The collected wisdom of OKC Blue coach Mark Daigneault
Residence: Oklahoma City
Profession: Basketball coach
LAS VEGAS — If you play for the Blue, the boss will subject you to The Boss.
Players on Oklahoma City's G League team have grown accustomed to Mark Daigneault's devotion to Bruce Springsteen.
Daigneault quotes lyrics. He'll blast a song unannounced during a game-situation simulation at practice, the better to help his team block out distractions. He's been known to sing Springsteen in a huddle.
“We had a game where we had 30 turnovers, and I did a film edit of the turnovers to a Springsteen song,” Daigneault said. “I told them, ‘If I'm gonna have to watch 30 turnovers again, I at least want to be listening to Bruce Springsteen while I do it.”
Daigneault takes his influences seriously, and most of them aren't rock stars.
Growing up in Leominster, Mass. — about an hour from Boston and 20 minutes from Sam Presti's hometown of Concord — Daigneault yearned to teach but learned early to coach.
His mother, a special-education teacher and program coordinator, was an influence. So were a host of coaches whose names he can reel off even now: youth baseball coach Sid Rafuse; high school basketball coach Steve Dubzinski; and the late Mark Osowski, an NBA assistant and Leominster native who returned every summer for a camp Daigneault attended, then worked and eventually ran as a memorial.
He learned basketball from Jim Calhoun, for whom he worked as a student manager at UConn, and Ralph Willard, who hired him as an assistant at Holy Cross, and from Billy Donovan, who brought him on at Florida as a graduate assistant and ultimately followed him to Oklahoma City.
Last week at NBA Summer League, where Daigneault coached the Thunder's team, he sat poolside at the Four Seasons for a chat about his coaching philosophy and influences.
I like to think I carry some of my mom's teaching with me when I coach. Her compassion and her love for teaching — and in special education, it takes tremendous compassion and patience — all of those are qualities I admire.
- Related to this story
- Article: Tramel: OKC Thunder hire of Mark Daigneault unsurprisingly surprising
- Article: Carlson: Where did new OKC Thunder coach Mark Daigneault come from? He may explain with Bruce Springsteen lyrics
- Article: Tramel: Hear me out; how about another Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade?
- Article: OKC Thunder: Mark Daigneault focuses on filling out staff
- Article: How Mark Daigneault rose from UConn manager to OKC Thunder head coach: 'Never bet against smart guys'
- Article: Tramel: The G League chaos bred Mark Daigneault to be an NBA head coach
I think coaching at any level is an education job. I admire these coaches who can talk about X's and O's all day, and I enjoy that, and I need to be competent in that. But what wakes me up in the morning is the teaching and learning process and the relationships that blossom from that in a competitive environment.
I try to approach the job in a way that everyone in the program is continuing their education in the job they're in, including me. It's not necessarily about me being the teacher and them being the student. It's about everybody in the room being on a journey of self-discovery and being on a journey of personal growth and trying to access their best.
Bruce Springsteen, Bill Belichick and Barack Obama are teachers for me that I don't have everyday access to. I've actually met Belichick. But I've tried to study those guys so hard that I feel like there's an extended mentorship there. I swear by those guys for different reasons.
Springsteen's writing is so vulnerable. He's bet on himself every step of the way. He's got so much conviction in what he believes. He's extremely raw. He leaves everything on the table — in his concerts, in his records, in his songwriting. I think anybody in any profession can learn about the approach he takes to his passion, and you can apply it to yours.
The way Belichick maximizes teams, the whole is always better than the sum of the parts. A lot of coaches have the same appetite for risk that he does, but what they don't have is the stability of a team-first environment and the fundamental base of everyone understanding what they need to do on a given play. That's been a big-picture blueprint for how I've tried to do it, but obviously he's mastered it.
I always admired Obama's willingness to be idealistic. In coaching, you want your teams to play a certain way. You want them to play together and work with each other, and that's often times met with a lot of cynicism. You think getting teams to play like that is hard, think about all of the complications in politics. It's hard to get things done. There's so many things wrong with the country at any given point in time. Obama never lost his idealism. There's very few people in the crowd who rise up and say, ‘This is how it should be and this is what I'm going to chase.' Politics aside, if you agree with him or not, you can't take that away from him.
Everyone in an environment is flawed. Every player's going to turn the ball over. Every player's going to make a wrong play. I'm going to call the wrong play. I'm going to mess a game up here and there. One thing I think is critical in teams, with so many flawed human beings coming together in a highly emotional environment, is creating an air of acceptance with everybody.
I have a lot different interests than our players, mostly. One thing that I think gets a little misconstrued — especially as a younger coach — is that you think you have to form connections with your players, and you think you have to like the same styles or the same musicians. As I've gotten more comfortable in my skin, I've learned what I believe to be true, which is that your connection with them comes from being fully yourself and allowing them to be fully theirs. I try to show them all of who I am, because I think it gives them permission to be all of who they are. The Springsteen stuff is a way of doing that.