Who is Matt Donohue and the key takeaways in this episode?
Coach Matt Donohue is the Head Coach of women’s basketball at The Catholic University of America. He is fresh off a record setting six year period of achieving the Landmark Conference Coach of the Year and leading the Cardinals to its phenomenal wins in the NCAA Tournament and Conference championships. And on the back of all the accolades and praises he has received, we’ll get to know how it is to be a coach, a father, and a husband.
In this interview, we’ll delve into:
- Who inspires coach Matt?
- Why he thinks we need to help people develop as leaders
- Why he thinks patience is essential
- Coach Matt’s thoughts on investing in people
- The importance of creating a process and understanding that we are all a work in progress
[5:55] What inspired you to become a coach?
Answer: You know, it’s interesting. So as I’ve mentioned, I graduated and was very fortunate to receive a teaching position at a small school district in Southern Bergen County in New Jersey. North Arlington High School was looking for a part-time English teacher and I got called in for an interview. What I didn’t know was that they were also looking for a track coach, a basketball coach, and a soccer coach. And eager to do whatever I could to get my foot in the door and get started on my path as a teacher, I was more than happy to embrace all those roles. And because of that, I took a very different turn in a very different direction in my life. There’s been a lot of people who’ve inspired me and really propped me up and helped me through the years. But quite honestly, if I may have to say directly, the one constant in my life over the last 20 years has been my wife. I met her while teaching in North Arlington, and she was the first person to really see that there was a different bounce in my step, a different glint in my eye, a different excitement in my voice whenever I talked about coaching. And the more I got involved in it, the more she encouraged me and said, “Listen, this excites you like nothing I’ve ever seen. And this is something you should pursue.”
[31:28] How do you build around their culture?
Answer: I always tell my assistant coaches and even my players to some extent, I look for leaders. I look for people that want my job. And I don’t want them to take my job or go after it, but I don’t want them to settle with where they are. I want to know that you may talk with 400 people that are looking for one position, and if we talk about a hundred people. But what you have to pretty quickly zero in on is: what is their work ethic? What is their desire to grow and really succeed? And is that someone who can buy into your vision?
[32:51] Is there a common pitfall or mistake you see people make when they’re building teams?
Answer: I think – and I know I was probably as guilty of this myself when I was younger – you have to be patient. If you are truly confident in your vision, if you have a belief in what you’re doing when you deal with those struggles and when you come across obstacles, you have to be patient. You’ve got to hold true to that vision. You can’t panic. And I see a lot of people that are impatient. They want that success today, whereas it’s a process, it takes time. And as a result, they may panic when all they really needed to do was stay calm, stay focused and stay true to the vision that they’re aspiring to. So that’s something I remind myself of constantly.
Culture According to Matt Donohue:
For me, company culture and team dynamic has really always been about a group of individuals that are just working together in harmony to achieve a common vision. It’s about a group of individuals that are invested in each other, that understand each other’s strengths, and that truly believe that number one has as much to offer, in our case, as number 18 may have to offer. And so, we talk about it on a day-in, day-out basis. We spend a lot of time as a group, as an organization, talking about strengths, talking about what to do to improve weaknesses. We talk about the Division a lot. We talk about the end-goal quite a bit. But more than that, we talk about the process. We’re not going to wake up on day one and just skip ahead of today’s 101. We’ve got to understand that there are steps along the way that need to be taken.
Go To Quote for Inspiration
- “The Beast in the Jungle” by Henry James
What Matt Donohue Wants His Company to BE:
- BE Loyal
- BE Confident
- BE Versatile
Links and Resources Mentioned in this Interview:
- The Catholic University of America
Where to Find Matt Donohue:
Connect with John on
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
John: Coach Matt Donohue from the Catholic University of America, welcome to BE Culture Radio.
Matt: Thanks for having me. Great to be here.
John: We’re pretty excited. Just for our listeners so they know, I have a little unfair advantage. I know Coach Donohue. He has possession of my daughter for the next two years. God bless him and good luck. Coach, I want to welcome you. I’m so glad that you’re with us. We’ve gotten to know each other. You’ve gotten to know our family. We’ve gotten to know yours. And we’re really excited because I think you have some really interesting insights to share with our listeners about culture and team work and some of the extraordinary things you’ve done. And just so my listeners know, Coach Donohue is an amazing guy and in 2002, he was in Bloomfield College and posted a 17-game improvement, the largest single improvement in the nation that year. Before he came to Catholic University, he was at Elmira College, an upstate Division Two school. And it was the program’s second highest winning coach ever, twice named Coach of the Year. And I believe weren’t you named Coach of the Year last year for the Landmark?
