Tony DeMeo

Bounce Back by John Calipari

Bounce Back by John Calipari is an interesting book because of the success Coach Cal is currently experiencing in college hoops. It’s easy to forget the humiliating firing he experienced with the New Jersey Nets in 2000. This is a great story and a great lesson for all coaches. Everyone is eventually going to have to bounce back at some point in their career, Calipari’s story is an insight how one successful coach got it done.

I first got to know of John Calipari in 1991 when I was an assistant football coach at UMASS. Calipari had ignited a firestorm of excitement over the UMASS basketball team. UMASS (other than Dr. J) was not exactly a hotbed of college basketball but Cal brought them to the brink of the NCAA Championship. He was a hot commodity.

Cal’s next stop did not work so well. He went to the NBA 7 the NJ Nets, one of the worst franchises in the conference. After a rough start in year one (Cal’s first year at UMASS was also rough) Cal led the Nets to the playoffs in year two. But in year three disaster – Cal was fired in an extremely ugly and public firing.

This where the story gets interesting. Cal was filled with self-doubt and spent time agonizing and second guessing. Anyone who has ever been fired knows the feeling of initial despair. Regardless of how good you might be at your job, these feelings will haunt you until – you decide to bounce back.

As one who can speak from personal experience, getting fired publically is an embarrassing situation that not only affects you but also your family and friends. You go through a period of wanting to be invisible but then your embarrassment becomes empowerment and you move forward. Action is the cure to “get over it & get on with it.”

Calipari went through all the negative emotions and then bounced back. The first step was to learn from the experience. Look at what you would have done differently. Cal said one thing he would have done differently is get rid of a star who doesn’t “buy in” as soon as possible. He got this advice from Bill Parcells who did this throughout his career.

The second important aspect of the “bounce back” is to visualize success and approach it with a positive mental outlook. So Cal read inspirational books and made big dreams. He also got rid of false friends. Those false friends always show their true colors when you’re down.

Cal discusses in the book the common thread of great teams. One key thread is “No drama queens” The sooner a coach understands this the better. My rule was simple: No drama, no distractions and no divas.

A third key ingredient was to have a mentor. Cal’s mentor was Larry Brown who John was a GA for at Kansas University. Brown was the Head Coach of the Philadelphia 76ERs when Cal was fired by The Nets. Brown gave Cal an assistant job with the 76ERs which was a huge part Cal’s resurgence. But more importantly Brown defended Cal’s honor and his reputation which were being trampled by the Nets. Larry Brown saved John Calipari’s career.

In 2000, Cal became the Head Coach of the Memphis Tigers and quickly turned that program around just as he did the UMASS Minutemen. His plan was
1. Have great recruiting year – get best talent available.
2. Get early wins to establish confidence
3. It’s the people – surround yourself with good people
4. Listen to your players – listen twice as much as you talk.
5. Be positive and make friends.

Cal started off 4-8 and then turned it around and got to the NIT in his first season. Then in year two The Tigers won 27 games. Cal was developing a program not just a team. Cal brought Memphis to 3 Elite Eights and then in 2009 he was hired by the University of Kentucky and as they say the rest is history.

Whether or not you’re a John Calipari fan, I recommend this book because like him or not Cal made a remarkable “Bounce Back”. I enjoyed this book because it was interesting to see someone as successful as John Calipari having the same kind of self-doubt and despair after being fired as I had. This is an easy read and a good one to read during March Madness.