Jim Fiore's Blog

Can Anyone Stop UConn in the Post-Breanna Stewart Era?

Can Anyone Stop UConn in the Post-Breanna Stewart Era?

As Breanna Stewart and co. move on to the WNBA, many are wondering which programs could cause frustration for Geno Auriemma and the Huskies next season as they try to repeat another undefeated season.

Many point to the program’s post-dynasty runs as an indication that the Huskies won’t return to the top for at least next season. After the 2000-2004 dominance during the Sue Bird, Swin Cash, and Diana Taurasi era, the program failed to return to the Final Four for three seasons. The same can be said for the disappointing gap year between Maya Moore and Tina Charles’ departure and the latest dominating class’ arrival.

ESPN Video — top 3 WNBA picks come from UConn

For most programs, a few years between Final Four appearances wouldn’t raise any alarming flags, but this is UConn. If any program expects to be dancing every year it’s the Huskies, and with good reason.

It may have taken UConn 10 years to earn their first NCAA Tournament victory, defeating Pat Summitt’s Tennessee Lady Vols, but the wait paid off. Since his first title in 1995, Coach Auriemma has notched 11 tournament titles to his and UConn’s name. His recruiting and the prowess of the ladies making up these Husky rosters have been virtually untouchable.

While history leads us to believe that Connecticut might sit out a Final Four or two in the coming years, don’t go betting the bank on it either. The Huskies live up to their name as a scrappy, powerful entity that has the power to win even if its prospects look bleak. And this program looks far from bleak. While a major overhaul and leadership change is on the roster’s horizon, Connecticut’s winning culture and guidance under Geno Auriemma makes it hard to write them off.

UConn caps perfect season with fourth straight title

NCAA Says No to LGBT Discrimination

logo-ncaa-basketball-pXAy

Regardless of your political beliefs, I think it’s safe to say that we all agree that people deserve to be treated fairly. Regardless of what makes them who they are, each person deserves the right to be treated with kindness and respect.

Recently, the NCAA made this statement their own. In the wake of Indiana’s religious liberty law and North Carolina’s bathroom policy, the NCAA Board of Governors voted that NCAA Tournament host cities must now prove that they provide a discrimination-free environment before they can host any men’s or women’s basketball Final Fours. This move shouldn’t come as a surprise after the NCAA itself helped shape Indiana’s re-drafting of its law when protests called for the NCAA to move its headquarters out of the state if revisions weren’t made.  

The NCAA’s decision came at its quarterly meeting in Indianapolis. In a statement to the press, Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University and chairman of the Board of Governors, said:

The higher education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation backgrounds…So it is important that we assure that community – including our student-athletes and fans – will always enjoy the experience of competing and watching at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination.”

This isn’t the first sports organization to stand against the Tar Heel State’s controversial stance. The NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver gave a softer, initial stance that indicated the league would heavily consider moving its 2016 All-Star Weekend from the Charlotte Hornets’ arena. Calling the situation “problematic,” Silver told ESPN, “We’ve been working very closely with the business community down there and the governor and the legislature to make it clear that it would be problematic for us to move forward with our All-Star Game if there is not a change in the law.” Silver even indicated that this could eventually impact the status of the Hornets. While far from a confirmation, Silver and the league indicated that the state could lose the Hornets once again if the law remains status quo.

Again, regardless of your political and ideological beliefs, individuals deserve fair treatment in a safe environment. As is the case with any other basic human function like working and learning, no athlete can feasibly perform knowing that they are seen as anything less than an equal to a teammate, opponent or anyone else in the arena.

What could this mean for future cities looking to pass similar measures? That remains to be seen. However, it’s now becoming clear that these measures are almost assured to generate negative reverberations from athletic bodies to major companies and even fellow states. The financial impact of losing an All-Star Weekend or NCAA Tournament can prove devastating to local and state economies. With a major tourist boom, industries across host cities stand to lose millions in potential revenues with these measures in place.

With so much on the line, it’ll be intriguing to see if other states follow suit–and how states like North Carolina will react. If recent news proves indicative, this will get messier before we reach any clarity.