Matt: I was. So I was indeed. And what they do, which is just fantastic in the Landmark Conference, is they recognized that as the Staff of the Year which is wonderful, because there’s a lot of good folks working with me that absolutely deserve credit for anything that we achieve.
John: And this year, he took his team, just so everybody knows, he doesn’t have a senior on his team; it’s a sophomore-laden organization. And they won the conference tournament and he took his team, I believe, for the third time only at the NCAA tournament?
Matt: That is correct, yes.
John: That’s a pretty awesome achievement for a little school in Washington that everyone counted out to be in the season. They said, “They’re lucky if they’ll finish third or second”. I think that was the quote, wasn’t it, coach?
Matt: We got a lot of that early on and it became pretty apparent that anyone outside of our CUA faithful definitely approached us with skepticism and doubt with each passing week. So we firmly used that as motivation for moving forward.
John: Now, before we get started and really go about the business of talking about the culture and the teams you’ve built. For our listeners, Coach, can you tell us about you, where you came from and what made you the man you are today?
Matt: Gosh, it’s interesting. I grew up in Southern New Jersey. I had a very strong family network and a grandmother that lived in the house with us, an uncle that lived in the house with us, so we had an extended family that really did a great job keeping me on the straight and narrow growing up. And Lord knows, I gave them a great deal of anxiety and angst through the years, but I think I have been pretty fortunate to have some pretty wonderful opportunities as I’ve grown. I graduated high school and received an incredible opportunity at Centenary College to go on and grow further as a person. And upon finishing up there, at the right place and the right time, I was fortunate to get involved and start my career as a teacher. When I started out on this journey, I had no expectation, or desire even for that matter, to be a collegiate basketball coach. But as a lot of people will tell you, when you’re coming out of college as more marketable, you make yourself look better. And I have no doubt that I received my first teaching position because I had a presumed ability to coach a couple of different sports. And I’m excited to have had that opportunity. But I have no doubt that I’m where I am today because of a tremendous amount of guidance, from my grandmother in particular. She spent a lot of time on me through the years. She was a teacher and was a steady presence in my life. My parents, wonderful people, were small business owners. And I pulled them out of the home quite often, quite a bit, and I learned a great many lessons from them as well. But I look at a lot of the paths I took in life and what I studied in my collegiate experiences and I definitely owe a lot of what I am today to my grandmother.
John: Now, what inspired you to become a coach?
Matt: You know, it’s interesting. So as I’ve mentioned, I graduated and was very fortunate to receive a teaching position at a small school district in Southern Bergen County in New Jersey. North Arlington High School was looking for a part-time English teacher and I got called in for an interview. What I didn’t know was that they were also looking for a track coach, a basketball coach, and a soccer coach. And eager to do whatever I could to get my foot in the door and get started on my path as a teacher, I was more than happy to embrace all those roles. And because of that, I took a very different turn in a very different direction in my life. There’s been a lot of people who’ve inspired me and really propped me up and helped me through the years. But quite honestly, if I may have to say directly, the one constant in my life over the last 20 years has been my wife. I met her while teaching in North Arlington, and she was the first person to really see that there was a different bounce in my step, a different glint in my eye, a different excitement in my voice whenever I talked about coaching. And the more I got involved in it, the more she encouraged me and said, “Listen, this excites you like nothing I’ve ever seen. And this is something you should pursue.” And we knew there’d be a great deal of risk and some bold steps being taken. My wife is a teacher, I was a teacher, and we had a very stable life, a young family. My first son had just been born and so pursuing the path of coaching was going to really entail a lot of risk and some pretty bold decisions on our part as a family. And so I just remember coming home on a day-in, day-out basis and talking with my wife. And she, knowing me as she does, and how she has now for just about 20 years, I’ll never forget her saying to me one day very early on that I if I didn’t take a shot and take a leap at this, that someday down the road I would regret not doing so. And I never wanted to be that individual who made decisions based on fear. I was afraid to make a bold move. So I honestly can tell you without equivocation that she has been just an incredible inspiration in everything I’ve done.
John: You know, on our show, we refer to it as the tribe. Everybody has their tribe.
John: Everybody comes from a tribe, everybody develops a tribe, whether it’s your immediate family, whether it’s your team, whether it’s the people that motivate you. But your tribe, I believe, is a product of your environment and your tribe is your environment. And so, it helps us get our fulfilment because it helps us keep our alignment.
John: And a tribe’s a funny thing because when you’re out of alignment, your tribe lets you know you’re out of alignment. And to your point with your wife, behind any great person is a tribe. Nobody gets there alone. And especially in the coaching business. Wow, Coach, why would you do that to yourself.
