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NCAA Tournament: Working and caring is what made Mercer coach Bob Hoffman successful

COMMENTARY — From Southern Nazarene to Oklahoma Baptist to Mercer, longtime coach has thrived because of his passion.
by Berry Tramel Published: March 22, 2014

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.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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