By Tommy Brown
“You can’t teach toughness?”
“You can’t teach toughness. They either are, or they ain’t.” Every coach has heard, or said, a variation of this sentiment. There have been times in our coaching careers, we have believed it to be true. Not anymore.
In late Summer 2007, Tommy Brown was the head coach at Lee University. Cole Rose, a senior captain. Josh Templeton, a newly hired assistant coach. The Flames would have as much talent that year as any team that had taken the floor in school history. The only factors that could keep them from unprecedented success were chemistry and toughness. From a recruiting standpoint, the hay was in the barn. From a coaching standpoint, the perfect complimentary staff was in place. Brown’s Flames set a school record for wins that year, but something happened within the hearts of the players and the coaches that has carried on past that special season. Many have gone on to successful careers. They are now husbands, fathers, and leaders. Warriors.
Two years later, Cole Rose took a job at the Boyd Buchanan School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, inheriting a basketball program that, despite its championship tradition, had fallen on hard times. Morale was in the tank. Numbers were down. Upperclassman talent, non-existent. Wins, rare.
Over the next five years, Coach Rose led the program with one mantra¾get better every day. And they did. The process was long. The work was hard. The success was anything but immediate. And after gallons of sweat, scores of setbacks, inspiring bounce backs, and locker room tears, the hearts of young players were taking new shape. A shape worth the pride that every player wants to feel when they look in the mirror after they brush their teeth. Hearts that earned the cheers of a packed gym. Hearts that inspired little children as well as adults who have ever considered throwing in the towel on a hard life. Warriors were becoming. And on a special night in late February 2014, while the world outside Chattanooga didn’t know or care what was going on in the Boyd’s Jett Gym, the Bucs fought valiantly and secured a sub-state victory in front of a raucous student body, punching a ticket to their first state tournament since 1996. Their season ended with a glorious death on the biggest stage in Tennessee high school basketball, and the players are now men. Some college students. Some college graduates, some starting families of their own. All warriors, poised to rise to the occasion in the biggest game they’ll ever play. Life.
During Josh Templeton’s four years coaching at Tennessee Temple, he figured out quickly that being an assistant basketball coach at a small college wouldn’t would pay the bills. Married and with a child, he had to find a way to survive financially.
Oddly, online poker was his best option. He could have the most flexible working hours possible, and he personally knew a few of the best poker players in the world. So he went for it. The same warrior mentality that had made him an All-American college point guard translated directly to his poker game. After learning from the best and getting better daily, focusing on the process rather than the result, and developing another level of resilience, he became one of the best online poker players in the world. By 2008, when he was working with Tommy at Lee, he was a full-time poker player and part-time basketball coach. His travel schedule was hectic¾basketball trips in the winter, and World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour events in the spring and summer.
In 2011, he stepped away from the game of basketball to focus on his poker career. But by 2018, he’d grown tired of being the lone warrior staring into his computer monitors. He missed being part of a team. The life of self-service had become an unfulfilling, monotonous drag. He knew his soul needed to give to others, not just take. So the game of basketball pulled him back in.
Cole Rose became the assistant coach for Bubba Smith at his Alma-mater Lee University. He has been instrumental in the program’s transition into NCAA Division 2. As seniors in 2020, his first recruiting class epitomized Lee’s Warrior Culture, leading them to a 22-7 record that ended with a cancelled D2 National Tournament due to COVID-19. It would have been the first appearance in school history. The seniors, Parker Suedekum and Ryan Montgomery didn’t get closure for their basketball careers. But they know that things don’t always play out like we want them to. They became warriors, so their story is just getting started.
In 2018, Tommy Brown became the Athletic Director at his alma mater Boyd Buchanan School. His first task¾hire a basketball coach. Since Cole Rose had left to pursue a career in college basketball, the Bucs had found themselves floundering. Once again, numbers were down, and morale had hit rock bottom. The football team was down to 18 players and circling the drain. The basketball team won 5 games the year before. The players and most of their parents were quick to point the finger at who they felt was responsible for the athletic ineptitude of their teams. The noise was deafening. Most had an opinion about their culture of losing. But few had solutions.
Brown knew he needed a strong personality for this job. He knew the Bucs needed an injection of warrior spirit. And who better for this job than his old running mate¾Josh Templeton. During the five years they were together at Lee, the Flames had a 136-32 record. They had trust, respect, and belief in each other. The administration was familiar with Josh, too. Back in 2014, Josh closed his poker tables every day at 3:00pm and drove to Boyd to assist his friend Cole Rose with his state championship contending Bucs.
The timing was perfect. And in 2018, Tommy offered, and Josh accepted the job. And Warrior Culture would be put to the test again.
Three coaches, two schools. Scores of epiphanies, hundreds of wins, thousands of mistakes, and relationships that will last a lifetime, transcending generation gaps, race, and religion.