Kentucky, John Calipari Make Bold Statement with All-In Draft Decision

UK BBall

In late March, in a series of tweets, University of Kentucky Men’s basketball coach John Calipari said that,

“Met with our team today. Told them that during the season it’s about the team and sacrificing for each other – which they did this year…When the season’s over, it’s about each individual player and what’s right for them and their families…With that being said, every player who is eligible for the draft, including our walk-ons, will submit their names for the NBA Draft in hopes of being invited to the combine in May.”

This may have come as a shock to some outside of the NCAA sphere, but this isn’t all that surprising within. The move stems from the NCAA and NBA’s agreement last summer over a new NBA rule that allows early entrants to return to school even after declaring for the draft. The proposal came with the backing from not only the NCAA and NBA, but also with the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), indicating a unified stance on player’s rights.

It should come as no surprise that Coach Cal and Kentucky would spearhead the movement to send all draft-eligible players, from lottery potentials like Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere to the team’s walk-ons, to the draft. Kentucky became the signature school for one-and-done athletes that now impact virtually every top-flight program in the country. With a program that embraces the new approach in the NCAA, the Wildcats once again stay ahead of the curve. As Coach Cal mentioned in his follow up tweets,

This is a clever move on Kentucky’s part because they once again demonstrate their ability to embrace the evolution of the system. In doing so, players and recruits will feel the atmosphere of “team during the season, personal gains in the offseason” that John Calipari has laid out. Establishing that feeling could, in theory, create a pipeline that sends not only one-year players, but any player that wants to win on and off the court, towards the Wildcats.

It wasn’t like Kentucky had trouble enticing the nation’s top recruits to Rupp Arena, but this only helps their case. While the rule may be controversial to some, the prospect of giving student athletes the chance to test that professional waters with the option to return to school was bound to happen. By openly stating their intentions, Kentucky and John Calipari sent a message to the nation’s basketball talent that the university is ready to play ball.

Successful Methods to Major Gift Development in Higher Education

Successful Methods to Major Gift Development in Higher Education

Today, the role of an Athletic Director in higher education is constantly evolving. The challenges of the position become more complex all the time. Higher education is an ultra-competitive business on multiple levels and intercollegiate athletics is often at the forefront of such competition.

In order to successfully improve their brand, institutions must raise the needed revenue to reach university goals. Funds are vital to building facilities, attracting and retaining quality staff, providing scholarships and student support, and strategic reinvestment. Fundraising methods are a unique blend of science and art that challenge any organization.

Ultimately, revenue generating efforts can break down into five main categories: major gifts, annual giving, corporate partnerships, multimedia and ticket sales. Major gift development has to be the primary component of the direction of fundraising efforts for Athletic Directors. Here are some of the methods that have proved successful in my experience as a former athletic administrator at three major institutions:

  • Success in Athletics is a University Decision – I strongly believe that, “coaches win games and administrators win championships.” A strong and focused university administration is committed to winning as a team and understands revenue generation is key to that success. It begins with the university President and his/her strength to effectively lead, communicate and set a unified vision.
  • A Vision Statement Keeps Eyes on the Goal – The power of a vision statement can go overlooked at times. It should not be taken lightly.

If you know what you want and you can envision the goal; you’ll work tirelessly to overcome adversity along the way. An athletic department–specifically the revenue generation component–must have a clear aspirational vision statement that falls in-line with the strategic plan of the university. In good times or bad, a vision statement maintains the goals you need achieve when you might be tempted off course.

  • Put the Plan in Action, Then Keep Planning – With a vision statement in place, now it’s time to develop a course of action. Define the goals – both short and long term. Articulate the mission, educate potential donors and show them how their individual gift can make an impact in allowing the university brand to grow and student-athletes flourish.

Once a case statement is established, develop a comprehensive plan to incorporate all the goals and strategies into well thought out action steps. Strive to revise as needed. Make necessary adjustments and do a thorough year-end evaluation to make improvements for the following year. One must hold the staff accountable and communicate with university leadership regularly.

