Dads Finding Success Coaching Sons
The Associated Press, Eric Olson
OMAHA, Neb.—Theresa McDermott is enjoying the ultimate season for a basketball wife and mom.
Her husband, Greg, is head coach of 13th-ranked Creighton. Her son, Doug, is the headline player for the Bluejays.
"Now I've got what I always wanted — Greg to coach Doug," she said. "The way it all evolved was perfect."
Theresa's joy notwithstanding, fathers coaching their sons can be an albatross for both, especially in a high-profile sport like Division I men's basketball. Fans, media and teammates watch their every move.
Is dad giving son playing time he wouldn't get if someone else were his coach? Does son receive preferential treatment? Did son really earn that scholarship or was it a gift from dad?
One thing's for sure. It's a lot easier when the son is the best or one of the best players on the team.
At Creighton, Doug McDermott is the third-leading scorer in the country (23.5 ppg) and getting mentioned as a candidate for national player of the year.
At Central Michigan, coach Ernie Ziegler's son Trey is averaging 16.1 points and 7.0 rebounds to lead his team and rank among the best in the Mid-American Conference.
At Detroit, coach Ray McCallum's son Ray Jr. is scoring a Horizon League-best 15.6 points.
At UC Davis, coach Jim Les' son Tyler has been used mostly as a sixth man but leads the Big West Conference in 3-point shooting (.462), and his 9.9-point average is second on the team.
The fathers and coaches interviewed said that they spoke with other coaches who have gone through the experience before they invited their sons to play for them.
Seems the pros outweighed the cons every time.
"In my mind, overall, our relationship is a lot stronger both as a father-son, coach-player, because we've got the two intertwined," Jim Les said.
There is a long line of fathers who have coached their sons. Among them: "Press" and Pete Maravich at LSU, Al and "Allie" McGuire at Marquette, Dick and Tony Bennett at Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wade and Allan Houston at Tennessee, Bob and Pat Knight at Indiana, Eddie and Sean Sutton at Oklahoma State, Homer and Bryce Drew at Valparaiso, Tubby and Saul Smith at Kentucky.
Greg McDermott had never coached Doug at any level before he and his son arrived together at Creighton last season.
Doug had signed a letter of intent with Northern Iowa before Greg resigned from Iowa State to take the Creighton job. UNI coach Ben Jacobson, a longtime friend of the McDermotts, released Doug so he could join his dad in Omaha.
Their first year together had some rough patches.
"Sometimes Doug would say to me, 'Is my coach yelling at me or is my dad yelling at me?'" Theresa McDermott said. "Doug had a difficult time, like, 'How do I take this from this guy?' This year, he just gets it."
Greg acknowledged he sometimes was harder on Doug than other players, and there were times when Doug would respond to dad's — ahem — coach's instructions with the rolling of his eyes.
"Not that he was uncoachable last year — because he wasn't. He just didn't know how to react to what his dad was saying as a coach," Greg said. "That's been better this year. It's a period of adjustment for both of us. It's gone as smooth as we could possibly hope."
When Doug leaves the dormitory to go to his parents' house, basketball talk stops at the door and "Coach" becomes "Dad."
"He doesn't need me drilling him on how he's supposed to defend a ball screen," Greg said, "when he's out for a Sunday dinner."
Trey Ziegler declined scholarship offers from Michigan, Michigan State, UCLA and Arizona State to play for his dad at Central Michigan.
Some people have told him he was crazy for turning down the big schools, but the sophomore guard said he has no regrets. He comes from a close-knit family, and he said he couldn't imagine being away from them.
Ernie and Trey Ziegler have shared basketball experiences for almost all of Trey's life. Ernie said he remembers coaching a summer AAU team about 20 years ago with Trey on the bench next to him in a baby car seat.
"At that stage, I never thought about me being his coach," Ernie said, "but as you get further along in life, the reality of it came to fruition. It has its potential for ups and downs if you're not able to stay level about it.
"I love my son, and it's just about pushing him as a player, as his coach. But at the same time I want to help him make the next step to become a full-fledged adult."
Like Trey Ziegler, Ray McCallum Jr. passed on chances to go to a school in a power conference so he could play for his dad. He was a McDonald's All-American in 2010 and had offers from Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and UCLA.
"At the end of the day, my dad knew my game better than any coach in the country," Ray Jr. said. "It worked out for the best. I've become a much better player under him in his system. He's tough on me and gets the best out me every day."
Jim Les took over at UC Davis this season after Tyler already had been there for a year. Tyler enthusiastically welcomed his dad.
Their only clash came in the sixth game, a close one against Sacramento State. During a timeout, Jim chewed out Tyler and the other guards for lackadaisical play on defense.
"He showed some displeasure, a little eye roll like, 'Here he goes again, off on one of his tangents again,' " Jim said.
Jim nipped it, calling Tyler into his office the next day, like he would any other player, and giving him a talking-to about his reaction in the huddle the night before.
"We worked it out, and we haven't had a problem ever since," Tyler said.
The coaches said if the son doesn't respect the coach's authority, the other players surely won't.
Jim Les said he knows his players watch the interaction between father and son and are on the lookout for dad cutting his boy some slack in situations where he wouldn't for others.
"After the game," he said, "I do a self-check of making sure that I'm making the right decisions based on basketball and not decisions based on the fact I'm married to his mother."
The coaches said they're cherishing the time they're spending with their sons and making lifetime memories.
''There's nothing more fulfilling," Ernie Ziegler said, "than when you're doing something with somebody you love."