Matt: It’s a crazy thing because you hit the nail in the head there. There are so many pitfalls along the way. There are so many obstacles in front of you when you’re putting a vision in place. And you need that steadying inspirational voice to tell you, “Hey, you’re pursuing things while you’re doing this right away.” Or if you’re not, to say, “What are you doing?” Slowly gave the role a little, “Babe, you’ve got a back it up and rethink this, and really approach this from a different angle.” And she’s kept me grounded and she has just kept me in line, I guess is what I’m trying to say. But she’s always been that person that no matter what, at the end of the night, at the end of the day, I could come home to and have that discussion and talk with about my vision, our vision, about the path we’re on as a program. And I don’t know that a great many people realize how involved she is in that process.
John: We see it. As a parent of one of your players, and I share this early on with my listeners, I met Coach Donohue three years ago. And he recruited very differently than anyone I’d ever met, having my experience, and most of the listeners know I run an AAU program. We have a lot of Division One players and professional players. And when you have your own child go through it, it’s in a whole different set of emotions. And he was the only one that never talked about basketball to me, because I quite honestly, I finally said to him one day, “I couldn’t care less about basketball.” And he looked at me strangely and said, “Well, okay.” But the thing that resonated so strongly with me was the culture that you brought and the promise you made to a parent which said: “I will take your daughter and treat her as if she’s my own. And I promise you if she gives me as much effort as I’m going to give her, she will leave here in four years with that meaningful degree.” Now, for everybody out there listening, if you want something other than that out of college, I’m not sure what you’re looking for. And in doing that, we had a number of options, but there wasn’t after that comment – for my wife and I, there weren’t any options. And you have taken the Catholic University’s winning basketball program. You’re the highest winning coach of all time. I’m correct, yes?
Matt: That is correct, yes.
John: Which is phenomenal. And you have taken that group of ladies and made them scholar athletes – not student athletes, folks, scholar athletes – because if you have below a 3.0 and you play on his team, it’s a whole different experience. And you’re going to hurry up and get to that 3.0, or better, quickly. And so you’ve built that and that’s a culture you’ve built. And I want to talk about that and share it with us. You walked into an organization and you took it by the reins, Coach. And you said, “This is who we will be. This is who we are and I make no apologies for it.” Can you share with us how that was and what the shortcomings were and the struggles?
Matt: I like the way you said it, because there are shortcomings and there are struggles. And we walked into a situation here at Catholic University and we observed and looked at the culture of other programs. And in our estimation, our valuation, there was no reason that this program shouldn’t succeed. It had a sporadic history through the years where it had achieved some great success but it hadn’t been sustained. And so when I looked at that opportunity, I just saw a program that was capable of much greater things. And I walked in with a very confident vision, and it was important to stay loyal to that vision. And then, it really became a process of evaluating the different components: the people that were part of the program; looking at the resources associated with the program; and really finding out what it was going to take now. Certainly, when you walk in any new situation, you’re going to be met with some skepticism. We were taking over a group that hadn’t won and they were trending downward. And so to sit there in front of them and walk into a room on day one and say with a straight face, to look each and every one of those young women in the eye and say, “We’re going to be a perennial contender at the top of the Conference, the region. And we’re going to be a player on the national scene.” To say that, you can imagine the gasp that immediately went up around the room from a team that had not been anywhere close to any of those goals. And so, there was definitely some skepticism. And it wasn’t enough just to lay out the end goal, but it was more about the process and the steps that we needed to take to get to that goal. And so along the way, it really became about evaluating the people and what their goals were, and what they wanted out of the process, figuring out what was the “why.” That’s been a big thing with me through the years. Why are you in this? What is your investment? What do you want to get out of it? And if the answer is simply “to win a basketball game,” well, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. There is a greater end goal and a greater design here in all of this that we’ve always been trying to achieve. And so, it took some time and it was really about how we had to infuse talented people that we felt supported that vision, that were really invested in the process that we are going to undertake, to make that vision a reality. And here, going through that, you’re impatient. I think anybody heading up a group or an organization wants that success immediately, but it doesn’t happen that way. And as I said, there are just no shortcuts through it. And so, you’ve got to be patient and you’ve got to stay steady for it. And I was very fortunate right out of the gates to have some just terrific assistant coaches through the years. If I’ve done anything well, I’ve surrounded myself with some pretty remarkable people to help achieve those goals. And that has been the thing; we had our struggles as we were helping our leaders grow, our ultimate leaders grow, just to say, “We’re going to stay this course. We’re going to get there and here’s how we’re going to do it.” So it’s been a process for us, but ultimately, we’ve been very fortunate in bringing good people and people that have had the work ethic and the mindset that we needed, so that we were willing to invest the time, that we are absolutely more than willing to invest in them. I think, like anything else, you’re investing in people. There are a great many talented individuals out there. And to your point about speaking about basketball, our athletes, they’re very talented individuals. None of them are going on to the WNBA necessarily, and so really, it becomes about investing in people, and helping them move on to become great citizens and great contributors later in life, and hopefully develop their leadership skills as well moving forward.
