Bob Hoffman, by his own testimony, is a psycho. What he really means is, he’s passionate. All in, no matter the cause.
That’s what makes Hoffman a successful coach. Not just strategy. Not just X’s and O’s. Not just recruiting. All those things are important.
But working. Caring. Getting your players to work and care. That’s how you produce a quality team. That’s how you take down Duke.
Great coaches can be found all over. Some live in the spotlight. Others never get there. Some enter, then depart quickly. Some seize the opportunity when it comes.
Hoffman seized the opportunity Friday, when America discovered what Oklahomans have known for a while. Hoffman is a great coach. Men or women. Small college or major college. Doesn’t matter. Hoffman can coach.
Hoffman’s Mercer Bears, the pride of Macon, Ga., stunned mighty Duke 78-71 Friday in Raleigh, N.C., to become the NCAA Tournament’s biggest Cinderella story. Mercer, a 14-seed in the Midwest Regional, plays Tennessee on Sunday for a trip to the Sweet 16.
And a coaching lifer, who won the NAIA national title with the Southern Nazarene women in 1989 and coached the Oklahoma Baptist men to two NAIA title games in the ’90s, suddenly is a star.
Just as Hoffman spent 25 years to become an overnight sensation, his Bears didn’t beat Duke with stardust sprinkled Friday. Their senior-dominated team excelled through years of hard work. Hoffman repeatedly has praised his team for its willingness to work.
“Freshman year, he was hard on us, to say the least,” Mercer’s Daniel Coursey said during a press conference Saturday in Raleigh. “I think he just doesn't accept what we are. He's always trying to make us better.”
Said Mercer point guard Langston Hall, “He doesn’t accept just mediocrity.”
Gary Banz saw that passion 40 years ago. Banz, now an Oklahoma legislator, coached Hoffman on the Putnam City junior varsity in the ’70s.
“I don’t know what you can tell about any kid that’s a sophomore or junior in high school,” Banz said, “but Bob always had an incredible work ethic. I don’t know if you’d call him a gym rat or not, but he was always around when the doors were open. Always been his passion over the years.”
Passion. That’s Hoffman’s buzzword.
“I’m a psycho,” Hoffman told the media in Raleigh. “I mean, I'm just a big psycho. Whatever I do, I'm all in. Whether it's at church worshipping, if it's on the floor coaching, if it's eating fried chicken, getting my iced tea, I'm all in.
“I'm going to give all I got, and that's just how I'm wired and it's important to me to get guys that want to be coached that way because that's what the most important thing that a lot of people don't understand. These guys, even to this point, and no matter what, they wanted to be coached today.”
The Bears did something unusual Saturday during their practice at the PNC Arena. They ran wind sprints, punishment for a few misdeeds against Duke. Strange for a day between sessions of the NCAA Tournament.
“But to me, that's about passion, want to do the best,” Hoffman said. “It's about excellence. How good can you be? Well, you better bring it every day if you're going to be the best.
“We don't take days off. We may not go hard, but we're trying to get better mentally. We're trying to get better physically. Might be getting better spiritually, whatever. We're getting better somehow to be a better man so we can be the best we can be when we step out on that floor.”
That’s the passion Banz has seen all these years, including through his daughter, Michelle, who played a season at Southern Nazarene for Hoffman before he took the OBU job.
“It’s a people business, especially at that level and the higher levels you go,” Banz said. “There are a lot of teams that have a lot of good players. It’s finding the passion button individually and collectively that puts the components of a team together. He’s always had a knack of being able to do that.”
Since beating Duke, Hoffman said he has heard from at least a few players on every team he’s ever coached. Piedmont High School. SNU. OBU. Texas-Pan American. OU, as an assistant under Kelvin Sampson. Minor league teams in Little Rock, Ark., and Hidalgo, Texas.
“When you're as old as me, that's a lot of folks all over the country and all over the world getting messages from all over the place,” Hoffman said. “So that was a blessing. It’s nice to know you have people that care like those folks did.”
No surprise there. Making people care is why Mercer beat Duke.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.