Dana Safa Bernardino
On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Coach Todd Simon, the current Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Southern Utah University. Simon was named Big Sky Coach of the Year, NABC District 6 Coach of the Year, the winner of the 2021 Jim Phelan Award, and a finalist for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award and the Hugh Durham Award.
On this episode of Bring It In season three, Coach Simon sat down with Sam and discussed the qualities of a good player, how to structure practices and development, and the importance of consistency.
Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
Below are some of the insights Coach Simon shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.
Sam: I think maybe to kick us off, it’d be great for you to share a little bit about your story, how you got from where you started to where you are today, and coaching for the conference championship.
Todd: Yeah. So I’m originally from Michigan. I grew up in a small blue-collar town and proceeded from there. Went to Central Michigan University and got a degree in management information systems as well as sports studies, but sports was always where I wanted it to be. And kind of going from there, I moved out west to try to spread my wings a little bit, to get outside my comfort zone and try to challenge some of the beliefs and in dreams and all those types of things that we had at the time.
Then kind of making my way from there, I kind of got into the basketball world and combined with outside interests, but kind of settled into the basketball world and really focused on my coaching career and helping young men and kind of proceeding from that standpoint and gradually kind of made my way up to business.
And now as the head coach at Southern Utah University, we’ve kind of built a program here over the last five years, and now we’ve built it through a conference champion and got a chance to try to make the NCAA tournament. And so it’s been a lot of great lessons along the way. A lot of great leaders that I’ve worked for that have kind of helped shape our philosophy.
Sam: What inspired you to become a basketball coach?
Todd: I knew from a pretty young age that this was something I wanted to do. I was probably eight years old, just growing up, watching the Bad Boy Pistons and all that stuff. I was so intrigued by the Chuck Daleys and the Pat Riley’s of the world and kind of seeing how they were in those positions. And basketball is such a sport I just loved, and knew it didn’t have much of a playing future long-term, but this was something that I was just so in love with the coaching side of it. And so that was kind of the inspiration to kind of pursue the dream, and we kind of took it off from there.
Sam: I talk to a lot of talent managers, and these are folks that are running HR teams and thinking about employee development and they’re thinking about how you determine employee engagement is a big one right now. And I always think about the power of sports to connect with people and get the most out of people. I’m interested to hear, when you mentioned earlier your coaching philosophy, what does that look like? And I ask it from a question of so many leaders out there who are maybe intimidated or struggle with formally defining a philosophy, but I’m sure that’s something that you probably think about a lot.
Todd: Yeah. That’s something that I think you have to have a north star. You have to be able to find your way home, especially in the chaotic world of managing people. And our world is not only managing 18 to 22-year-olds, but you’re also managing recruits, you’re managing parents, you’re managing the university systems, there are all kinds of layers.
And for me it was, once you have that kind of fine, just a little bit of it is who are you as a person? And then for us, a couple of our core tenants, just controlling your controllables is something that we talk about all the time, making the main thing, the main thing, relentless enthusiasm is a term I use with our team all the time.
I think if you start with that mindset of just controlling what you can control it and blocking out the rest of that noise and just attacking everything with relentless enthusiasm, you’re always going to see the glass half full. You’re always going to have a little bit of clarity, and I think that’s as important as anything is just to have peace of mind and clarity of what you’re doing and what’s important and not getting flustered by things that don’t have an impact or shouldn’t be of concern. And that’s what we kind of try to instill in our teams. We’re just going to control what we can control, we’re going to play very hard, we’re going to be as enthusiastic as you’ll find.
And then beyond that, it’s getting the right people in the room. That is a huge part of what we do. We’re looking for people with genuine hearts. It’s easy to say, but I think you can kind of find people that are willing to maybe have a confidence about them, but also in terms of maybe a chip on their shoulder or have gone through. I think I really value guys that have been through some adversity because they’ve been tested and they’ve come out the other side.
And then the third prong is we need humble team players. Players that can’t laugh at themselves, there’s a struggle there. And so those are kind of three qualities that kind of fit within our philosophies as well.
Sam: What’s gotten tougher about your job? I guess we’ve got to take COVID out of it for a second, but what’s gotten tougher about coaching and developing, you said 18 to 22-year-olds. How has that changed?
Todd: It’s not a social media world. It’s the world now. It is the world. You can’t compartmentalize something that’s so ingrained in who we are now. Everyone has a phone connected to them and the connectivity of the world from all kinds of layers, from family to friends, to strangers, you name it, that connectivity is now part of every generation that’s on the earth now. So you have to manage the message, you have to continue to stay in a close relationship so that the trust doesn’t erode, because sometimes over connectivity can lead to messages getting muddied or diluted. And so that relationship piece, it’s almost gone full circle to where you need to have relationships that don’t exist just in a platform that’s not face-to-face, you need to have that face-to-face relationship. And I think that’s probably the biggest challenge now in 2021.
Sam: Recruiting is obviously a big part of your job, right?
Todd: Yeah, absolutely.
Sam: Do you enjoy it?
Todd: I do. I really do. I enjoy getting to know people and I enjoy conversations. I like to hear people’s stories, you know? So from that standpoint, I would say the essence of what we do and what I do is I enjoy seeing small fish become big fish. And that’s what I like to see. Young men when they’re still small fish and see that potential in them. So yeah, I do really love it. I love recruiting.
