Legendary Basketball Coach Don Meyer Passes Away

A man who could have coached at the Division I level, but chose not to, Don Meyer had as much influence on the game of basketball as any other coach in college history. Meyer, who died of cancer Sunday at the age of 69, leaves behind an unequaled legacy.

Legendary Basketball Coach Don Meyer Passes Away
John Davis - AP Photo

Don Meyer, one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history, has passed away at the age of 69.

Meyer had been battling cancer since 2008, and his family had only just recently moved him to hospice care in anticipation of his death.

"He won his greatest victory and is now running again and gearing up to pitch nine innings,'' the Meyer family said in a statement early Sunday morning. "The family appreciates the outpouring of love, prayers and concern.''

Doctors discovered Meyer's cancer after he suffered a near-fatal car accident in 2008 that left him without his left knee. Meyer returned to coaching, in a wheelchair, and surpassed Bob Knight as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history in 2009. Meyer retired in 2010 second only to Duke's Mike Krzyzewski in wins.

Overall, Meyer won a combined 923 games over 38 years at Hamline, Lipscomb University, and Northern State. Even though he coached at smaller schools, his influence was felt by major Division I programs.

Among those who consider Meyer a mentor are Krzyzewski and Pat Summit.

"Upon meeting Coach Meyer and I became instant friends," said Summitt. "We shared a passion for the game and were constantly pulling from each others' materials. His knowledge of the game was extraordinary and his willingness to share it with others incredible. He was an awesome teacher of the game and I always soaked up everything I could when in his presence."

According to Nebraska coach Tim Miles, who coached against Meyer, he was always willing to share with others what he knew about the game of basketball.

"It didn't matter if you were friend or foe," Miles said. "He would open up his playbook and show you his plays, and then he would turn around and beat you with that same play when your team played his."

Indeed, Meyer's coaching clinics and video series became required viewing for any and all basketball coaches across the country. His ability to convey the concepts of basketball to coaches and players at all levels was unsurpassed.

His legacy, which the up-and-coming coaching ranks will have little knowledge of, has inspired hundreds of coaches to instill the values of teamwork and integrity in their respective teams.

While the newer generation of coaches and players will know very little of Meyer, he is worthy of comparisons to the likes of John Wooden and Dean Smith. Using his position of basketball coach, Meyer was able to help mold the young men in his charge into great contributors to society.

"There is hardly a day or two that goes by that I don't think of something that had to do with my time playing for coach Meyer," said Lipscomb athletics director Philip Hutcheson, who played for Meyer in the late 80s. "Almost every day and certainly every week there are things that I reflect on and think about or do that are part of some of the experiences I had as a part of the program that he built."

Meyer leaves behind his wife, Carmen, and their three children.

"He's running in heaven," Carmen said in a short but fitting tribute to a great man.