  • Build Great Relationships and Trust – Building trust with donors, university staff and fans is a comprehensive process that, over time, yields short and long-term success. There are many places that donors can give their hard earned dollars and we cherish those who have decided to invest in the future of our program. A tremendously important relationship is one with the university president. The AD-President relationship is paramount for success at all levels of higher education. Additionally, one must foster substantive, long-lasting relationships built on trust and integrity with state legislative leadership, university boards and the senior staff/cabinet of the school.
  • Set Aggressive Goals – Establishing lofty goals, and holding oneself accountable to those goals, has been essential in my various experiences. Be bodacious, be aspirational, be courageous–be fearless. Once a person or organization becomes fearless, life and fundraising become limitless.
  • “Fundraising is a Contact Sport”: Go Face-to-Face – Make regular, consistent in-person meetings whenever possible. In order to build substantive relationships, one must develop trust with a person. That is accomplished in person. Trust begins and ends with in-person visits and “face time.” These meetings can be formal and informal. Just get in front of your prospects. Donors do not give to e-mails or social media. Rather, they give to people they trust, the vision of the leadership and how they can effectively affect positive change.
  • Listen – Listening is arguably the most important aspect of successful fundraising. Without listening, you can’t learn. It is imperative to take the time to listen to what the prospect/donor is expressing in terms of wants and needs for their gift.

Often, they have a different desire for where and what their gift is to be used as. Listen and stay the course so you can learn about them. After the in-person meetings, be diligent when comparing notes with staff on what was heard from the donor and how best to proceed. Follow up sessions with your staff and university leadership are often the most interesting sessions. They can yield the extremely important next steps in the major gift process. Great fundraisers need to be pleasantly persistent with potential donors while also listening to what prospects/donors tell us.

Make technology work for you when it comes to communicating

Make technology work for you when it comes to communicating

  • Make Technology Work for You –  As stated earlier, fundraising is a contact sport. While that is true, communicating with your prospects/donors across multiple platforms is essential as technology continues its emergence in communication. With all of the technology at your disposal, you must ensure that your process makes good use of: social media, email, website and apps all in an effort to engage, educate and excite potential and current donors to learn about your vision while providing an avenue for gift giving.  
  • Spend Your Time Wisely – Smart allocation of resources is essential in any role. I strongly believe that the majority of time of staff should be spent on major gift development as it produces the greatest return on human resource investment. Spending a great deal of time on fundraising events are important and necessary, but they do not yield the dramatic results based on the amount of time ultimately invested.

Be sure to sort out the energy and tasks of the staff in the proper manner to maximize revenue generation efforts. Athletic departments have natural gathering points to educate and cultivate prospects/donors. These gathering points are the games; use them as important event opportunities to bring together and engage the donor base.

  • Enlist The Right People – Be sure to enlist the right people at the right time. Whether it is a coach, administrator, university president or a key volunteer, be sure to enlist the right person or people in the fundraising process. Often, coaches can play an integral role in this endeavor. In order to be a highly successful coach, he/she must first be a great recruiter. Who better than a highly successful coach and recruiter to sell a prospective donor on your vision and mission?
  • Ask! – The most important step: The Ask! If you don’t ask; then you don’t receive.  The Ask is similar to sales in a private company–it’s the most important aspect of the process. In turn, it is about how well you treat your customer and stay ahead of their needs. Whether it is part of the annual giving program, corporate partnerships or a major gift, be sure that you are always working towards The Ask. Ask appropriately and in a timely manner – but be sure to ask in person. Communicate the mission, educate the donor, celebrate the success, continue to build the relationship and ASK! The leadership of the organization must have a staff that are unafraid to ask. Too many good staff members often set the table, but won’t eat (Ask).
  • Stewardship – A focus on stewarding donors is essential in the major gift process. No matter the size of the gift – thank them, educate them and, once again, let them know how they helped write the University’s story.

Keys to Securing Major Gifts – Summary

All the components of fundraising should lead to major gift development.

