Sun Belt: Advice From Sonny and Wimp

By Jean Neuberger - October 24, 2006

Wimp Sanderson and Sonny Smith coached schools that were the most bitter of rivals. Sanderson, who coached Alabama, and Smith, the former Auburn coach, remained friends despite the intense rivalry and even hosted their own radio show in Birminghamm for six years. Both decided to pay the Sun Belt coaches a visit, as they were the keynote speakers at today's Sun Belt banquet.

The coaches teased often during the banquet about being from rival schools, bringing a lot of laughs from the crowd.

"I used to tell Sonny that the NCAA found 95 violations in Auburn," said Sanderson. "He'd tell me he was sure he was innocent of three of those charges. I knew Sonny was cheating down there. I knew he cheated to get Charles Barkley, because I was offering the opening bid to get him!"

"Wimp used to get players into Alabama by passing the rock test," said Smith. "He'd put a rock into one of his hands and make recruits guess which hand it was in. If they got it in three tries, they'd get into school."

With all the teasing that was going on, the two famous coaches had some advice for their colleagues.

Sanderson expressed the importance of savoring wins, as well as the players on their teams.

"I never enjoyed one bit of those 28 years I coached," said Sanderson. "I never could handle the wins for fear of the next game, and of course, I never could handle the losses. Enjoy each win that you get, and coach with your personality. You can win without great players, but get yourself some, they'll help!"

"You must have good players that are also good people," said Sanderson. "I made a lot of mistakes here. You can't win with good players that are bad people, and you can't win with bad players that are good people. You have to have the balance of skill and character."

The biggest piece of advice Sanderson gave was about caring for players.

"My greatest mistake was that, at times, I don't think my players thought I cared about them," Sanderson said. "We were playing St. John's, and I knew my team hated me, and I couldn't figure it out, so I asked an assistant. He told me that the players thought I didn't care about them at all. That stuck deep in my head. From that day on, I made it a point to never drop the discipline or the work, but to let my players know I cared about them."

Smith echoed a lot of the advice that Sanderson gave.

"Make sure you keep your players off the 'honor system', that is 'Yes, Your Honor', and 'No, Your Honor'," he said. "Don't ever give up on a kid either. He could have three lousy years, but that fourth year he could be the difference from a good team to a great team. Don't ever give up on a kid."

Smith also stressed the importance of life outside of being a coach.

"Don't ever brag too much, it'll cost you," he said. "And make sure you have an outlet besides your job. It'll give you something to do when you don't have a job, so you stay sane. Don't be afraid to change your styles, and most important, find time for a personal life. If you're single, find someone. It's worth it to have that support behind you."

As a lot of these lessons can be applied to many facets of everyday life, there was no one in that room who didn't appreciate the words of two college basketball legends, and didn't take those words to heart.

Posted by Jean Neuberger at 08:07 PM on October 24, 2006

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