Sam: I want to talk to you about practice if I could. No Iverson jokes needed for this part, and I want to come at it from a perspective of thinking about companies who every day, they have to consider how they get the most out of their people, how do they develop workers? I mean, you every day have a scoreboard that you work towards. You have a very numbers driven universe you’re in. How do you think about practice or program design in order to get you to the championship or the outcomes you’re looking for? What goes into, like if I decided to quit and try to take my shot at becoming a college basketball coach, and I was a football player, and I decided to pass on going down the coaching route. But if I decided I wanted to be a GA for you and I needed a whiteboard session on how do you build out a program with practice in mind, what comes to mind?
Todd: I mean the essence of what we do, it gets so lost and it goes back to making the main thing, the main thing. We’re in a people development world. That’s what we do. So if we get our students to be as close to their potential as they can, we’re going to be good. That’s the bottom line. Everyone’s got good schemes. Everyone can do it. But I always say, from a state practice standpoint, I would stream it online, invite anybody to practice, even our strongest competitor, because it’s not what we do, it’s how we do it. And then that consistency day in, day out, but in terms of us building a practice, we carve out the days.
Since practice started today, we’ll be practicing number 82. And our first half hour of practice has not changed. And we play for our championship season in two days. And yeah, we have a lot of stuff to cover, but that part is not going to change. What they’re going to work on is their individual skillset, because we’re invested in making sure our players are as good as they can possibly be. And so that first segment is going to be, ‘let’s work on the skills that they’re going to need to keep fine-tuned that happened in the randomness of the game,’ and then there’s a strategy portion where you’re talking about working on schemes, offensively, defensively, and then special situations.
We want our guys to be prepared for a game situation. We probably do more situational work than anybody in the country, and I’m unapologetic to our guys. The guys kind of roll their eyes, but then in the game situation, my goal for our team is never to need a timeout. I tried to call the least amount of timeouts in the country. I’ve always said, if I was king for a day, coaches get one a game. Coach your team in practice, you don’t need it. So that’s kind of where our goals lie, is to try to put these guys in a position where I’m not needed and this thing just runs on its own and they have the confidence to kind of do it on their own. And that’s how we kind of try to design our practices.
But within it all, we’re trying to challenge the mindset of our guys and then the game is as much mental and emotional as it is physical in some ways. So we’re always trying to set up a disadvantage to certain teams or certain players, or we just try to create chaos or the intense situation to see how a response is going to be. And then that way, when the game comes, the guys that are mentally tough make a move on the next play and do the next thing right.
Sam: And I’m on the mentally tough thing, I’d imagine that the young men that you sign that come to Southern Utah, a lot of the stories you’re probably asking in the recruiting process is understanding where they come from. How has parenting, and we don’t need to beat up on different generations, but how have the journeys of some of the young people you see have been impacted by parents? If you were talking to me as a father, parents out there that are trying to raise young men and women, what are the things that you see that maybe we need to do better at?
Todd: I think in some situations every generation wants to better the lives of their kids and what they have. Some of us like myself had a great time growing up, but there was a hunger. I think sometimes there was going to be a lot of trial and error, a lot of failure, a lot of wants and desires that were going to go unfilled based on the childhood that we had, because it wasn’t like we just had unlimited resources, those types of things.
So as a parent, it’s a fine line between giving your kids everything you ever wanted when you were a kid and providing for them, but then also trying to create an environment where they’re hungry and driven. I knew I wasn’t going to get my college paid for, so I had to do everything in my power to make sure that I got a full scholarship and had it paid for because it was something I wanted to do.
So I think that you see a lot of parents that love and care for their kids and want a better life for them, and it’s really easy to make children the focal point of our lives as parents, and sometimes it’s not always the best course of action. Sometimes they need to see their parents have goals and dreams and achieve those and have that model as well. So it’s a fine line. It’s a fine line. And we’re always bouncing.
Sam: I’ve got one final question. We talked a lot about player development in your program, but I want you to share some, maybe points of view on developing coaches, because you have a staff that you must think about every day, how you develop them as powerful assistants to your program to get the most out of your people. What is your same philosophy, but for developing coaches?
Todd: The first and foremost is, you lead by example. I think they see how you handle situations and learn and grow from that. That’s how I learned and grew. I’ve worked for some great leaders and in watching them handle adverse situations. There’s no playbook for handling adversity, whether in business or in coaching. You’ve got to have your core values. You’ve got to understand who you are and how you like to be treated and then apply that. And so, for us, a lot of conversations, one-on-ones try to empower and say, ‘Hey, this is what we want,’ but then trust people that just kind of do their job and then say, ‘here’s the result we want, let’s think of what the best practice to try to get there.’ And then really promote the consistency. I think that’s as big of a thing nowadays as you can find, is consistency in emotions, consistency in performance. But I think if you get a workplace where people want to work, want to be, want to be enthusiastic, I think performance takes off from there.
Sam: Coach, thank you for your time, and good luck two days from now.
Todd: I really appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
Topics Discussed: Future of Work, Coaching, Leadership, Basketball, Students, Enthusiasm, Relentless
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