In short, create specifically tailored plans for each donor and execute those plans throughout the year. Each plan must be unique in its complexity, length, management and reflect the goals of the institution. Major gifts are crucial to fundraising success. The first step in the process is to identify those prospects that have the network, ability, and the capacity to make a major gift. From there, train, manage and hold accountable advancement officers to develop a portfolio and develop substantive relationships focused on The Ask. Meet regularly to discuss the next steps, whether or not the strategy must be altered and eventually make the proper ask. The length of the process varies with each prospect but plan for 18-24 months as the average length of time to secure a major gift. During that time, it usually becomes clear as to the level and purpose of the ask. At that time, decide on how to make the ask and who should attend the meeting. Once the gift is secured, set up a detailed plan for the next phase to properly honor, recognize and celebrate such a meaningful gift.

Finally, continue to recruit, educate and communicate with the donor. One gift always leads to the next.

Jim Fiore is now the CEO of Dynamic Sports Management and President of Fiore41 Consulting and former Director of Athletics at Stony Brook University for 11 years. He was named 2012 Under Armour Northeast Region Athletics Director of the Year. Prior to that, he served 11 years as an athletic administrator in the Ivy League at Princeton University and Dartmouth College.

Follow him on twitter @Jim_Fiore_

How Mark Few and Gonzaga Grew Into March Madness Mainstays

The Bulldogs raise the WCC trophy after beating St. Mary's 85-75 to win the West  Coast Conference tournament championship final college basketball game, Tues., March 8, 2016, at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. COLIN MULVANY colinm@spokesman.com

The Bulldogs raise the WCC trophy after beating St. Mary’s 85-75 to win the West Coast Conference tournament championship final college basketball game, Tues., March 8, 2016, at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. COLIN MULVANY colinm@spokesman.com

When you think mid-majors, it’s impossible not to think of Gonzaga. Since 1998, the Zags have made it their business of disrupting the tournament almost every year. Since the Bulldogs’ stunning run to the Elite 8 in ’98, they’ve remained a fixture in the Big Dance ever since–now entering their 18th straight tournament. Much of that credit has to go to head coach Mark Few. Since taking over for Dan Monson, after his surprising move to the University of Minnesota, Few furthered the school’s emerging presence as a fixture of the March tournament over the next 17 years.

Like Monson before, Few is often attached to major conference opportunities. However, unlike his former fellow assistant coach and friend, Few has rejected the chance to move. Some have gone so far to call the Few/Gonzaga a perfect marriage–and it’s hard to argue with its legacy of success.

Ever since graduating from Oregon in 1989, Few has been a Bulldog rather than a Duck. Joining then-coach Dan Fitzgerald’s 1989 team as an assistant coach, Few hit the ground running alongside future-coach Monson. Working alongside his friend he met through previous coaching camp stints, the two would grow into the coaching backbone of Gonzaga’s perennial March Madness runs.

The 1999 season saw the Zags reach the tournament for only the second time in the school’s history. After their electrifying run, Monson’s postseason departure made way for Few to take over. Few didn’t miss a beat. In his first season, the Bulldogs returned to the Sweet 16 after capturing the West Coast Conference tournament title. The next 16 seasons under Few would prove to be just as fruitful as his first. Today, Few’s accolades include 13 WCC Tournament championships, 15 WCC regular season championships, 11 WCC Coach of the Year honors and five trips to the Sweet Sixteen.

During Few’s 16 seasons leading Gonzaga, the Bulldogs have become a threatening opponent every season. Even on off years, the Gonzaga name alone reminds clubs that anything can happen when Few’s men take the court. During their streak–the fourth-longest active streak in the nation–they failed to surpass the Sweet 16 during every attempt. That came to an end last year when the #2 ranked Zags finally cracked the Elite 8 before running into eventual champion Duke.

This year’s draw could be one of Few’s toughest tests. Barely keeping their streak alive, the Zags secured their 11th seed berth thanks to another WCC Tournament title. Their opening round match has them squaring off with one of the hottest names entering the tournament: sixth-seed Seton Hall. A true test right out the gate, we’ll see what Few’s squad can do this time around.

Since taking over in 1999, Few has produced wins and NBA caliber players on a consistent basis. At this point, Gonzaga is only a mid-major because it’s outside of the major five conferences. In every other sense of the word, Mark Few and Gonzaga have more than cemented their name as a menacing major threat to any opponent come March. Much like their mascot, the Bulldogs aren’t always the prettiest but they’re adored by millions of fans for their grit and determination.

