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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dan Sullivan- A Coach's Son

I would describe Dan Sullivan as a coach’s son, and as old school coach. I say both of those as total compliments. Because he was a coach’s son, he learned the game at an early age. I would have described him as a veteran coach when he was 25. And in saying he is old school, he quickly gets to the heart of things with his players and with other coaches. There are comments he makes in this Q&A about the coaching profession that REALLY get to the heart of the experience. If you want to understand the world of a coach, Dan Sullivan describes it as well as anyone I know.

I was very fortunate to have met Dan Sullivan when we were both young coaches. I met him when I started working at Milwaukee Bucks Camps at Knox College. When I first met Dan, he was a Knox grad coaching boys basketball at Brimfield High School. Later he moved to Princeville as the head boys coach and AD. Today he is retired from coaching but still is AD and teacher at Princeville.

As I look back, I don’t think anyone gave me more practical advice as a coach than Dan did. Although Dan was a little younger than me, he always seemed like a veteran coach. He always had a tremendous ability to cut through everything and get to the heart of the issues in coaching and basketball strategy. And while I got a lot of good x/o ideas from Dan, I really think he gave me a confidence I did not have. 

I hate to think how many plays and how many discussions we had about basketball in the evening and into the morning at Bucks camps. For me there were a lot of great experiences working and talking with Dan. I remember one morning eating a 3:00am breakfast at all night diner but Dan moving the salt and pepper shakers to show a basketball set.

Dan invited me to go with him to the Bill Walton Big Man Camp at Carroll College one summer. Don Casey, an assistant for the Celtics was also there. Every night Don Casey, Dan, about 3 other coaches, and I had pizza and sandwiches after the camp day and talked basketball and drew x/o’s until early in the next morning. My teams were not very good so one night they drew up probably 50 press breaks. Later Dan brought me a copy of Casey’s book where Don inscribed it, “Evan, thanks for helping solve the Kansas press break.”

Dan’s father, Jerry Sullivan was a Hall of Fame coach in Wisconsin and director of the Milwaukee Bucks Camps. Dan had the opportunity to play for his father at South Milwaukee. And his senior year, their team won the Wisconsin State Championship.

As you look back on things, how good was it to get to play for your dad?
He was always harder on me than the other players...but it was ok because I was used to how hard he was on players from going to practices as a little kid.
It all ended up well as we won a State Title...I played with many good NBA player and one who played in the Big Ten during the Magic Johnson Era. My dad was hard on everyone but we knew he wanted to get the most out of us so it was ok.

You played for your dad, your team won the state title in Wisconsin. Now 30+ years later, do you find yourself sometimes daydreaming about that? What are the things about winning state that stick with you?
I think about it sometimes, it was a great accomplishment.  We were upset the first game in Regionals my Jr. year ranked #1 in the State.  Returned one starter...the rest of us kind of were in the senior class's shadow so our senior year we went 25-0 and won the title so that was nice.  It is something that kind of comes back to me when I watch teams winning think, yeah, I remember feeling like that.

You told me before you got married that your parents sat down with your wife to try to tell her what she was getting into as a coach's wife. Was coaching a good career for your family?
It is a stressful life...I put a lot of pressure on myself, but overall coaching has been a great career for me.  I had a little success and feel like I impacted some lives.  It was a good career for my family.

You coached at Brimfield and Princeville. Why did you never go to a larger school? What does small school life have that big schools don't have?
Growing up in Milwaukee and Wilmette, Kathy and I really did not know what to expect in a small town.  We were very successful here early and the people welcomed us and we thought it was a great place to raise an family.  Princeville is also close enought to MKE and Chicago that we can enjoy home and family often enough and have our own life.  Small school, large school really didn't come into it with me.  I looked at guys like Chuck Rolinski and Bobby Anderson and thought coaching is coaching so I never was real motivated to chase a "dream job." 

I got to go as your tag along to the Bill Walton Big Man Camp. With your dad running camps, you got to meet lots of basketball greats. Who are some of the people you would pay to hear speak? Who would you say people might be surprised how nice they really are?
I always enjoyed Hubie Brown...he'd come to Knox and go for hours at camp...also Rick Majerus was always good.  They enjoyed sharing what they did and would talk about little things to keep in mind.  Al McGuire was also very good...entertaining and had great perspective about things.

If you had not gone into basketball coaching and teaching, what career would you have tried?  
Was thinking of Law School or going to British Columbia to search for Big Foot.  Dad said I'd make a good teacher and coach so I chose door number three.

This is your first year as a retired basketball coach. What has been good about that and what is bad about that?
Things i don't miss bus rides, selfish players, losing, crappy practices...the feeling I had the day of a game especially after school til tip off.  I worried too much about stuff I think.  This season I've enjoyed not having that feeling.  I miss competing and winning so I guess you cant have one without the other...I've not once regretted my decision though. 

By the time you got done coaching, did losing hurt more than winning felt good?
Thing that bothered me the most was how rotten I felt after a loss and most of the players just forget about it before they left the locker room.  No, winning is awesome and anyone who says anything different is a liar or weird.

What were the worst things about coaching? The best things?
The worst thing about coaching is dealing with selfishness.  Selfish players, selfish parents anything that detracts from coming together and doing what you are suppose to as a team.  It is getting harder and harder as you well know.  People are more and more unwilling to put in what it takes to be good and are unwilling to wait 'til their time comes and be ready when their time comes.  I'm seeing more and more teams with 8, 9, 10 guys on won't hang in there and wait their turn and they are missing a great thing because there is nothing better than being part of a team that gets things done that you could never accomplish on your own.  

And that my friend is the end of this interview.  Any follow ya later!

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