Coach Don Meyer is an undisputed legend at Lipscomb.
Meyer coached Lipscomb basketball from 1975 – 1999 — back when the school was still NAIA — and led the Bisons to 13 NAIA national tournaments, three Final Fours and won the 1986 NAIA National Championship. One of his star players was Philip Hutcheson who played for Meyer from 1986 – 1990, broke college basketball’s all-time scoring record at the time, scored 4,106 points during his career and was selected as the 1990 NAIA Player of the Year.
This fall, Meyer will be adding yet another accolade to his prestigious career, as he’ll be posthumously inducted into the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame in Evansville, Indiana.
Hutcheson said the organization was established to recognize coaches and players who played for universities that weren’t a “Power Five” school, or a larger institution.
“It was created because there was a feeling that there were a lot of great athletes and coaches whose contributions to basketball weren’t recognized nationally as much as they probably should’ve been,” Hutcheson said. “Maybe the people who know the game well would know them, but the casual sports fan would not know them as much. And so I think this organization was kind of created to help tell the stories of these people who otherwise might not be recognized as they probably should have.”
Meyer is already a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the South Dakota Hall of Fame, the Lipscomb Athletics Hall of Fame and the Northern State Athletics Hall of Fame.
However, Hutcheson noted how Meyer is different in that he was known for more than just basketball. An intelligent and respected member of the Lipscomb and Nashville community, Meyer was a teacher — a quality Hutcheson cites as his coach’s greatest legacy.
After a car crash in 2008, doctors found cancer in the coach’s liver and intestines during emergency surgery. His lower left leg had to be amputated below the knee due to injuries; during the surgery, doctors discovered the cancer and later operated on it.
Lipscomb alum Casey Bond told this story through his independent film, My Many Sons, released in 2016.
“There’s a lot of people in Nashville who knew Lipscomb through Coach Meyer,” Hutcheson said.
Because of this, Hutcheson organized the Don Meyer Evening of Excellence to recognize Meyer’s contribution to the Lipscomb.
“Coach Meyer had been gone for two or three years, and we really felt like it would be a time for us to reconnect him and Lipscomb, and also to recognize the contribution he had made to not just athletics, but to the University,” Hutcheson said. “Thankfully he was willing and able to be a part of it until he passed away.”
Speaking about his former coach and mentor, Hutcheson noted that other than his father, Coach Meyer was of the most influential people in his life, as he taught his players about more than just the game of basketball.
“He was a tremendous coach as his record shows, and I believe he’s in four or five hall of fames already, so he’s certainly been recognized by people who know basketball,” Hutcheson said.” But beyond that, he was just great at tying the lesson from basketball into lessons from life — and things that you would use as a person who was in business or as a teacher or as a parent or as a member of the community.
“So really the basketball part of it was really important, but the rest of it was what made him rise above the other coaches he was competing with.”
Hutcheson played during the biggest and most successful part of Meyer’s career, but the memories he shared regarding his coach did not revolve around basketball, but rather his character and intelligence.
“One of the things I think about a lot with him is I just came across an old voice recorder in a box of things I was moving, and it made me think of him because, before everybody had smartphones with recorders on them, he had to carry around a little dictation machine, a voice recorder in his pocket, and all day, he would just record ideas he was having or things he had read or articles or notes about people,” Hutcheson said. “He was one of the most well-read students of not just basketball, but leadership and success. So really that’s the kind of thing I remember about him, more than a practice or a game.”
Hutcheson also remembered the pens. Meyer was known for his pens, and according to Hutcheson, after his coach’s car accident, Meyer received thousands of pens that people sent him as get-well gifts.
“My favorite memory would be that [voice recorder] or how he and I used to always trade pens; because he just took notes all the time; he always had three or four pens with him and something to write on,” Hutcheson said. “We’d always see, you know — what pen are you using? — and we’d trade pens or whatever.”
While Meyer coached during the NAIA era, Hutcheson took over as Lipscomb Athletic Director in 2008 to lead the Bisons through a big change as the school moved to NCAA status.
“I think he [Meyer] would be surprised and pleased with how how far we’ve come,” Hutcheson said. “I think he would be happy and pleased to see that Lipscomb hasn’t sacrificed the values upon which it was built in elevating the athletic program. A lot of times in the athletic program, there’s a concern that you can have students, or you can have athletes, but you can’t really have student-athletes; it’s either one or the other, but I think Lipscomb has shown that it can do both, and it can also hold to the Christian values that the school has held for 125 years, and I think that’s the thing he’d be most pleased with to see that Lipscomb hasn’t had to abandon that in order to succeed athletically.”
Lipscomb has kept Meyer’s goal to have both students and athletes since its NCAA transition, and the school recently won the Atlantic Sun Academic trophy for the fourth consecutive year — an honor that results from being the school with the most student-athletes that have a 3.0 GPA or higher.
Hutcheson said this value system, which Meyer tried to instill in all his players, is what Meyer’s legacy is. It’s why he’s being inducted into yet another Hall of Fame and receiving another prestigious honor.
“There’s an old saying where a person asks a coach — what do you think about your team this year? And the coach says — ask me in 20 years, and I”ll tell you what I think,” Hutcheson recalled. “And the implication is that as important as what you’re doing as a coach in that moment might be, the fruit of your work isn’t going to be seen until 10 or 20 years down the line. So I think Coach Meyer’s legacy is how you look at so many of the people who have been influenced by him directly. But then you see how those people have then passed those lessons on to others; it just gets handed down.
“That’s really what I think the main legacy is. It’s in all of those people that have been multiplied over the years that continue to pass on those lessons that he taught several years ago.’
Photo courtesy of Lipsomb Athletics