And that’s why their appearances in the big dance are no longer few and far between.

 

This article originally appeared on Jim Fiore’s LinkedIn Pulse.

Still Dancing: Gregg Marshall and Wichita St. are Ready to Shock

Feb 22, 2014; Wichita, KS, USA; Wichita State Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall watches his team during an 83-54 win against the Drake Bulldogs at Charles Koch Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

 

 

 

 

 

Wichita State University men’s basketball program has become one of the name brand programs for mid-major success stories in the NCAA. After a loss to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, Wichita State and coach Gregg Marshall were considered the most polarizing bubble team in tournament history by some. Now, with Selection Sunday in the rearview mirror, Coach Marshall and Wichita State face Vanderbilt. With a staunch defense, Wichita State could begin a streak of shocks if they get past Vandy.

Surviving the bubble burst is nothing new to Wichita State. Coach Marshall and the Shockers have been there before. Since taking over for now-Maryland Terps coach Mark Turgeon in 2007, Marshall has faced tournament controversy in stride while consistently building WSU’s success up to new heights. In doing so, he and his players have constantly brought intense battles to their opponents–even pulling off some March Madness runs that live up to their moniker.

The early years for Marshall and Wichita State don’t immediately jump out as impressive. After posting 11-20 and 17-17 records his first two seasons, the team began to climb the ladder with a 2009 CBI Tournament run into the second round. The 2010-11 season saw coach Marshall–whose career was shaped by less than household name leaders like Hal Nunnally, Kevin Eastman, John Kresse and Greg White–steer his team to an impressive 29-8 record, finishing second in the MVC. Unfortunately for the Shockers, a March Madness invite wasn’t in the cards and, instead, they found themselves in a fourth placed seed in the NIT. Undeterred by what they saw as a snub, the Shockers ran the table and took the NIT championship home to Wichita.

Since capturing the NIT title, coach Marshall and his subsequent squads became NCAA Tournament mainstays over the years. More impressively, the mid-major is far from and one and done type of team when they get to dance. Since returning to the tournament, they’ve reached the Final Four (2012-13) with a recruiting class lacking blue chip names, the 3rd round with a 35-1 record (2013-14) and most recently, a Sweet 16 run.

Since taking over for Turgeon, Marshall has posted an 117-45 record in Wichita. Combined with his previous success at Winthrop (104-24 over 9 seasons), Marshall knows how to turn fringe teams into NCAA Tournament fixtures. While he couldn’t move Winthrop out of the first two rounds, he and the Shockers proved that’s not their case.

Regardless of triumph or snubs, it’s not about Gregg Marshall–something he’s quick to mention. As ‘fearful’ as he is over a snub this season, he cares more about his deserving players, including seniors Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. He recently told USA Today that, “I’m not worried about me…I’m worried about explaining why Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet aren’t playing in the NCAA tournament their senior year when they deserve to be there. That’s what I’m fearful of.”

And the rest of the field should be fearful of Marshall, Baker, VanVleet and the rest of this scrappy Wichita State team too. Now that they’re in, watch out. While Wichita State isn’t the prototypical upset machine that a mid-major like Gonzaga became known for during its early runs, don’t expect Marshall’s team to roll over either. Vanderbilt will be no easy out, nor will the sixth-seed Arizona Wildcats–who await the winner. Win or lose, any team that faces the Shockers are sure to walk out knowing they went against one of the league’s toughest squads.

For Gregg Marshall, a self-proclaimed “29-year overnight sensation,” he’ll continue to fight with the Shockers up until the final buzzer of the season. Be sure to watch their games, you won’t be let down.

If they knock a few big names off along the way, don’t call it a Shock.

 

This article originally appeared on Jim Fiore’s LinkedIn

The Shaka Smart Effect

Source: University of Texas

Source: University of Texas

The University of Texas men’s basketball program is undergoing a transformation in style, perception and energy. This transformation lies at the feet of its new head coach, Shaka Smart. The former and highly successful protege’ of Billy Donovan at the University of Florida, then most recently the head coach that built Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) into a perennial Top 20 NCAA power and Final Four participant, is doing it again–now in the Lone Star State with the Longhorns.

