Meyer stresses importance of 'F' words at Lipscomb

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 2:25am

Don Meyer, the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history, says faith, family, friends and fitness helped him through life-threatening accident.

There’s probably not one person who can say they ever heard Don Meyer utter the ‘F’ word.

Tuesday night, however, before an estimated crowd of 2,000 at Allen Arena he extolled the respective virtues of several other ‘F’ words, the meaning for each of which was revealed to him anew last September following a near-fatal automobile accident in his current home of South Dakota.

It was a captive audience that listened to college basketball’s all-time winningest coach as he delivered the keynote address for The Inaugural Don Meyer Evening of Excellence.

The event was designed to honor Meyer, who was the school’s basketball coach for 24 years, and to serve as a memorable launching point for what athletic department officials plan to be an annual fund-raising event which will feature prominent personalities in athletics whose message is consistent with that of the university’s.

Meyer, whose last season at Lipscomb was 1998-99, sprinkled his address with moments of levity, including repeated references to his “little buddy,” his left leg, half of which is gone as a result of his accident.

The 64-year-old also quoted biblical verses throughout and offered his own parables, including one that stressed the idea of strength in numbers as he implored the Lipscomb community to “work together” toward common goals.

The thrust of his message, though, was the lessons he learned in the wake of the automobile accident, specifically the four ‘F’s.

“When you lay on your back for two months, … you’d better build and sustain your faith,” Meyer said. “Because that’s all you have.”

He said he relied heavily on one particular verse of scripture to guide him through the pain each time the bandage was changed at the point where his leg was amputated. The first time, he explained, took two hours because the skin had regenerated around the bandage.

“Every time (thereafter) wasn’t quite as bad,” he said. “But it was still terrible.”

He started with his wife of 41 years, Carmen, who “was smarter than the doctors. She stayed on top of everything.”

He also recounted the numerous visits from his children and grandchildren and the way he was strengthened by each.

He recited a litany of current and former players, associates and well-wishers who reached out to him — either in person or through other means — in the days, weeks and months following the accident, but confessed: “There’ a lot of them I can’t remember because I was so drugged up I didn’t know what was going on anyway.”

What touched him most, he said, were the e-mails he received from all across the country, sent by people who had attended one or more of his camps and were affected in some way.

He defined a true friend as “someone who will say what (you) need to hear, not what they think (you) want to hear.”

Meyer recalled the effort it took to build up the strength to walk 120 steps following the accident, beginning with his first attempt when he could not even muster six using his one leg and a walker.

As he continued, he addressed the idea of spiritual fitness in addition to that of physical fitness but noted that the two are connected.

“There’s discipline involved in fitness … to do the little things every day, and to start every day like you don’t know anything,” he said.

“Jubilant” was the way director of athletics Phillip Hutcheson, a former star player under Meyer, described the mood on campus throughout the day. In a flurry of activity, which Hutcheson surmised “strengthened” Meyer, the former coach met with students, coaches and university supporters at various functions.

“It’s been like a homecoming,” Hutcheson said. “You almost feel like you’re at a family reunion. There’s been so many people I haven’t seen in a long time.”

That sentiment likely was not stronger at any point than following the video tribute, which preceded Meyer’s keynote address.

“That makes you realize the things you thought were important then are more important now than they were then,” he said. “Having seen that, I’ll be a better coach next year.”