John: I like to say, “Winning the game of life.” Right?
Matt: Yes, absolutely. And again, it’s realizing that we’re all works-in-progress. This is all part of the greater design. And there’s always an opportunity to grow and we’ve got to be willing to adapt as things get thrown at us. As you have someone that has an illness, an injury, something befalls him, something gets in the way to slow that path or slow that growth. You’ve got to be willing to roll with the punches and change and adapt, and look at things through a different lens from time to time. But the biggest thing for us is when we took over here, we knew we needed to grow some leadership components. We needed to help people develop more as leaders and we needed to really help them understand the importance of the investment that they were about to make, the time, the effort, the energy; it’s not enough to just be talented. There is the old saying, “The graveyard is full of great ideas and great talent,” but you don’t want to take them with you when your days are done, when you’re done competing. You want to make sure that you’ve put in the time and the effort and energy to fulfil those goals.
John: Now, Coach Donohue, how much of it is getting everybody on the bus and then getting them on the right seat on the bus, as it is said?
Matt: That’s a big part of it. Everyone has a role and it’s important to understand that role. It’s important to make sure that we always tell our young women that you have to: a) understand your role, but be satisfied. You’ve got to embrace it, but you’ve got to have a desire to grow your role. And so, there’s a double-edged sword to it and you walk a fine line there. And we want our individuals to understand the importance of the role they’re currently in. We want them to embrace that role that they’re currently in. But we also want them to have that burning desire, if you will, to increase that role, to grow that role. We want them to really strive for greater things. We don’t want anyone who’s content in their current life. And you get to that point by having constant communication and listening to the people in your charge. What do they need from you? What do you need from them? Making sure that you’re on the same page. And so I just think communication is a key component in that. Because if you’re going to understand your role, if you’re going to, to use an analogy, “if you’re going to be on the bus and the right seat on that bus,” well, you’re not just going to figure that out. You’re not just going to walk on the bus on day one and know exactly where to sit. Someone has to guide you through that process. And so there has to be just a great deal of communication and appreciation as you’re navigating that.
John: So that being said, two years ago, most people don’t know this, but Coach Donohue recruited 12 extremely talented freshmen to his team. Am I right? So you had one of the youngest teams in the Conference for a long period of time. Either we need to have you checked or you had a vision. So as leaders, we have visions, right? For our culture and our vision. So you did something most coaches would never do.
Matt: Well, a big part of it is we have a vision and we stay fast to that vision. And the people that work with me in this process, our assistant coaches, they understand the vision, they understand the process that’s necessary to attain that. And so, it really becomes about finding the individuals that help promote that culture, that add to that culture. And so, we brought in a large group of extremely talented individuals. And we’re always looking for people who aren’t just physically talented, because we want people who are confident, who are leaders, who have a work ethic where they’re going to go out there and they’re just going to grind and grind and grind until they get where they need to be. And then once they’re there, they’re going to strive on and they’re going to keep grinding to even raise the level. And so, that, I tell you, is another double-edged sword. And my wife tells me all the time at the end of the day, “My sanity can’t be contingent upon the wit and witticisms of 18 to 22-year-olds.” And that could be a dicey lot.
John: I find one 21-year-old daughter is just enough. I don’t know. You have 18 or 20 of them, God bless you.
Matt: But they’re incredible people. And a lot of that is that you can bring in a large group if you take the time to get to know and understand that group. And certainly, there’s a process. We spend a year to two years before they hit campus, sometimes, getting to know them, getting to know their families, getting to know what motivates them, what speaks to them, what their end goals are and what they want out of all this. And then that process has to continue once they get to campus here. We always say to our individuals, “I observed you study, if you will, or compete or perform under someone else’s direction for the last year to two years. I watched you play for this coach or work for this individual. But how that individual does things may be different from how I’m going to do them. And so, now it’s about my learning how I have to motivate you and how I have to push you, and what it’s going to take for you and me to move forward in this.” And so there’s a learning process for me as well that we always talk about as coaches, that we’ve got to understand and we’ve got to embrace. We can’t just bring an individual in and expect that process to be done. We’ve got to work with that individual to figure out how it is we have to guide them and manage them through the process.