After such a successful run at VCU–where the program and University enjoyed unprecedented basketball success, branding, exposure and notoriety–Shaka Smart became a highly sought after candidate for Athletic Director’s, President’s and search firms. He did not jump at the first best offer to leave Richmond. Rather, he showed a loyalty to VCU. His loyalty was reciprocated by the administration, and fans, as both celebrated many wins and milestones for several years. Then, Texas called. The opportunity to advance his family financially and elevate his career with unprecedented resources at his disposal was a situation he could not bypass.

Coach Smart has brought his high energy, full pressure and intense style of play to Austin and its working. He has brought not only a winning pedigree but also a relentless drive and enthusiasm that permeates through all levels of the Longhorn program. Coach Smart brought his havoc style of play to the Lone Star State that produced wins over North Carolina and Virginia this season. Smart’s mentality to the game itself is summed up in one of his more quotable moments: “We have the mentality of the hunter. We want to be the most enthusiastic team in the country. That’s what we can control.” At Texas, Coach Smart already has his style on display with the Longhorns looking like a guarantee for the tournament and a first recruiting class that appears to show the bright future of the program. But it’s not just intelligence and style of play that coach Smart brings to Austin. It’s also class, respect and professionalism.

Replacing a classy, popular, successful, experienced and long-tenured coach like Rick Barnes is no easy task, but Shaka Smart knew where to keep tradition alive while he injected the program with a heavy dose of positivity. He has been the perfect hire for Texas on all levels and has the program on its way to sustained success for years to come. As part of his core philosophy, Smart believes that “the difference in attitude can determine success or failure.” That philosophy provided players the comfort to play more freely and fluid out on the court and in the locker room. Smart isn’t one to yell or intimidate his players. Instead, he ensures positive coaching culture, knowing that their next moment to shine could happen anytime.

Shaka Smart embodies the ideal combination of humility, intelligence, compassion and knowledge for a game that has become coach/celebrity centered and media focused. His upbeat and positive style will win on the court, in recruiting, in the community and with the University administration. Names like Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge have worn the burnt orange and lead their teams to successful seasons and onto personal fame and fortune. Coach Smart will be producing NBA-caliber talent, but also a winning culture for the Longhorn men’s basketball program. So far, the master of double fist defense has his team pressing and trapping their opponents with each game. Texas is now intense, sharp and a threat to upend even the best teams on any night.

Replacing Rick Barnes, or any school’s icon for that matter, is no enviable task. It takes a certain type of leader to foster talent, appreciate the program’s past and focus on the future with confidence all in one fell swoop. It’s a difficult balancing act that Shaka Smart is up for. This March and the years ahead for men’s college basketball in Austin, Texas are sure to be exciting.

Jim Harbaugh and Michigan Football – A Reversal of Fortune

Jim Harbaugh and Michigan Football – A Reversal of Fortune

Jim Harbaugh has a track record … a really strong track record …. a proven track record of taking strong brand name football programs who are underachieving and leading them to quick success.

Harbaugh brought a once crumbling Stanford Cardinal’s program to the 2009 Sun Bowl; the organization’s first bowl appearance since 2001. Just a year later, Harbaugh and the Cardinals went 11-1 and earned their place in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game.

Jim Fiore John Harbaugh Stanford

Even during his time in the NFL, Harbaugh was 44­-19­-1 as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He successfully brought the bay area team to a Super Bowl in his second season. Although he was let go after a mediocre 8-8 record in the 2014 season.

Jim Fiore John Harbaugh 49ers

His collegiate reign didn’t seem to skip a beat in his return to Michigan. In Harbaugh’s first season he led his alma mater to a 10–3 record, including a convincing 41–7 win over the Florida Gators in the Citrus Bowl.

It’s an extreme challenge to transition any organization from mediocrity to sustained and substantive success. Harbaugh has inherent traits and characteristics of a strong leader.  He embodies the confidence and other elements needed to be successful in a high pressure, high profile coaching environment.

A coach is the maestro to the choir. There is a saying I use with my own son: “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” Simply, one must be fearless and confident to not make transactional decisions for short term success.  He must have the courage to lead against the norm and popularity of decision.  A football coach is not only preparing his student-athletes for the professional level, but most important he’s building character and camaraderie in his players and the overall team culture.

