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Rick Carlisle: Leading by Example

Rick Carlisle, the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, has an extremely difficult job. During the NBA season, Carlisle is tasked with bonding together a group of 15 fully-grown men, most of whom have multimillion dollar guaranteed contracts. Each of these men has spent his whole life training and preparing to get to this level, yet sometimes they lack motivation to work as hard as they can. That’s where Carlisle and every other NBA coach come in. Aside from drawing up plays and coordinating strategy, an integral part of the head coach’s job is to be a leader.

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As a player, Carlisle had a decorated college career. After two years at the University of Maine, he transferred to the University of Virginia. In 1984, Carlisle, serving as a captain, helped lead the Cavaliers to the Final Four. Soon after the Boston Celtics drafted him, beginning a five-year NBA playing career that included stints with the Celtics, Rockets, Lakers, Knicks, and Nets. As a young role player in 1986, Carlisle won a championship on a team that featured Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, and Bill Walton. “I’m still very close friends with some of those guys,” Carlisle says. “When you’re on a championship team, there’s a closeness there that never goes away.”

During his time with the Nets in 1989, his final stop as a player, Carlisle played for only a month before he was waived, ending his playing career. “The call came in one day,” Carlisle says, “and [then Nets coach Bill Fitch] said, ‘Well you’re waived.’ I started to thank him for the opportunity and he said, ‘No just wait a minute. If you’re interested, I’ve got an open assistant job.’ It was an easy decision.”

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When Carlisle started as an assistant with the Nets that season, he was mostly on the road scouting, but he moved his way up until he got his first head coaching job with the Detroit Pistons in 2001. Since then, he has served as a head coach for the Indiana Pacers, and he is currently head coach of the Dallas Mavericks.

During his time with the Mavericks, Carlisle has been extremely successful, including winning the NBA Championship over the Heat in 2011. “I’ve been asked which one’s more meaningful, [winning a championship as a player or as a coach],” Carlisle says. “The coaching one’s more meaningful because you’re more involved with everything that’s going on.” As a coach and a leader, Carlisle preaches accountability, hoping to build chemistry while making sure everyone is responsible for their actions. “When you’re in charge of a group of people, you have to keep them accountable, but the most important thing is that you’re accountable.”

In his veteran players, Carlisle hopes to have guys that will set good examples for the younger players. “People will follow leaders who set a great example much more effectively than leaders who just talk about what needs to be done,” he says. “I find that getting [veteran players’] input is critical because they know what’s going on in the locker room.” Since he’s been with the Mavericks, Carlisle has been lucky enough to have one of the best veteran leaders in the NBA in power forward Dirk Nowitzki. “There are only 12 guys in the league’s history who have been 10-time all-stars, a league MVP, and a Finals MVP, and he’s one of them.”

From his college days as a captain of a Final Four team at Virginia, to winning a championship playing with the Celtics, to coaching the Mavericks to a title, Rick Carlisle has been extremely successful wherever he’s gone. Carlisle has made teams better, and in the case of Virginia and Dallas, he helped teams do things they were never expected to do. This year and in the years to come, Carlisle will surely stay focused on leading the Mavericks back to the top. “Now the challenge is to repeat that dream.”