John: Well, let me ask you this, Coach: you’re managing a basketball team, but you’re really preparing them how to be managed in business and in life, so how do you make that correlation so that the transition, when you hand them to the business world, is smooth and without bumps? Because I’ve seen you do it, but the how-to, because the why is great, and I think all entrepreneurs that listen always search for the why, but I think the how-to is just as important. And you have your one-of-one at CUA, that allows you to make that connection between managing basketball team and manage team in business so your ladies get it. So how do you do that?
Matt: I think communication is absolutely critical. It’s when we articulate our vision, when we talk about the process that we’re going to undertake, that we’re going to move forward in to get to that end goal, whether it’s competing at the highest level or it’s being the most successful team in our Conference or region. There’s a process to that and we have to communicate that process and we have to talk with them. But it’s not enough. If you’re translating that into the business world, if you’re translating that into later in life for them, then if I’m going to leave them, I have to be willing to listen to them as well and hear what they need. I’ve got to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are. I’ve got to understand where they can really impact us at the greatest level while also understanding how to grow their strengths. And if through working with me and with our coaches through that process, they can learn about themselves and how they can grow as people and as future leaders in our society, I think they’re going to be ready. I think they’re going to be ready to move forward here. They know these are my strengths. This is what I can maximize. I can be true to my strengths while developing whatever weaknesses I may have. I can’t neglect them. I can’t pretend they’re going to go away, so I’ve got to continue working on this so I can grow as an individual. I’ve got to understand the importance of leading those around me, and listening to those around me. I can understand the importance of communication. And again, I like to look at what we do on the court as a microcosm of life. If you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to really be willing to roll up your sleeves and you’ve got to get to work. And no matter what your talents are, if you rest on those laurels, there’s going to be someone else who has the same skill-set, who’s working just as hard, if not harder, to try to pass you. And so, you’ve got to understand, it’s a constant race to stay ahead, to compete, and these are some of the ideas that we try to comport to them on day-in, day-out basis and year-in, year-out basis. So by the time they move on, they’re ready hopefully to go on and do great things.
John: And you’ve created a culture at CUA that is unique. And I’ve had the experience. I see a lot of colleges. I’m very unique in my ability because as a business owner, I run my own teams. We have our own groups I belong to. In the AAU circuit, I get to see all these colleges, Coach. And then, I see yours. It’s not the same. You have that culture that everybody counts, not just the five that start, not just your eight or nine-person rotation, but everybody counts. And that’s not anything other than culture. And so, for our listeners, can you define company culture and team dynamic and how that works? Because you do it right and I want people to hear about it.
Matt: For me, company culture and team dynamic has really always been about a group of individuals that are just working together in harmony to achieve a common vision. It’s about a group of individuals that are invested in each other, that understand each other’s strengths, and that truly believe that number one has as much to offer, in our case, as number 18 may have to offer. And so, we talk about it on a day-in, day-out basis. We spend a lot of time as a group, as an organization, talking about strengths, talking about what to do to improve weaknesses. We talk about the Division a lot. We talk about the end-goal quite a bit. But more than that, we talk about the process. We’re not going to wake up on day one and just skip ahead of today’s 101. We’ve got to understand that there are steps along the way that need to be taken. And everybody has to be all in and fully invested in what we’re going to undertake to get there. It really becomes simple for us to be blunt if you’re not buying into the importance of those around you. Then, we make sure that people understand that we’re going to have to move on in a different direction if you can appreciate those that you’re in this with. And so, I think they learn that pretty quickly. We’re pretty serious about that. You’re not going to achieve anything and you’re not going anywhere on your own. You’ll go much further if you go with a group that’s invested with you, that’s putting in that time and effort. And so, for us, it’s just a constant day-in, day-out process. And it’s a process of growth. Our individuals, our young women, they understand that there’s so much that happens behind the scenes. There are so many little tiny things and there are so many people involved in building a program. And what you might see if you’re the casual observer or spectator is you might see the end result, but you haven’t seen behind the curtains, so to speak, to see all that’s going into that. And there are so many people who are part of that process. And for me, if we can create a team dynamic where everybody understands that involvement, the investment, the time that everyone’s putting in and the importance of that time and that investment, then you create a culture where everybody’s on the same page, where everybody’s working towards the same vision, where everybody appreciates what everybody else has to offer. And that’s what we work on now. There are always times when we can improve on that. There are always times when we can be better at creating that dynamic. But I think the bigger thing is that we stay constantly focused on creating that dynamic and building that culture.
John: And you bring them in as freshmen?
John: And to correlate that for our listeners, if someone’s on board with the company, how long does it take for the light to come on?
