Leadership Lessons from a Hall of Fame Coach

carrphoto
Coach Percy Carr (right) on the night of his 800th victory at San Jose City College.
(photo courtesy of City College Times)

When walking into the basketball gym at San Jose City College, the first impression is that the place is literally spotless. If you show up around 3:00 PM, you’ll likely see Coach Percy Carr sweeping the floor, as he has for the past 38 years. It doesn’t matter that custodians probably just swept it; Coach Carr wants to make sure that the floor is in perfect condition for practice.

In 38 years at SJCC, Coach Carr has won over 800 games, the most in California history, and led his Jaguars to 34 playoff appearances, 12 conference championships, and 8 state championship games. Despite this success, there are no banners hanging in the gym trumpeting his accomplishments.  That’s just Coach’s style.

In addition to his success on the floor, Coach Carr founded the Creative Athlete Retention Response (CARR) program at San Jose City College. The CARR Program offers athletic and academic advice to all SJCC athletes. Ninety-seven percent of SJCC basketball players go on to a four-year university. In 1998, Coach Carr was inducted into the California Community College Basketball Hall of Fame. I was fortunate to sweep the floor right next to him as one of his assistant coaches from 1989-1991

Throughout my career, I’ve been around some amazing leaders, and Coach Carr tops that list.  Working for Coach was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. The lessons I learned from him have helped form the core of my own leadership journey. This season, Coach welcomed me back to the Jaguar family as the public address announcer for home games. Watching him working up close again has reminded me of those lessons.  I call them the “Four Be’s of Leadership.”

  1. Be Excellent

Many of the players that come to play for Coach Carr are from inner-city neighborhoods with few positive role models. Coach provides these young men with the highest quality of equipment and facilities. The locker room resembles a facility usually seen only at top-notch Division I universities. He’s a stickler about personal grooming, good manners, and study habits. He gives and expects excellence from his players outside and inside the gym, 24/7.

  1. Be Prepared

Early one Sunday morning, Coach called me from the airport after visiting legendary UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian and watching his team play. Coach Carr learned a new technique to help players on defense stay a step ahead against speedy opponents. He asked me to meet him at the gym when he arrived in San Jose to demonstrate the move and prepare for the next day’s practice. Monday’s practice was seamless, and the Jags defense led the team to 28 victories that year.

  1. Be a Teacher

When young men first arrive on campus at SJCC, they have little experience managing life on their own. During my two years there, I watched Coach teach them how to navigate the financial aid bureaucracy, shop for groceries, and conduct themselves in public as respectable young men. He taught them how work effectively in a team environment.  And for a couple of hours a day, he taught them how to play basketball.

  1. Be a Winner

This year’s team is a classic SJCC Jaguar squad. They’re big, fast, and very talented. The team is also young, which resulted in a rocky start to the season. The team would take early leads in many games only to succumb at the end. They couldn’t find a way to win. Coach didn’t give up. He made adjustments, tried different line-ups, and convinced the young players that they could win. The Jags started to play like a well-oiled machine and sent Coach to the playoffs for the 34th time in his career.

Although it hasn’t helped my March Madness brackets, I learned a whole lot about coaching basketball from Coach Carr. Like his players, I spent only two years at SJCC, but left with a lifetime of leadership lessons. Working to be excellent, preparing for each assignment and project, being a teacher to those under my care, and striving to be a winner have guided me as a father, husband, community leader, and executive.

At the end of the day, Coach Carr’s leadership isn’t about basketball; it’s about inspiring young men and giving them the tools to be successful. His former players are now lawyers, doctors, teachers, coaches, and businessmen.  I’m sure this year has been an incredible experience for the players and the young coaching staff. They went to the playoffs, Coach is a step closer to 900 wins, and most important, the young men he leads are headed for a successful life.

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