Coach McVeigh talked at length when I asked him about the key influences on professional development throughout his coaching career. Here are some of his thoughts on those people and the lessons that they instilled in him.
Using Basketball on Television to Improve
I usually tell my players to watch basketball on television and leave it at that. If players follow through on this it is great, but it would be even more beneficial to have something that they can specifically hone in on. I asked Coach McVeigh what he does and he expressed a similar frustration because the players would rather watch the pros than college. He prefers to watch college hoops because it is a more realistic picture of what his players are capable of doing. The pros present an entirely different version of basketball because of their athleticism. He cited not just the play on the court, but also the behaviors of players (both good and bad). He believes high school players love imitating these college/pro stars. It is important to discuss their behavior highlighting what to emulate as well as what to avoid. Seeing four players from Villanova rush to pick up their teammate on the floor makes selling it to your team much more convincing.
Coach McVeigh on Improving through Others
Coach McVeigh rattled off several coaches that proved to be significant mentors for him. He mentioned coaches that were younger than him and older than him, high school coaches, college coaches – even pro coaches going all the way back to Dr. Jack Ramsay and Red Auerbach. I found the lessons from these coaches very helpful. He stresses there were literally fifty to one hundred coaches he could name that he could reference in this regard.
He enjoyed telling me that it was a younger coach, Tommy L’Italian who observed that Coach McVeigh reacted differently with referees in the first and second halves of games. Coach L’Italien observed that McVeigh was very critical of calls early in the game and suggested that he did not have to beat up on the referees from the outset of a game. McVeigh was at a point in his career where he was established as a coach. The young coach felt the criticism of the referees possibly hurt more than it helped – not only in that specific game but over the long-term with the official. And it certainly was not great from the perspective of setting an example for the players as the game went on. Bottom line – McVeigh respected L’italien and took his advice. He acknowledges he wasn’t perfect, and he felt the advise really changed him and led to a calm demeanor early in games.
Work Ethic in Scouting & Practices
From the day he started at North Andover, he said he learned from a rival coach, Barry Kipnes. Kipnes was the coach from one of the league rivals at the time North Reading High School. McVeigh said he learned from Kipnes to stay away from letting results drive your work ethic. McVeigh marveled that Kipnes had up and down years, but nobody out scouted the opponent better than him. He would be out scouting on a snowy night when his team was 3-15.
And McVeigh said nobody outworked Bert Hammel of Merrimack College at practices- nobody. McVeigh said the bar was set very high by the passion of Bert Hammel – something McVeigh strove to attain. McVeigh kids with Hammel that to this day that he could never reach the high bar that Hammel set in this area.
The Value of Withholding Judgment
Another coach back in the early 80‘s taught Coach McVeigh about values in giving judgment. When he was young, Coach McVeigh went to scout another team. Another coach in attendance that night scouting was the legendary Sonny Lane from Wakefield. Coach Lane asked McVeigh what he thought about the game. Trying to impress the legend, he broke down everything he thought – including the work of the two coaches on that night. McVeigh then asked Coach Lane for his thoughts. Coach Lane broke down his thoughts but never mentioned the coaches. When McVeigh asked Lane about a particular questionable strategy, Coach Lane simply replied that he never talked about other coaches. Lesson learned.
Abandoning a Two-Post System
Next, he mentioned Doug Grutchfield from Fitchburg High School, whom McVeigh claimed was the master of post play. They attended many camps together in the 80’s and he convinced McVeigh that you didn’t need two post players in your half-court offense. Back then, almost everyone had two post players constantly screening for each other.
Grutch felt that two players in the post was only making things harder for your post players to get quality opportunities since it was easier to help and double. Today, the four out has become common practice in our game – unless you have a 5 out with no post. Grutchfield was an early innovator in this area.
The following season, Coach McVeigh put the four-out system in place. He had had two bigs that could play off of each other by simply relegating which four would go to the perimeter and isolate the post with the fifth player.
Observing Successful College and Professional Coaches
Ironically, as important as it seemed to stay ahead of the curve in trends of basketball, Coach McVeigh cited Red Auerbach’s dribble hand-off. It was old-school, but an effective way to run offense. Auerbach was doing that 40 years before it reappeared as a novel concept in the 80‘s and 90’s. Dr. Jack Ramsey in the 60’s and 70’s also had a huge impact on McVeigh’s overall philosophy. His defensive philosophy and fundamental structure was simple yet complex. Just brilliant. Like so many others coaches, the ideas of guys like Dean Smith, Bobby Knight, and Coach K were part of McVeigh’s overall thinking. It could have offensive thoughts, defensive thoughts, or even the culture of their programs.
Simplifying the Game Plan & Expectations
The last takeaway was what McVeigh learned from his predecessor at North Andover – Bob Licare. Bob was a Hall of Famer, a North Andover legend, and at this point (1985) North Andover’s athletic director. Licare asked McVeigh a crucial question before a tournament game against Boston Latin – the team many considered the favorite to win it all. What was he going to do?
Coach McVeigh excitedly elaborated on what he had in mind. After hearing McVeigh elaborate on controlling the offensive boards and at the same time getting back on defense, Licare pressed on. He asked McVeigh which one was he going to do – crash the offensive glass or get back? As he put it, against good teams, you can’t do everything. One will suffer. Coach McVeigh decided getting back was more important in this game. North Andover managed to slow Latin down, and eventually walked away with a two point win. From that experience on, McVeigh tried to cut down the keys to any game, and do a few things well.
Over the years, he also found out that demanding perfection is ok, but expecting it as a demand could get you in trouble.
“You can’t say to your team we can’t have any turnovers or we can’t give up one offensive rebound or we can’t give up any transition lay-ups. These things are going to happen. People can talk about playing the perfect game all they want, but it just won’t happen. If you game plan this way as soon as the plan goes awry the players will lose confidence in the plan and morale will sink. “