Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats" Series: DePaul's Ray Meyer

    
September 25th, 2011

In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series CHN writer discussed the career of the late Ray Meyer with his son Joey. In 42 seasons at DePaul Meyer won 724 games and coached legendary players such as George Mikan and Mark Aguirre. 

Jon Teitel: In 1932 your dad won the National Catholic basketball tourney as a 5'9" guard for St. Patrick's Academy, and in 1936 he won the mythical national championship at Notre Dame as captain for Hall of Fame coach George Keogan. How good a player was he back in the day, and what kind of impact did Coach Keogan have on his career choice?

Joey Meyer: He was a two-time captain and All-American, but I never saw him play except for a couple of clips on tape. Coach Keogan was a big influence on him, but my dad did not set out to be a coach. 

JT: One of your dad's best players at DePaul was George Mikan, who he recruited from their fellow alma mater Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary. How was he able to convince him to go there, and do you think that his career would have been very different if Mikan had gone elsewhere?

JM: He saw Mikan during a tryout at Notre Dame, then had him come to DePaul for a tryout after becoming the coach there. My dad put Mikan in boxing and dancing classes to improve his athleticism. Mikan was voted the best player of the first half-century, and he gave a lot of the credit to my dad. 

JT: Most young basketball players are familiar with "the Mikan drill" (shooting layups under the basket with one hand and then the other hand), but they probably do not know that it was your dad who invented that drill. How did he come up with the drill, and how did Mikan's ability to shoot with either hand help improve his game?

JM: That was long before my time so I am not sure, but it was called the Mikan drill everywhere I went. The ability to use either hand is a big help to any player.

JT: In the 1944 NIT Mikan scored 13 points in an eight-point loss to defending NIT champ St. John's in the title game. Did your dad consider his run in the NIT to be a success (due to making it to the title game) or a failure (due to getting so close but not winning it all)?

JM: I do not know for sure, but I assume he was extremely disappointed at the time, although he gained some perspective later on.

1945 NIT

JT: Mikan scored a school-record 53 points in a 97-53 win over Rhode Island. How on earth was Mikan able to score as many points as the entire URI team?

JM: They went to Mikan a lot and he was one of the first true big men in the sport, so nobody had an answer for him.

JT: Mikan scored 34 points in a win over Bowling Green in the finals for the only postseason title in school history. What did it mean to your dad to win the title, and what was the reaction like when he got back to campus?

JM: I assume the reaction was nowhere near as big as when we went to the Final Four in 1979, as the sport has grown so much over time with TV and newspaper exposure. Winning a title is always exciting, but my dad was not 1 to brag about his accomplishments.

JT: You scored 20+ points per game as captain for your dad's team in 1971 and were drafted by Buffalo that summer. What was it like to play for your dad, and how proud was he to learn that you got drafted?

JM: It was hard to play for him. There is always added pressure of how to treat him like a father vs. treat him like a coach. It is hard on both the son and the father, so I enjoyed being his assistant coach more than being his player. I went to the Buffalo camp but I was not a super prospect. Fathers are always proud of their sons' accomplishments.

JT: What are your memories of the 1978 NCAA Tournament as an assistant coach for your dad (DePaul beat Creighton and Louisville by a combined 3 PTS, then Kelly Tripucka had 18 points and 11 rebounds in a win by Notre Dame)?

JM: Creighton shot 70% in the first half...but we shot 75% in the second half to win! Our star Dave Corzine was great in the double-overtime win over Louisville but ended up jamming his finger, which allowed the Irish to run away with it at the end. We lost three seniors the following year but somehow made it back to the tourney in 1979.

1979 NCAA Tournament

JT: Larry Bird scored 35 points (16-19 FG) and had 16 rebounds and nine assists in a two-point win by national runner-up Indiana State. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot he put up seemed to go in because he was "in the zone"?

JM: We all knew that he was a great player but what hurt us the most was his ability to pass the ball: we stood around too much and watched him find his teammates for open shots. We had a shot at the end to win it, but could not pull out the victory.

JT: Mark Aguirre set a freshmen scoring record in a Final Four game with 34 points and also had 14 rebounds in a three-point overtime win over Penn in third place game (Tony Price led Penn with 31 points and 14 rebounds). How was Aguirre able to play so well as a freshman, and how were you able to hang on in overtime?

JM: Aguirre was unbelievable in the half-court offense and had the ability to score inside and outside. The consolation game was a tough one to play. You are devastated after just missing out on the chance to play for the title...and then you have to turn around right away and play for third place. We were up big, but Penn came back in the second half as they really wanted to prove something after losing to eventual champion Michigan State in the semifinals.

