Legendary College Basketball Coach, Don Meyer, Dies at Age 69

Don Meyer, seen here as Northern State's coach in 2010, retired after that season with 923 victories, the most among men's coaches at that time. (AP Photo/Doug Dreyer)
Don Meyer, seen here as Northern State’s coach in 2010, retired after that season with 923 victories, the most among men’s coaches at that time. (AP Photo/Doug Dreyer)

Don Meyer, a legend of college basketball, died Sunday in Aberdeen, South Dakota, at the age of 69. Meyer fought carcinoid cancer in the last years of his life.

A purist who loved teaching and basketball but was not interested in navigating the complications attached to Division I basketball, Meyer spent his career working at small colleges — Hamline in Minnesota, Lipscomb University in Nashville and Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. In January of 2009, Meyer set the mark for most wins for any men’s coach in NCAA history, and when he retired after the 2009-2010 season, he had 923 victories, a mark that has since been surpassed by Mike Krzyzewski.

He died at 6:52 a.m. at his home in Aberdeen, where he had recently gone into hospice care, family spokeswoman Brenda Dreyer said.

“He won his greatest victory and is now running again and gearing up to pitch nine innings,” the Meyer family said in a statement. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love, prayers and concern.”

Jerry Meyer played for his father at Lipscomb from 1989-1992, and credits his dad’s success with a seamless, on-and off-court philosophy that lent itself to an exciting game.

“He was a tough coach to play for, very demanding physical and mentally. But that’s what made him a great coach, and that’s why all his players, he influenced their lives so much and produced so many coaches,” Jerry Meyer said.

Lipscomb won an NAIA national championship under Meyer in 1986, and the two highest-scoring players in the history of college basketball, John Pierce and Philip Hutcheson, played for Meyer. The Lipscomb team of 1989-1990 is the highest scoring team in college history. He was presented with the John Bunn Award at the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

Hutcheson, now Lipscomb’s athletics director, said it wasn’t hard to see the coach’s legacy at the school — “that’s well-established and it’s enormous.”

“It’s trying to determine — given all those he touched as a coach, a camp director, a clinician, a professor, a speaker and a friend to people all across the country and even in other countries — where his impact ended,” Hutcheson said.

But Meyer’s renown within the coaching community was built on more than those milestones.

His summer camps at Lipscomb, the largest in the country at the time, drew hundreds of coaches interested in the pursuit of excellence, and Meyer produced a highly popular series of instructional videos. He hosted a coaching academy and spoke at seminars about team-building, about doing the right things for players and programs.

He served as mentor to coaches at every level, including Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, and through the last days of his life he would field calls from coaches looking for advice on how to solve a problem, whether it was how to break a press or help with a troubled player. What he loved about coaching, he said, was to see improvement in players — in their ability on the court, and as people.

On Sept. 5, 2008, Meyer was leading a caravan of players on team retreat when he fell asleep at the wheel. His car drifted across the yellow lines and he collided head on with a semi that was hauling 33 tons of corn. Badly injured, Meyer was life-flighted twice in the hours that followed — and as a trauma surgeon worked to stop his internal bleeding, he discovered previously undiagnosed carcinoid cancer in Meyer, a terminal condition. When Meyer first awoke after his initial surgery, he scrawled a message: When can I coach again?

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Buster Olney

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