Matt: That’s the trick, right? Because everybody has a different pace. For some people, that light bulb’s going to go on. They’re going to fill the light out, as we say. They may figure it out on day one, while for others, it starts to flicker a little bit. But before it really comes on full, it might be a year, it might be two years. And that’s where that communication piece is so key. We’ve had individuals that have come in on day one and they get it. Something has happened in their past. Something has happened in their grooming and their growth before they arrived with us so that they were able to figure it out pretty quickly, whereas others, they may have had great grooming, great upbringing, great balance, but they just need a little bit more time to make that jump and make that adjustment. And so that’s where it really becomes – that communication piece is huge. We’ve got to continue to talk with them and work with them and spend time with them. “Here’s where you are today. Here’s where I expect you to be in a hundred days. Here’s what I expect you to be in a year or two years. And here’s how we’re going to get you there.” And once they understand that and they understand there’s a path that, you know, they can be on to get to a better place, to grow their role, I think it makes a huge difference.
John: I have had the pleasure of meeting all 18 of your Lady Cardinals. And I will tell our listeners without a doubt that the common thread is integrity. The common thread is decency. And the common thread is togetherness. And with that group of ladies, you can walk up to anyone of them, and they’ll look you square in the eye. They speak. They talk. They speak from their heart. And it’s got to be back to what we call the “corner office,” the strategy that you have in finding the leadership and talent. As you and I both know, you can find basketball players anywhere.
John: But finding leadership and finding integrity, and finding the right people, that’s a whole other recruiting tip that our listeners want to know: “Hey, Coach Donohue, how do I do that? How do I find that? What were you doing that I’m not?”
Matt: You know, it’s funny. One thing that we do that I think is very different – and I’m always greeted by a quick, alarming stare when I say it – but I always tell our individuals, I always tell young women when we’re in that recruiting process, when we’re watching them, that I want to see them fail. I want to see them in that process of dealing with some adversity. I want to see how they handle that. I want to see how they pick themselves back up. There are a million and one talented young women that you’ll see in the course of a given year, and the course of a given month. And so, it really becomes about looking past them, looking beyond just their basic skill-set. I want to see and observe how they handle those moments of stress and adversity. How are they communicating with those around them in those moments? Do they keep a level head? I want to hear what their end goals are and what their desires are in terms of growing within our program and our university. But the biggest thing is, and I always get that quick jolt of the head there when I tell them I want to see them struggle, because I want to see how they handle that, how they communicate with those around them. I want to see how they respond to other authority figures and coaches and people who are supervising them. There’s a process that goes well beyond the playing experience that we go through to try to get a good feel for our individuals when they come in.
John: So it’s safe to say that as we go out and recruit in business, we should find out where people have not succeeded to the level they wanted to and how they reacted?
Matt: I think there’s a lot to that. I remember when I was up at Elmira College and talking with a terrific woman, Pat Thompson, who was my direct supervisor up there. And we were talking about my journey to Elmira and I’d asked her a simple question about the references that I put on my reference list, and if she had reached out to them, because I heard through the grape vine from one of them that he had never heard from her. So she simply said to me, “Well, I didn’t call anyone on your reference list. I called other people that you competed against, and other people that may have known you, and other people that may have known of you, and of how you carry yourself and how you competed.” And I looked and said – so I asked for some explanation and her explanation was really great. And she said, “Well, you put people on your reference list that you know are going to rave about you.” And so for her, she wanted to know what I did and how I carried myself when I dealt with struggles, and when I was in a tense moment and how I carried myself in the middle of the game and how I led my team in the middle of a situation where things were really tight and stressful for us. And that was more important to her, to hear from people who observed me and had seen me or supervised me in other capacities, to get a feel for me. And I took that to heart and immediately looked at myself and my programs and said, “How can I apply this to what I’m doing here in building my program?” Because I thought it was really insightful and something I hadn’t heard people doing before.
John: Now, a lot of our entrepreneurs have emerging business, and they’re building a culture, and they’re building a team. And they want to know from you: how do you build a team and what can they take from you today in building their team and building their culture? So what tip would you give them, Coach?
Matt: You know, I always tell my assistant coaches and even my players to some extent, I look for leaders. I look for people that want my job. And I don’t want them to take my job or go after it, but I don’t want them to settle with where they are. I want to know that you may talk with 400 people that are looking for one position, and if we talk about a hundred people. But what you have to pretty quickly zero in on is: what is their work ethic? What is their desire to grow and really succeed? And is that someone who can buy into your vision? They seem to be someone that could really buy into the process that’s going to be necessary to achieve that vision. And so, I look for people who are confident, who I think are loyal, but more importantly, aren’t content, that want more from themselves and are looking to push that envelope to achieve more. And so, that’s been my advice to my assistant coaches, that have come on and gone on to other things, and that’s been my advice to my players as I want them to come in confident, and I want them to come in looking for better things. I want them to understand where they are in their current roles in their current lives, but I don’t want them to be content and settle there. I want them to be bold and take risks, to try and achieve greater things.
