Don Meyer set to retire at end of year

Updated: February 22, 2010, 5:51 PM ET
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

Don Meyer, the all-time leader in coaching wins in NCAA men's basketball history, will retire from coaching after the end of this season, Northern State University announced Monday morning.

Meyer, 65, has accumulated 922 career victories in 38 seasons, while coaching at Hamline University in Minnesota, at David Lipscomb in Tennessee, and at Northern State, in Aberdeen, S.D. He was honored last July at the ESPYS with the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award.

Meyer will remain on staff at Northern State, helping to promote the school through public speaking and fundraising activities.

On Sept. 5, 2008, Meyer was leading a caravan of players on a team retreat and fell asleep at the wheel, and was involved in a head-on collision with a truck hauling 60,000 pounds of corn. The accident was nearly fatal and eventually cost Meyer much of his left leg. And on the night of his accident, the surgeon who worked to save his life discovered that Meyer had carcinoid cancer, a slow-growing form of the disease.

"After consulting with our physicians and meeting with my family, we have determined that I no longer posses the necessary physical or mental energy to continue administering the NSU basketball program at its highest possible level," Meyer said in a statement released by the school. "It is time for someone with more energy and time available to deal with the unique challenges of a basketball program like Northern State."

Meyer has worked relentlessly at coaching, to the point where his three children, now all grown, assumed that his last moments would be in a practice or on the sidelines during a game. But the trials of another coach crystallized for Meyer the thought that perhaps it was time for him to step down.

Meyer used a wheelchair to coach on the sidelines last season, and after getting a prosthetic leg during the summer, he has moved with the help of a cane. However, he had been frustrated with the fact that he could not do more hands-on teaching. Meyer wished he could get out on the floor and work with players directly, physically demonstrating a correction in their technique. The schedule of long road trips within the Dakotas had been grueling for him.

As Don Meyer visited family in Nashville over the Christmas holiday, Florida football coach Urban Meyer -- no relation to Don Meyer -- announced that he was taking a leave of absence from his job, citing exhaustion.

For Don Meyer, this news changed his perspective. If Urban Meyer -- more than 20 years younger than Don Meyer, and not beset by cancer -- was worn down, then of course coaching was bound to take a toll on Don Meyer. A few days later, Don Meyer rose at 3:30 a.m. to write his resignation letter.

Beyond his record of success, Meyer also has deeply influenced the game as a mentor to high school, college and professional coaches, through his clinics and his instructional videos. Among those: Tennessee's Pat Summitt, the all-time NCAA leader in victories in women's basketball.

"He taught me how to teach others how to play the game," Summitt said in an interview last year. "When I started coaching at Tennessee, I was 22 years old. I had four players 21 that were seniors. And I never coached a day in my life. So did Coach Meyer help me? Tremendously."

Meyer's last home game will be on Feb. 27.

Buster Olney is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine