1. It starts with creating the culture.
When you inherit a program it's important to put your stamp on it immediately. What do you want to be known for? I think some cornerstones of the culture have to be toughness, integrity, selflessness, and hard work. These are four things that are evident in all the great coaches I have visited with. At the beginning of taking over a program that may mean you will have to cut some talented players who don't buy into those things. If you don't take culture over talent it will result in a poisoning of you program from the top down. If you take hard working, blue collar guys who buy in over the superstar the younger players will notice and buy in. Your team will also win more games because they will be a cohesive, hard working group.
2. The youth program is the foundation.
Coach Fergot, and any other good coach, will tell you that the youth program is the foundation for a great program. Great programs have extensive youth programs that emphasize the important things: fundamental skill development, team first attitude, hard work, toughness, defense, and the same offense as the varsity. Many times it's tricky to get youth coaches to run the same system as the varsity, worry less about wins and more about development, and teach more than just the game, but when you get coaches who do you are in great shape. Everyone knows you need talent to win, and some programs attract great talent, but it doesn't hurt to grow as much as you can in your back yard either.
3. Emphasis on fundamentals, especially defense, passing/ball sureness, and shooting.
"There's more to the game than shooting" is the classic Coach Norman Dale comment from Hoosiers. And while I do agree with that comment, shooting is the most important skill in the game. If you can't shoot it makes winning very, very hard. If it were up to me, every team from elementary to high school would shoot 20 minutes a day at practice and heavily in summer workouts as well. Along with that every player should come up playing all man to man (as long as that is your defense) and learning how to help, help the helper, recover, pressure the ball, defend off the ball etc. If you can get players coming onto your varsity with this defensive knowledge you are going to win games! Also an underrated ability is the ability to pass, receive, and secure the basketball. We spent a lot of time in LaCrosse working on this skill and I don't think coaches spend enough time on it.
4. Summer improvement is where it starts and ends.
From the minute you get there, summer workouts have to be a priority for all players. This is where you get better and win games. Teams that are fundamentally sound rarely lose games because of Xs and Os. You do have to make it competitive and fun however. I also think playing as a group in the summer benefits teams because they come into the year cohesive and ready to go. If you lack talent you'd better be able to play together.
5. Create tradition, emphasize tradition.
Anytime you take over a program you need to start your tradition and carry on the traditions of old. Players need to be reminded where they came from and know the great players of the past in your school. Tradition breeds pride and pride breeds hard work. You need to make your players feel like playing for your school is an honor. They are merely holding a great torch and not the program.
6. Get your logo out there.
One great thing our head coach did this year was to give every custodian in our program a shirt. When I was at Bagley my baby was the the Future Flyers program where every elementary kid got a shirt and a special spot to sit at games. Give away as much stuff as you can, especially to your younger players, parents, community members. Whether you are small town or big city, the more people that wear your gear the more you name is out there, which is a good thing.
7. Have the right system for you and run it at every level, elementary to varsity.
I can't stress this enough. Whether you are a 2-3 zone and flex team or a motion and man team, every level below you needs to run the same thing. You can't put a value on having players who show up knowing the basics of what you are trying to do. When you do that you cut down on teaching time and can do so much more. Running your system at every level is non-negotiable.
8. You must have the best coaching staff, and use them the correct way.
Having the "best staff" doesn't mean great X and O guys or great game coaches at every level. I have been around a lot of assistant coaches who were not outstanding with Xs and Os or game strategy but were invaluable to the program. What is the key to a great staff? The following five things:
1. 100% buy in.
-No matter how "good" they are, if they don't buy in they must go. They HAVE TO run
what you want run, how you want run it.
-This doesn't mean they are yes men by any means. The best staffs argue like hell
behind closed doors but once they are in front of the kids everyone is on
the same page.
2. 100% loyalty.
-Even if they buy in, it doesn't matter if they are telling others that you are doing it
wrong. I had an assistant in Iowa who would routinely tell the parents "If I was
the head coach..." so that didn't help me very much!
3. 100% work ethic.
-Guys have to work hard and be willing to scout, stay late, work in the summers, etc.
4. 100% caring for the players
-If they care more about themselves than their players they need to go.
5. 100% about development.
-Have to have guys at the lower levels who are willing to sacrifice wins for getting
players ready to play at the varsity level.
You also have to use your coaches in the right way. Every coach has a strong point, so put them in position to be successful. Some coaches are great with Xs and Os, put them up with you. Some coaches are great at development - but them with your 9th and JV groups. Also pair coaches that are a little bit different at your younger levels. My first year at Central I was a freshmen assistant. The guy I was the assistant under was great at motivation, getting guys to work hard, discipline, etc. I had a little bit better grasp of Xs and Os so we were a great compliment. Either way coaches have to be put in the right spots to be successful.
9. Must have patience with common sense.
Rome wasn't built in a day, or a year, and neither is a basketball program. As long as you are laying the foundation with a solid youth program, everyone running the same stuff, and having the right culture you are going to turn the corner. You can't bail out too early unless there are things in place that won't let you do one of those three things well, it's why I left my position at South Tama. We had a situation where we could not accomplish any of the three. I was not allowed a say in the youth program, could not cut any players from the team - buy in or not, and the lower coaches refused to run our stuff (and I could not fire them). So we were set up to fail in the long term. If you can have those three however, any program can be turned around with enough time.
In closing, none of this is Earth shattering, but it's all true. There is no magic formula outside of hard work and no compromises. If you follow the blueprint above turning around any program is possible. Did I miss something, if so leave some feedback, I would love to hear other great ideas!