JT: Your dad was a four-time national COY, and in 1979 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. What made him such a great coach, and what did it mean to you when he joined the Hall of Fame?

JM: The Hall of Fame is the ultimate honor and we were all proud of him. My son and I went out to Massachusetts a couple of years ago to go to Fenway Park and see the new Hall of Fame, and it is always a thrill to go there. My dad's two greatest attributes were that he kept things simple and was a fierce competitor. He really wanted to win.

JT: What are your memories of the 1981 NCAA Tournament (John Smith made a layup with three seconds left in a one-point upset win by St. Joe's when you were the #1 team in the country)?

JM: That was my dad's most devastating loss and it took him a long time to get over the criticism he received in the media. We played not to lose after getting a first-round bye and
watching St. Joe's barely get by Creighton after not playing well in their own first-round game. That loss always stuck with him and it will probably always stick with me.

JT: What are your memories of the 1983 NIT (NIT MVP Ron Anderson scored 14 points in a nine-point Fresno State win in the title game)?

JM: The game I remember the most is when we beat Northwestern by two thanks to PG Kenny Patterson making a 35-foot shot to beat the buzzer. The crowd was evenly split for both Chicago teams so it was very exciting. Fresno just played better than us that night

JT: What are your memories of the 1984 NCAA Tournament (Kenny Green had 25 points and 13 REB in a two-point overtime win by Wake Forest in your dad's final game as coach)?

JM: "Devastated" is not the right word, but it really hurt because we had several opportunities to win the game. The finality of my dad's career being over was hard. Someone asked me right after the game how it felt to be the new head coach, and I could not believe that he asked me that! My family took it even harder.

JT: You succeeded your dad as DePaul coach after he had 37 winning seasons in his 42-year career there. Were you worried about trying to fill his large shoes, and what expectations were placed upon you?

JM: It is never easy for anyone to step into a legend's shoes. You cannot ask Ray Meyer not to be a part of DePaul so he wrote a newspaper column, had a radio show, etc. We struggled for a couple of years but after winning a couple of tournament games some people actually said that I was better than my dad, which was crazy!

JT: Your dad passed away in 2006: when people look back on his career, how do you think he should be remembered the most?

JM: That is the easiest question of all, as I spoke at his funeral. As great a coach as he was, I think he is remembered as a greater human being who treated people with class. He should have run a clinic on how to be a coach. Not just the Xs and Os, but dealing with the media, talking to the fans, etc.

Coach Meyer is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Big East history.

Cincinnati: Bob Huggins (1989-2005) 399-127, 14 NCAA tourneys, 10 conference titles, 1-time national COY, 3-time conference COY
Connecticut: Jim Calhoun (1986-present) 607-230, 17 NCAA tourneys, 10 conference titles, 3 NCAA titles, 1 NIT title, 1-time national COY, 4-time conference COY
DePaul: Ray Meyer (1942-1984) 724-354, 13 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 1 NIT title, 4-time national COY
Georgetown: John Thompson (1972-1999) 596-239, 20 NCAA tourneys, 7 conference titles, 1 NCAA title, 4-time national COY, 3-time conference COY
Louisville: Denny Crum (1971-2001) 675-295, 23 NCAA tourneys, 15 conference titles, 2 NCAA titles, 2-time national COY, 2-time conference COY
Marquette: Al McGuire (1964-1977) 296-79, 9 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, 1 NCAA title, 1 NIT title, 2-time national COY
Notre Dame: George Keogan (1923-1943) 327-97, 2 Helms titles
Pittsburgh: Henry Clifford "Doc" Carlson (1922-1953) 367-247, 1 NCAA tourney, 5 conference titles, 2 Helms titles
Providence: Joe Mullaney (1957-1969, 1981-1985) 290-147, 3 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 2 NIT titles
Rutgers: Tom Young (1973-1985) 239-116, 4 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 1-time national COY
Seton Hall: John "Honey" Russell (1936-1943, 1950-1960) 295-129, 1 conference title, 1 NIT title
USF: Bobby Paschal (1986-1996) 127-159, 2 NCAA tourneys
St. John's: Lou Carnesecca (1965-1970, 1973-1992) 526-200, 18 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 1 NIT title, 2-time national COY, 3-time conference COY
Syracuse: Jim Boeheim (1976-present) 856-301, 28 NCAA tourneys, 8 conference titles, 1 NCAA title, 1-time national COY, 4-time conference COY
Villanova: Rollie Massimino (1973-1992) 355-241, 11 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 1 NCAA title, 3-time conference COY
West Virginia: Gale Catlett (1978-2002) 439-276, 8 NCAA tourneys, 4 conference titles, 1-time conference COY