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VOL. 42 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 10, 2018

Lanier gives coaches place to share their stories

By Rhiannon Potkey

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Rob Lanier with Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes

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Rob Lanier could feel the energy in the room, and he knew there was an appetite for personal growth and development.

The Tennessee men’s basketball associate head coach was looking for a way to give back to a profession that has given him so much. He wanted to be a resource for young coaches and provide guidance in an often-volatile industry.

Lanier held a meeting in Atlanta two years ago that drew a range of coaches, an initial step to possibly forming an organization.

But once he returned to Knoxville, things came to a standstill. Coaches began sending messages asking Lanier what was next, and he wasn’t sure.

“I didn’t really have anything for them,” Lanier explains. “The meeting sparked something, but I didn’t really know how to follow through.”

Lanier started brainstorming ideas. Holding events and clinics were great, but not every coach can find time or afford to attend.

Lanier wanted a more inclusive format that was accessible at any hour of any day.

He sat down at his computer and created www.Coachspeak.net.

A scaled-down coaching version of The Players’ Tribune, the website provides a platform for coaches to share their stories in a first-person format.

They can write about balancing family life with work, recovering from career setbacks or their favorite places to eat on the road. Any topic is open to explore, and the more personal, the better.

“I think coaches are some of the most interesting people I know, and I think they have stories to tell beyond just sports,” says Lanier, in his 29th year of coaching.

“The site is a way for coaches to put their thoughtfulness and competence on display. It’s kind of like a meeting point for people to see what other coaches are doing and learn their stories the way they want to tell them.”

Although much of the content on the site is basketball related because of his connection to the game, Lanier wants to include coaches from every sport.

He’s been working to expand his network and reach out to coaches in football, softball, baseball, soccer and others.

The site is a labor of love for Lanier. He’s put his own time and money to get it up and running.

The coaches send their stories through email, and Lanier does all the editing and posting each week. He wants the writer’s voice to shine through, so he rarely alters much.

“This is my hobby. I don’t play golf or go hang out places. I spend time with my family and work on this in my free time,” adds Lanier, who hopes to add video and podcasts to the site in the future.

“It’s something I really enjoy doing because I love coaches and I love hearing their stories. It’s helped me get to know some people in the profession in a way that I didn’t otherwise know them.”

As word of the site spread through social media and personal interactions, Lanier has received more interest from coaches who want to share stories.

The list spans from high school assistants to Purdue men’s basketball coach Matt Painter to NBA coaches.

“Some of the most-read content has been from coaches that aren’t ‘big name’ coaches. But they have written about topics that really resonate with a lot of people,” Lanier points out.

“I really want this site to be more personal. There are places people can go to find things about Xs and Os and leadership and all that stuff. I don’t want to discourage that, but I do want the site to feature information you won’t find anywhere else.

“I want to feature some cool things you won’t get on a regular hoop site.”

Lanier’s own career path is filled with material that could populate the pages. The Buffalo, New York, native began coaching in 1990 as a graduate assistant at Niagara University after his playing career at St. Bonaventure ended.

Lanier first joined forces with Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes at Texas in 1999 before leaving to become the head coach at Siena in 2001.

He spent time as an assistant at Virginia and Florida before returning to Texas in 2011 as Barnes’ associate head coach. Once Tennessee hired Barnes in 2015, Lanier didn’t hesitate to join him in Knoxville.

“It was all coach that brought me here. He has always expressed a lot of trust and belief in me,” Lanier says. “I had always looked at Tennessee as a possibility because I thought it was a great job. I was really curious about the passion of our fan base, and what I have learned is I was right.

“This is one of the best jobs in all of college basketball.”

The Vols are coming off a season that defied outside expectations. Picked to finish 13th in the SEC, the Vols earned a share of the conference regular-season title.

They return six of their top seven scorers, led by reigning SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, and the team will likely begin the upcoming season ranked in the top 10 of every national poll.

No longer able to play the disrespect card, the coaching staff has been preparing the Vols for all that comes with having a target on their backs.

“They can hear it all they want from us, but it’s still something they have to go through and experience,” Lanier adds.

“We are trying to go from being a good program to a great program, and a great program lives in a world where expectations are high. This is our first time going into a year where we are expected to be great, and we have to live through what comes with that.”

The UT coaches just returned from spending time on the road recruiting, trying to find the next wave of players they can mold and develop to sustain the program’s ascendance.

“Coach has always been the same. He has always been blue collar,” Lanier continues. “For myself and the other assistants, we have always tried to find the player that fits his style of coaching that were going to buy in.

“If we can get good enough players to win and become viable and establish a level of credibility through winning, then we can use that platform and foundation to get some really great players in recruiting.”

It’s a blueprint Barnes and his staff used at Texas, where players like T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge became transcendent stars surrounded by a strong supporting cast.

“The foundation of those programs was built on those four-year guys. Even though there have been some prominent players that went through, there are a lot of rock solid four-year guys that helped sustain the level of success,” Lanier says.

“We want to get to the point here where we always have upperclassmen in the program that have been through it and know what it is about and understand the culture of the program instead of always trying to reset the culture or have a revolving door.”

Seeing the players mature and grow into well-rounded individuals gives Lanier the most pride as a coach. As much as he wants to win, he values the impact he can have on young lives beyond just basketball.

It’s one reason Lanier is so passionate about Coachspeak.net. He knows there are many others in the industry - from JV girls lacrosse coaches to NFL Hall of Fame coaches - that share the same sense of purpose.

Providing a platform for them to express their views and learn from each other is Lanier’s way of trying to pay it forward.

“There are so many thoughtful people that do this for a living and have such a tremendous influence and responsibility,” Lanier says.

“I just like to hear what they have to say and I am sure others feel the same way.”