John: And is there a common pitfall or mistake you see people make when they’re building teams?
Matt: I think – and I know I was probably as guilty of this myself when I was younger – you have to be patient. If you are truly confident in your vision, if you have a belief in what you’re doing when you deal with those struggles and when you come across obstacles, you have to be patient. You’ve got to hold true to that vision. You can’t panic. And I see a lot of people that are impatient. They want that success today, whereas it’s a process, it takes time. And as a result, they may panic when all they really needed to do was stay calm, stay focused and stay true to the vision that they’re aspiring to. So that’s something I remind myself of constantly. That’s tough. I don’t care how long you’ve been in business or you’ve run a team, or you’ve run an organization. When you meet with obstacles, it can be very easy to panic and become impatient, and to veer off of that path or that process that you’re on. And you’ve got to stay patient. You’ve got to stay calm. You can’t panic. You’ve got to stay in that process.
John: Now, Coach Donohue, a lot of coaches are known for how they prepare their kids before a game. And then, we go to half-time and you make adjustments. In business, we don’t have that luxury, but we do have in business what’s called a “pivot.” And can you describe how that relates when you see things and how you get people to pivot, so to speak, with you when you see the difference that needed to be made and the adjustments that needed to be made, and how that correlates on how you get that message across, and how you use your skills as a leader to have people understand that they have to take action?
Matt: Well – and I like the idea of that pivot – it is really about adjusting and being adaptable and being versatile with obstacles, and when something gets in the way of the path that you’re on. And so for our sake, there was a time I would say where I was very young in my career, where I’d go in and I’d speak to a group. And a lot of my messaging and even my tone was probably the same. And what I’ve learned is, that won’t take you where you ultimately want to go. It’s more important to figure out what voice your group has, what your group may need on day 101 is probably very different from what they needed on day one. And so, what we look to do is figure out, get to know our individuals, get to know our players, get to know the people that are in our charge, and figure out what they need from us, what speaks to them, what motivates them, what inspires that. That’s not easy to do. That takes a lot of discussion, a lot of time, a lot of investment. But if we can get to know the “why”, if we can get to understand that, then it helps us to figure out what they need from me. Do they need that inspirational, high-energy, let’s-go-get-‘em messaging, or do they need that calm, let’s-stay-even-keel, let’s-stay-patient-here type of messaging? There’s always an opportunity to inspire. There’s always an opportunity to adjust. You have to be willing to inspire and you’ve got to be willing to adjust. And that’s what we talk about with our players. Some days, I’ll walk in and go talk with them. And I’d see that I make a read, at least, that they need high-energy from me. They need a certain level of excitement, and whereas other days, they need to be calm and I remind them of the process that we’re in. They need it to keep them focused and steady and bring them down a little bit, because they might have plenty of energy or more energy, enough energy for all of us. So at the end of the day, it really comes down to being about being willing. It comes down to being willing to adjust and adapt and look into understanding what your group needs. No group is the same. We finish up one year, and the next year that group has changed in some capacity, in some way, shape or form. And so when you have – when you introduce new people into the group, there’s a dynamic shift. There is a change a little bit in the personality of that group. And so, we have to constantly stay on our toes to work towards understanding that personality and understanding what’s going to motivate and inspire them. And I was told at a very young age that one of the best qualities of a good leader is to be a great listener. And so, I hope I do a good job of listening as much as I talk. And I’m sure my players will tell you that I’ll go on and I’ll talk and drone on endlessly sometimes, but I think it’s important to listen to them and say what it is that speaks to them, and what they need in a given moment.
John: And I’ve got to imagine, unlike Corporate America, where we have the same players from year to year, you start with an A-team and all of a sudden, they walk in the door and two years later, you have a young lady that perhaps is not the same young lady you had two years ago, and there’s a group of them that have changed before your eyes, and you did the changing, so to speak.
Matt: And they’re going to be incredibly different people from day one to that second or to that third year. I agree with that wholeheartedly. And I love the idea that I’m part of that process to help them change and become different people, and hopefully better people. And that’s exactly – it speaks back to the point on what they may have needed from me as their leader on day one. Now here we are two years later and they’ve evolved and they’ve changed and they’ve grown. So they need something very different from me at that point in time. And so, I’ve got to try to be in tune to that. And it’s incredibly fulfilling to be part of that process, and to know that when I watch an individual grow and just change, and all of a sudden that light bulb goes on and they get it and embrace it, and they love that idea of just working and grinding and competing, and challenging themselves to be better and work towards attaining more for themselves and for the people that they’re working with. That’s just a great feeling to see that happen.
