Tony DeMeo

The Jimmy V Rule

Coaches, the following is a short excerpt from my new book: Commonsense Rules for Everyday Leaders that is due to be available in two weeks. It will feature close to 100 of these types of rules that every leader can find helpful. Signed copies will be available on my website. This month ESPN has featured “The V Foundation” and put out a great documentary on Jimmy V’s National Championship in 1983 with the NC Sate Wolfpack. I learned a lot about coaching from “V” this rule is an example of how to have time on your side.

The Jimmy V Rule

“He who controls the pace wins the race”

Jim Valvano was an outstanding basketball coach who is known most for his ESPY speech. He also is well known for leading NC State to an upset win over Houston in the National Championship game in 1983. Jimmy V had a great sense of humor and had the ability to really enjoy life. But because he was so witty and funny; he was very under-rated as a basketball mind. He was a master of game management.

I came to know “V” when I was the head football coach at Iona College and he was the head basketball coach. Our cubicles were next to each other and we shared the same wall. Being in a cubicle next to Jimmy V was like sharing an office with John Wooden and Groucho Marx rolled into one. “V” took over a basketball program at Iona that had won only four games the previous year and at times couldn’t hit the ocean if they threw the ball from a boat at sea. He only won ten games his first year but his guys were always competitive and in the game.

The Iona program improved every year through his “Big Stones in the Jar” style of recruiting. If you put the big stones in the jar first; you’ll always have room for the pebbles but if you put the pebbles in first you won’t have room for the big stones. He brought in tough, hard- nosed kids from the Metropolitan area. They played great defense, and pounded the ball down low. Jimmy led The Gaels to a huge upset win over Louisville in Madison Square Garden in 1980. Louisville under Denny Crum went on to win the National Championship, and Jimmy V headed to North Carolina State.

Three years after his trip south “V” led the NC State hoopsters to the 1983 National Championship in one of the greatest upsets in tournament history. The win propelled Jimmy V into legendary status. He said; “it took me my whole life to become an overnight success”.

What was the secret of Valvano’s success in knocking off the Goliaths? How did he lead his troops into battle against superior opponents and come up with the big “w”? What was his slingshot?

The answer: Game Tempo. Control the pace and win the race. Jimmy V knew the pace it took to win the game and then made his opponent play at that pace. If “V” was coaching the hare in the famous Aesop’s Fable of the “Tortoise and the Hare” – the Hare would have won because “V” would have made it a sprint. Valvano talked to me about tempo and how important it was and how I should use it coaching football. I listened and also pulled off critical upset wins. At Mercyhurst College we beat 4 teams that were 20 point favorites. At the University of Charleston we were 4-5 against Top 25 and beat a IAA team. Make the pace the one that gives you the best chance to win the game.

If you have superior talent, increase the tempo. The more possessions the greater the chance of putting the underdog away and end hopes of them upsetting your team. If you have inferior talent, slow the game down and minimize the number of possessions. Shorten the game. This is how we applied the Jimmy V Rule in football.

Jimmy V in the National Championship Game against the Houston Cougars, slowed the game down to a crawl and NC State won on a last second shot at the end of the game. Both teams played NC State’s game and the edge went to NC State.

As a leader you can use the Jimmy V Rule to give your team the edge:

  1. Carefully assess your team’s talent as opposed to your opponent. How do your guys stack up?
  2. Pick a strategy and tempo that favors your team. Take your ego out of the equation. Don’t decide that we are going to go toe to toe with a stronger or more talented opponent.
  3. The difference between luck and skill is duration. If you are on the short end of skill, shorten the length of the event.
  4. Be disciplined to keep the tempo despite setbacks. Houston pulled ahead in the first half, but “V” didn’t panic and try to run with them. They stayed the course and clawed their way back into the game. In some of our biggest upset victories, football teams have had to come from behind and win in the fourth quarter. They didn’t panic and were disciplined to their plan.
  5. Your best chance to win is if you play by your rules.

Jimmy V was a very special guy who not only won at basketball but The V Foundation is doing its best to defeat cancer as well. It will happen just give it time.

Commonsense Rules for Everyday Leaders will be available at the end of December. As a special offer to Triple Gunners, if you are one the first 50 leaders to purchase this book on; you’ll receive a free invitation to our Leadership Webinar in January which will also be recorded. Check out all the info on the special Commonsense Rules for Everyday Leaders page.