We are not coaching theory experts telling you how to run your program from on high with our grand knowledge and limited shared experience. We are you. We have taught in the classroom, walked the sidelines, called the timeouts, and sat in the difficult parent meetings. We write this book to share things that have worked for us. To share the mistakes we’ve made, and the lessons we’ve learned. To encourage every high school coach who reads this. You are not alone. The challenges in this difficult job are similar. But coaches can be the people who talk about solutions instead of problems. We can be the warriors who find a way past any obstacle with our creativity, ingenuity, and will. We can be the people who never stop getting better. And just by our mere presence, we can influence the younger generation who is watching us, asking us how, trying to please us, and desperately wanting to be proud of themselves. Who we are carries more weight than the instructions we give. And we are warriors.
The way to our best selves is unleashing the warrior spirit within us. And we have found that the most successful, inspiring people to walk this planet tapped into this spirit. Warrior Culture wins.
We will coach three types of people:
- The Civilians
Civilians are just there. The general population. They choose to live in a way that doesn’t require them to walk the difficult path. They just are.
A small percentage have poisoned their own mind with their self-talk. At their worst, they have an extremely difficult time getting over themselves. Their lives exist in a bubble of comfort. Everything is about them. And they’ll tell you all about it. Who wronged them. Why things are inconvenient for them. What people should do for them. They don’t feel responsible to take steps to solve their problems, but they complain a lot. They’re easy to spot. They lack empathy. Their social media posts often reveal character deficiencies they refuse to accept. Entitlement is prevalent. They are toxic liabilities to their school, workplace, or worse, society as a whole. Most of these people can’t be helped until they hit bottom and realize that the problem is them. Until that happens, any coaching is a waste of breath.
But most civilians are just doing the best they can with what they know. They want to be a warrior. The problem is, they just don’t know how. They don’t know what the warrior path looks like. Or how it applies to them where they are. Their potential is like a box of fireworks waiting for someone to ignite the fuse so they can light up the sky, bringing smiles to the faces of strangers. They are standing in front of a blank canvas, desperate to paint their masterpiece. They just need an artist to show them how to master the craft. Most high school athletes are civilians when they first step onto our practice floor. As coaches, we are the artists who have the ability to teach personal growth and development. We chose this profession for that reason.
Now here they are, and it’s our job to teach them how to paint their masterpiece. And if we truly are warriors, generals, teachers, coaches that we claim to be, we will show them the path to the warrior they didn’t even know they wanted to be. We won’t complain about they are not… yet… We’ll bask in the joy of watching them become.
- The Nameless
Nameless choose to do battle, but their performance in battle is limited by either their limited abilities or their minds. They are valuable to teams. But they may not stand out. They fight and are often respected. If a nameless is limited by their abilities in one activity but overcomes the self-imposed limitations of their minds, they can become warriors in an area of performance that is more suited to their skill set later in life. The pure-hearted nameless may not be warriors yet, but they can acquire the mental tools to become.
- The Warriors
Warriors fight and become legends. They relentlessly pursue excellence, overcome mental barriers, and accomplish things that amaze. They embrace the hardships of life and welcome the challenge. They crave competition because they live to unleash the fighting spirit inside them. They fight to win every time, but get as much enjoyment out of a great fight as they do a big win. They don’t work to for accolades. They work to become the best they can be at something they love to do. They let their emotions enhance their abilities, but never hinder them. They are honest and self-aware. They understand the value of a positive outlook and the need for critical analysis. They are resilient. They don’t complain about problems, they solve them. They grow more confident every day. The live by a code of ethics and make decisions for moral reasons, not emotional ones. They want the way in which they compete and live their lives to be remembered. And when a warrior inevitably falls short of who they want to be, they own it, learn from it, and get back on their horse, sword in hand, and activate, moving on to their next best action. A warrior is respected. A warrior inspires.
It is important to note that not all warriors become famous. Not all athletes on a great team of warriors will be featured in the local newspaper. Only one will lead the team in scoring. And a handful will be mentioned. But every player on the team who acts like a warrior, no matter how small their role, needs to be noticed. It may be one who goes after every rebound. Or one who guards the other team’s best player every night. Or one who brings contagious spirit every day. And what about the kid who shows up to practice every day, knowing they aren’t in the rotation, but works their ass off just to make the player who gets the lion’s share of the playing time better. We cannot leave them nameless. Their name may not be in the paper much. But it must roll off our tongues often. We need to celebrate this player who does the things that go unnoticed by the common fan. Every member of a warrior culture needs to know that their work has meaning. They are there for a reason. Their role is important. They need a name. And as coaches, it’s up to us to notice. We need to give that warrior a name.
“All of the real heroes are not storybook combat fighters either. Every single man in this Army play a vital role. Don’t ever let up. Don’t ever think that your job is unimportant. Every man has a job to do and he must do it. Every man is a vital link in the great chain.”
-General George Patton, U.S. Army
In this book, we will share stories of the warrior spirit in history and sports that have inspired us to become warriors. We’ll share quotes that will encourage you to stay on the path. And we’ll share how we applied warrior philosophy to our teams. We aren’t there yet. We are still becoming. And will always be becoming until we achieve our glorious death. That is the way of the warrior. Get better… No matter what.