John: And to that end, we have a number of people that are managers in corporations that consider themselves entrepreneurs; they are founders and leaders. How do we construct our talk to move our organizations? And how do we do that, Coach? What advice would you give us in that respect?
Matt: There’s always an opportunity to inspire. There’s always an opportunity to communicate and share your vision. I think I watched my father do it when he was a small business owner, as I grew up watching him speak with the people that work with him. And he was always out there talking with them about what he wanted the company to be, what his design was for the company, what his vision was. He had no qualms about sitting down and asking them about how they felt they could impact that in a positive way and be a part of that vision, and be a part of that journey. And I think that’s the biggest thing. That’s true whether you’re in my world of collegiate athletics or you’re in corporate America. In the business world, there is always an opportunity to communicate, to learn about those that you’re supervising, and to learn about what they need, and to really express that sense of value that I think a lot of – especially young adults – they need that sense of value to understand that they’re invested in that journey. And there’s always an opportunity. If you don’t take that opportunity, you can’t wait for it to come. You’ve got to create it. You’ve got to find it. If you wait for that opportunity to come, it’s going to pass you by and the moment is going to pass. And so I think if you’re running an organization or if you’re a CEO, you’ve got to create those opportunities to share your vision, to articulate the importance of that vision, the process necessary to go through to make that vision a reality, while also opening up avenues where the people that are in your charge understand their role in making that vision a reality. And the minute someone takes ownership of their part in that vision, of their part in that process, I think that’s when you start to see great things happening.
John: Tremendous insight. Coach Donohue, I’m going to take you to the lightning round now, okay?
John: Alright, here we go. Is there a book that changed your life?
Matt: Book that changed my life. I have a background in English, so I would say “The Beast in the Jungle” by Henry James. It’s a great book. It’s turn of the 19th century, but it speaks to taking chances and risks, and not being too paranoid to take those big risks in life.
John: Is there a quote you go to for inspiration?
Matt: That would have to be John Wooden. There’s a quote, it’s a very short poem from My Personal Best, it basically reads, “I’m not what I ought to be, not what I want to be, not what I’m going to be, but thankful that I’m hopefully better than I used to be.” And it just speaks the message that we talk with our young ones all the time about being works-in-process and growing and continually growing as you go through things.
John: What team do you admire the most as it relates to their culture and team ethics? Why?
Matt: I grew up a fan of the Dean Smith North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tar Heels in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. And I just admire that they found a million different ways to win as the NCAA enacted new rules that it was playing. They reinvented themselves continually and found new ways to compete and succeed at the highest level. Beyond that, if you know anything about Coach Smith, he was an activist. He was about developing young men and developing people into great, productive citizens in society. And he fought for the underdog at every walk of life, and every turn of life. So without hesitation, I would say the Tar Heels under Dean Smith, reigning through the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s.
John: Good. And why would a parent want their child to go to Catholic University and play basketball for you?
Matt: Well, they shouldn’t want their child to go to Catholic University to play basketball. They should want their child to go to Catholic University to grow as a person, to grow as an academic individual, to pursue a goal in life that is going to lead them to greater things, whatever their field of study may be. Basketball at the end of the day should be that icing on the cake. It should be something that is just a wonderful part of their development and their process. But we have a university that has an incredible academic reputation, has just a ton of opportunities for the young men and women that come through it. And basketball is a small part of that process to help them realize greater things in life.
John: Alright, here we go for a big finish.
John: If you had to describe your culture of the Lady Cardinals in three words, what would it be?
Matt: Well, I would say: BE loyal. BE confident. BE versatile.
John: BE loyal. BE confident. BE versatile. That’s phenomenal. Coach Donohue, I can’t thank you enough for spending time with us today. I never end an episode without sharing my favorite quote with my guest. And it’s from Maya Angelou, which is: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And we hope we made you feel part of our tribe. We hope we made you feel welcome. And we certainly hope we made you feel valid.
Matt: Absolutely. Love the quote, and its message is very powerful.
John: You’ve been so gracious to us. We thank you so much. It’s always fun to talk to you. I see you on a regular basis. I thank you for coming on the show. Good luck with MacKenzie.
Matt: I can’t thank you enough for having me. It’s been an incredible experience being on here to share our story and talk about our world and our culture that we’re working towards. And MacKenzie’s doing a great job of keeping me in line. So we’re all good.
John: Thank you so much. We wish you the very best of luck and hopefully after next season, you’ll come on and share with us your success again. And we’ll share you more stories of winning another. How’s that.
Matt: Love to do that. Sounds great. Thanks a lot.
John: Super. Thanks so much, Coach Donohue. BE well.
Matt: You too. Bye-bye.