One was our junior high football coach and his breath smelled like a fermented dishrag used to wipe ashtrays. If we went after water during 100-degree heat, this Marine drill-sergeant-turned-teacher called us sissies. To see how tough our stomachs were, he made us lay down on our backs, raise our heels six inches off the ground, then walk on us with his 6’2’, 240 lb. body. Walking on the bellies of junior high boys has the same sound effect as walking on whoopee cushions. He screamed that his purpose, as he grabbed our facemasks and spit in our face, was to make us football players. I played for him one year and hated every minute of it.

We lost every game.

The other was our freshman basketball coach; a laid-back music teacher who loved the band Chicago. He played almost every instrument, but his favorite was a coronet. I never heard him yell at any one. If someone messed up, he gently pointed out how they could have done it better, patted them on the back, and sent them back in the game as quick as he could. He understood the difference between playing with emotion and playing with passion; he taught us how to play with passion.

We won every game. I never practiced and played harder for anyone than I did for him.

When I reflect on the leaders who motivated me the most, my first thought goes back to my freshman basketball coach. If I had to point at anyone in my life and say, “I want to be that kind of leader!” it would be him; Jim Phillips. I’ve pondered through the years why he could motivate me to work harder, sacrifice more, come earlier and stay later than others. I’ve finally settled on a few things.

      • He genuinely liked us; because of that, we worked hard not to disappoint him.
      • He treated us with respect and assumed that all deserved dignity.
      • He pointed out our mistakes with gentleness.
      • He made us believe we were one team, yet each one of us unique and individual contributors.
      • He rewarded us for genuine hard work.
      •  He was tough; he would not tolerate disrespect for himself or others.
      •  His charm could disarm a nuclear bomb.
      • He seemed more interested in making us men than making us basketball players.

I never saw Jim get riled. I never saw him kick chairs like Bobby Knight or punch players like Woody Hayes. He sauntered when he walked; we called him Joe Cool.

He understood that treating people with dignity is the key to any success.


The photo was purchased at