Overcoming a losing culture to build warriors
Josh Templeton¾Boyd 2018-2019
Being familiar with the Bucs tradition of excellence and the pride that the community had in their athletic programs, I was excited about the opportunity. But after watching the football games in the fall before we’d start our first season together, excitement wasn’t the word. There were no words that could accurately express the level of my concern. But there was a thought¾What have I gotten myself into?
Our football team¾who consisted of many basketball players¾went 0-10. But it wasn’t the bagel on the front of the record that bothered me. It was the way they didn’t compete. They laid down for their opponents every game. Absolutely no fight in this dog. In Tennessee high school football, the clock runs in the second half if a team leads by 35 points or more. The clock never stopped in a second half in any of our games that season. Going into each game, our Bucs knew their fate, so they didn’t even try.
I knew coming into basketball season that this wouldn’t be about basketball. Our athletes needed a soul transplant before they could even think about winning a basketball game.
So, “You can’t teach toughness.” Well, our staff didn’t have a choice¾we had to try. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had learned so many things over the course of my playing, coaching, and even poker career that prepared me for this team. It felt like my entire journey had brought me to this place. A place with the best chance to do what many consider pinnacle of coaching accomplishments¾IMPACT LIVES.
Now, I know that you are reading a coaching book. You’re probably expecting theory and a fail-safe plan. Here’s the thing¾that fail-safe plan doesn’t exist, and theory often gets pissed on by variables. It’s these variables that we love most about sports and the stories within the games. Besides the obvious (A zero-sports quarantine), why did we glue ourselves to the TV to watch The Last Dance on ESPN in the spring of 2020? Why do we watch any story unfold, fiction or reality, with unflinching attention?
It’s the variables. Drama, parody, obstacles to overcome, etc. If it weren’t for the variables, life would be a soulless grind, and sports would be boring. The only people who deeply desire the predictable in sports are bettors and handicappers. The rest of us want a show. We want to feel the exhilaration of an underdog victory. We want to our hearts broken in soul crushing defeat. We want to witness athletes get knocked to the canvas, and against all odds, rise to their feet and attempt the unbelievable. And most of all, we want to be inspired.
So that’s where we’ll start. My team of puppies who weren’t sure if they had it in them to be dogs. We had to paint an enticing picture of the beasts they could be. We had to show them what that athlete looked like in action. We had to model how that person acted every day. And they had to answer one question to be on our team¾do I want to be a warrior?
Deep down, I believe that most people have a common desire¾to be respected. People can be respected simply because of what they do. But the warrior craves respect that inspires those around them. It’s not what they do, it’s the way they do it. There’s a big difference between wanting something and having the ability, the discipline, and the courage to make it happen. And an even more, having all three and doing it with a passion that inspires people.
The warrior lives by a certain code. Many call it the path. But one thing is clear, there is something in the warrior that isn’t in everyone else.
You don’t have to fight in wars or enter a ring to walk the path of the warrior, but you have to adopt a code. A way of life. If studying warrior culture has taught me anything, it is the code can be applied to every aspect of life. And the warrior knows that in the end, no matter what happens, there will be ultimate respect of self. And what better gift could we give our athletes than to inspire them to pursue self-respect.
What was the best thing we could do for this team? Inspire them. Appeal to the person they want to be instead of the player I want them to be. Inspire them to become someone they can respect. Hold them accountable to the code. And in all things, celebrate the heck out of every step down the warrior path.
I won’t coach people I don’t respect anymore. It’s a waste of time and energy. I know the warrior path isn’t for everyone, and that’s just fine. There’s an activity out there for them. But preferably, one that isn’t competitive.
From what I’ve seen these last few years with our Bucs, kids haven’t changed that much. And they’re capable of so much more than we often think they are. I truly believe that most athletes want to be tough, respected, and viewed as a warrior.
Maybe it’s on us. Maybe we stopped showing them how. Maybe we stopped modeling the warrior way in our own lives. It’s possible that “kids just aren’t tough as they used to be” actually means¾we, as adults, don’t put a premium on showing them how to become. We only tell them how they fall short.
We’ve seen it countless times¾Belichick’s team is cool and calculated, Les Miles’s team is a pack of wild animals, Bob Huggins’s team is the meanest bunch in the country, Roy Williams’s team looks like they’re having a ton of fun. Teams naturally take on the personality of their coach. We need to show them what the warrior looks like, and before we know it, we’ll be coaching a team of them, loving every second, and crying with them in the locker room when it’s over.
The warrior’s career will end, but the heart of the warrior never dies. They will leave sports behind and go on to greatness in their adult lives. Living their code to become the husbands and wives, dads and moms, entrepreneurs, business executives, teachers, coaches, doctors, writers, and team members. Basically… the human being that they’ve always wanted to be. The one who makes a difference. The warrior who inspires.
Aside from parents, a coach has arguably the most influential voice in the life of an athlete. Let’s shoulder the responsibility and inspire our players to become the warrior. This book is about showing them how.