Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - This past weekend, college basketball lost one of its greatest coaches. Don Meyer, who amassed an astounding 923 victories over his career, passed away on Sunday morning at the age of 69 after a long and courageous battle with cancer.
Meyer's 923 career victories are a testament to not only his basketball mind but his own relentless determination.
During the 2008 season, while coaching at Northern State, the school at which he would end his career, Meyer suffered a tragic car accident in which he lost part of his leg and was hospitalized for eight weeks.
The injury didn't stop Meyer as he returned to coach the Wolves later that season. It was during that campaign Meyer, though in a wheelchair on the sidelines, surpassed Bobby Knight for the most wins in NCAA men's basketball history, with the Wolves defeating the University of Mary, 82-62, on Jan. 10, 2009. Although the record was passed in 2011 by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Meyer's win total remains one of the most impressive in college sports.
In a year that has already seen the loss of another legendary coach in Jack Ramsay - a more recognizable name to the general public - Meyer is just as deserving of the same type of acclaim for his achievements. After all, there are very few coaches who are ever mentioned in the same breath as legends like Knight and Coach K.
Meyer, who played his college ball at Northern Colorado, began his coaching career back in 1968 as an assistant at Western State. He then spent two years as an assistant at Utah under two different head coaches, the first of whom was Jack Gardner, who won over 700 games himself as a head coach with Kansas State and the Utes.
After paying his dues as an assistant for four years, Meyer finally got his first shot at a head coaching gig when he was hired to head up the program at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Hamline has an interesting claim to fame as it is thought to be the "birthplace of intercollegiate basketball," having held the first-ever game between two colleges in February 1895.
The Pipers, a team at the Division III level, struggled in their first season under Meyer, finishing 5-20. However, improvement came quickly as the program earned 32 wins over the next two seasons and even made a run to the national quarterfinals during the 1974-75 season.
That was the last season Meyer spent on the sidelines at historic Hutton Arena, as he made the move to coach Lipscomb, a small school in Nashville, following the 1975 season.
In today's world, the move might seem puzzling considering it was more lateral than advancing, but at Lipscomb Meyer found his greatest success as a head coach.
He spent the next 24 years of his career with the Bison, winning an incredible 78.8 percent of the games (665-179). He won at least 20 games 20 times and had just one losing season - his first with the team (11-19). He also led the Bison to 12 30-win seasons, including a mark of 41-5 in 1990, which still stands as the most wins in a single season in program history.
To put those types of numbers in perspective, Lipscomb had only one previous season of 20 or more wins before Meyer arrived on campus.
The crowning achievement of Meyer's time with Lipscomb and his career as a whole came during the 1985-86 season, when Meyer led the Bison to a 35-4 overall record and a NAIA national championship. The title came in just the third NAIA Tournament appearance for the Bison under Meyer, but they would end up making 13 trips in total, including eight straight from 1989 to 1997.
While at Lipscomb, Meyer also coached some of the best players in the school's history with 22 NAIA All-Americans, including John Pierce and Philip Hutcheson, who each earned NAIA Player of the Year honors under Meyer's tutelage.
Meyer also reached thousands of other basketball players through his work in the offseason, with his summer basketball camps annually a resounding success.
After 24 impressive seasons in Nashville, Meyer made the move to Northern State, a Division II school in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Meyer went on to coach the Wolves for 11 seasons before being forced into retirement in 2010 when his battle with cancer became too much to deal with along with coaching.
In his 11 seasons with the Wolves, they won 20 games seven times and made five NCAA Division II Tournament appearances, including a trip at the end of the 2008-09 season - the same year Meyer suffered his leg injury. Meyer was honored with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award by ESPN following that season and he received the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame a year later.
Meyer earned plenty of other accolades during his career, including two NAIA Coach of the Year awards. Considering how honorably he lived and coached, Meyer is deserving of each and every one of those, but, more importantly, he deserves the respect and recognition of anyone who counts himself a fan of basketball.