It was courageous in itself to accept a role at a prestigious program on such a decline. Through his one season at Michigan, Harbaugh has demonstrated that they are a well-respected Big Ten force once more. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin spoke very honorably of Harbaugh’s approach. Durkin has been coaching for 15 years, under the direction of leaders like Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp, and even Harbaugh while at Stanford. The Michigan coordinator spoke in reference to Harbaugh:

“Jim’s strongest suit probably is his confidence and his vision. He’s not afraid to do things differently. He truly is going to do things the way he sees best. Everything is well-thought-out. There’s a reason for why we do everything we do.”

Jim Fiore Jim Harbaugh Leadership

Harbaugh is said to be effective in instilling his own confidence in his athletes. He brings a level of intensity and belief that is hard to deny when you’re in his presence. The Michigan coach expected that of himself and expected that from every role on the team – from coaches to players. My favorite Harbaugh quote depicts his pure passion for the game – “I attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” That quote alone sets the tone and culture of the new Michigan football program.

Michigan football hadn’t won the Big Ten title in 11 seasons. In the 2014 season the Michigan Wolverines were outscored in the second half of games. Under Harbaugh, the team has an impressive 113-51 second half scoring edge. Michigan’s past season brought a refreshing feeling of success that the school hasn’t come across in some years. They’ve only allowed 16 red-zone opportunities, the fewest of any team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Wolverines also only gave up six touchdowns.

Michigan finished 2015 with a 10-3 record, including winning five of their last 6 games of the season. Combined, the 2013 and 2014 Wolverines’ seasons only tallied 12 wins.

What’s the biggest difference in how this Michigan team operates in comparison to the year prior? Their mentality. The team is collectively getting better week by week and they carry the confidence that Harbaugh has enforced from day one.

Harbaugh brought the Michigan football program back to the limelight, but what brought him back to Michigan?

Apparently he’s constantly asked that question and he took to The Player’s Tribune to finally put the wondering to rest. The core of Harbaugh’s reason was the community. As a player he remembers how accomplished he felt being in the Ann Arbor community that was built upon around amazing people and thorough traditions.

Jim Fiore Michigan Harbaugh

The Michigan Head Coach described the place as, “Vibrant and alive, full of good, genuine, down-to-earth people who laugh easy and make you laugh.” As a head coach, a majority of Harbaugh’s role involves high level recruiting. He’s been adamant about displaying Michigan’s culture towards players and parents on his recruiting trips. Harbaugh identifies with how it feels to come to Michigan as a player and wants to administer that same feeling to the players he brings in.

Michigan currently has 24 players currently committed, thus listing the Wolverines as the nation’s sixth-ranked recruiting class (only led by LSU and Ohio State). Harbaugh’s recruiting expenses were recently released and it definitely pays to attract such a class.

The Michigan head coach racked up nearly $136,000 in recruiting travel expenses over a 12-day period during his first month in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh’s contract at Michigan allows the use of a private jet for recruiting purposes and records show that him and his staff made 18 trips leading up to national signing day. What a testament to the support Harbaugh has from his alma mater! Thus, really proving the importance of the relationship between the coaching administration and the university.   

The maize and blue print to continue their recent success in the coming years involves participation from top to bottom of the Michigan football program.  With a new energy, attitude, and top recruiting class, Jim Harbaugh is a big reason to thank for Michigan’s reversal of fortune.  

This article was originally posted on Jim Fiore’s LinkedIn

Follow Jim on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jim_fiore_

How Aaron Rodgers Went From No College Interest to NFL MVP

How Aaron Rodgers Went From No College Interest to NFL MVP

Aaron Rodgers, the All-Pro Green Bay Packers quarterback and teammate, understudy and eventual successor to soon to be Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, was once an undersized, under-recruited junior college player with garnering little attention. His story is one of perseverance, commitment and self-confidence.   Despite insurmountable odds and a lack of notoriety, Rodgers found a unique path to NFL stardom.

