we went for the fifteen-foot jump shot.  I did that because of the subconscious of the officials.  At home, he’s not going to cal me for charging, on the road he is.

I have no problem knowing who the boss is.  I know I am the boss.  I know when the score is 62-62, everybody will be quiet, and I will make the decision on what to do.  I am not trying to prove to anyone that I am running the show.  If you’ve got to prove you’re the boss, you’re not the boss.

Know Your Players

The only reason I yell at a player is because he has talent.  If I didn’t think he had talent, I wouldn’t yell at him.  It would be a moral sin if I didn’t get the talent out of a person.  I had a player who was the nicest man that I had ever met in my life.  I had to hurt him.  I had to hurt him because the guy played without knowing the score.  To him everything was beautiful.  He was so nice that all he wanted to do was play.  That’s all right if a player doesn’t have talent, but when a player has talent, it was my obligation to get him to produce.  Just because you have ability doesn’t mean that you are going to produce or reach a certain level.  You must study your players to know what is best for each particular person so that you can get the most out of his talent.

Always Leave the Door Open With Your Players

Never give them an either-or.  That’s the first step to insanity.  It’s like ice fishing.  Always try to leave a crack so both of you can get out of a situation with dignity.  Remember, cracks always get bigger.  Don’t accept them.  Only accept what you want.

Eliminate Surprises

You want no surprises in a game.  You tell the players “You can do what you want off the floor, but on it, I am the discipline.”  That’s why I could let a player yell at me on the sideline.  When he stepped back onto the playing court, he did what he was supposed to do.

Play the Game to Win

If you don’t see a fish in a poker game, get up and leave because you’re the fish.  Know yourself.  Remember, you drive at home, pull up on the road.  The first think you decide in a game is whether the official has a quick or slow whistle.  There are three crucial times in a game: 1) the first three minutes, 2) the last three minutes, and (3) the first three minutes of the second half.  Always make sure your team is properly warmed up before the game and at half.

Never Talk to a Parent

Never talk to a parent, because it only leads to trouble.  When I signed a player Id’ say to the parents, “The next time that you will see me smile is when your son graduates.”  And that’s the way it was. A parent can only thinking of their son or daughter.  I had a player whose father was a cookie salesman.  After one game, he came up to me complaining about his son’s lack of playing time.  I told him, “I don’t sell cookies, and I don’t know anything about cookies.  You don’t coach basketball, and you don’t know anything about basketball, leave me alone.”

Coaches Are the Last of the Cowboys

A lot of us go into coaching because we don’t grow up. Coaches are the last of the cowboys.  I got out of coaching because now to be a cowboy, you have to work at it.

Don’t Make the Game of Basketball Your Mistress

We treat coaching as a mistress.  We neglect our families.  We all want to improve our station in life.  We keep trying to advance, and sometimes find ourselves running toward an impossible goal.  I did it myself.  I’m not saying everyone else is wrong. I was wrong.  Moving my family down to North Carolina–why?  I was running toward my mistress.  Basketball was my mistress.  Basketball was my world.  Be careful.  It is a beautiful thing you are building as a coach, but don’t get it all mixed up.  You have to take care of home first.

Please let me know if you have any requests for plays, drills, defenses, etc…

You can email me at

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