All professional sports, especially football, is as much of a thinking game as it is a playing game and Rodgers would learn to master this aspect. As a kid, Rodgers’ favorite team was the 49ers and even at the age of 15 he could identify the opposing team’s blitzes, offensive audibles and other common calls – all from memory. The intellectual aspect of Rodgers’ approach to football would eventually make him a superior player.

Rodgers spent his high school years at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, CA. As the starting quarterback for two years he accumulated 4,421 passing yards and even set single-game records of six touchdowns and 440 all-purpose yards. Yet, his performance at Pleasant Valley wouldn’t lead to much college attention from a Division I, II, or III school.

In 2011, Rodgers said in an interview with ESPN’s E:60, that his lack of college interest likely came from his underwhelming size, standing 5’10” and 165 lbs going into his college freshman year. The only offer he received was a walk-on scholarship from Illinois, which he turned down. Instead, he went to play football at Butte College, a junior college about 15 miles away from his hometown. Amazingly enough, Rodgers threw a total of 26 touchdowns in his freshman season, carrying Butte to a 10–1 record and a No. 2 national ranking. Rodgers’ determination and early success despite all odds would finally get him the high level attention he wanted. He was discovered by the California Golden Bears by the head coach who was following Butte for their tight end, Garrett Cross.

Rodgers was eligible to transfer after one year of junior college because of his reputable academic standing. His career numbers didn’t fault with the move. After his record setting career at Cal, he was drafted no. 24 in the second round of the 2005 NFL draft. Rodgers’ journey is a story of many obstacles, but as a hardworking student of the game his road eventually led to an astoundingly successful 2-time MVP career.

Most compelling about the Aaron Rodgers success story is that at any point in his journey he could have found a reason to put down the ball, quit and pursue other ventures. However, his desire outweighed early challenges and circumstances. Although size and doubters were against him, his perseverance as a student of the game and self-confidence as a young man are what lead him to what will sure to be a spot in Canton, OH again next to his former teammate Brett Favre. Aaron Rodgers’ journey should bring inspiration to every undersized and under recruited student-athlete facing adversity.

This article was originally posted on Jim’s LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jimfiore1. Connect with Jim for professional insights on youth sports development, motivation, and general industry news.

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Why Character is Just as Important as Skill Set for Youth Players

Why Character is Just as Important as Skill Set for Youth Players

Every athlete that’s grown to dominate their particular sport, started both their skill and character development at a young age. It’s often overlooked at how important a player’s personality and morals affect not only their performance but those around them. But as you continue to climb through the sports ranks and go on to play at more competitive levels; the desire for good people is just as valued as the need for good players.

Attitude Is Viral

As cliche as it sounds, a positive sports attitude is essential to the success of the athlete. All sports, basketball, football, baseball, hockey can all be emotionally driven. With that said, it’s easy to get mad about a bad play or a bad call but that frustration can not only consume your game but the moral of your team as well.

BUT a good attitude can be contagious as well. The ability to respond positively during gameplay will help you to build that persistent, positive attitude that will be tested at higher levels of the sport.

Develop a Mentality of Determination

It’s not uncommon that the hardest workers outshine the most skilled regardless of the particular sport. There is a whole list of players who were said to be undersized or not as polished skill wise, but those players find themselves on the field or the court because of their mental determination.

Motivating yourself to get your all out of any given practice will evolve into exerting that energy in every play of the game. That determination to continue a heavy work ethic and put your team in the best position to win, doesn’t go unnoticed on any level. The hardest working players have decided mentally what they want and focus on that goal at all times.

Take Steph Curry for example, he developed a strong mentality since youth sports even despite the lack of interest he received when looking to play in college. Steph Curry radiates humility and really showed his determination when he brought his tested Davidson team to the NCAA Elite 8 in the 2008.

Curry had a mental focus that helped him emerge through the reasonable doubt that he couldn’t play at the next level because of his size. Now an NBA Champion and league MVP, Curry’s unassuming stature is led by his mental determination to give his all for the team’s success.

Young athletes must be strong mentally because eventually they will have to endure adversity and the pressure from hostile crowds.

Building character during youth sports will not only begin to mold the player you are today, but put you in a position for success when playing the sport you love at more competitive levels.