Eye of the Storm

by Gabe Gilson

Something special happened in the town of Aberdeen, S.D., this year that not many people have realized.

Division II Northern State University resides in Aberdeen and for the almost 2,500 students, Don Meyer has been a staple of consistency for the men’s basketball program.

Because of his current circumstances, the 65-year-old Meyer will retire after the season and will go out holding the record for the most all-time wins as a basketball coach.

922 wins. How can somebody even begin to fathom that? All the work and talent it takes to get just one win can be hard enough, but 922? That is how Meyer will leave his mark. Meyer has coached at three different schools and has been at Northern State since 1999. He has been with the school for 38 years, married to his wife Carmen for 42 years.

Driving late at night on Sept. 5, 2008, Meyer fell asleep on the road in his Toyota Prius. The car drifted across lanes and slammed head-on into a semi truck hauling 90,000 pounds of grain.

The truck driver was fine but survival of a wreck like this looked bleak for Meyer. His wife met him at the trauma center of the hospital only to find out Don had cancer.

Along with broken bones and cuts, the bottom part of Meyer’s leg had to be amputated because the bone was sticking out of the body.

Meyer’s character showed through as he considered himself lucky to have been in the crash. There would have been no way of knowing he had cancer at this early of a stage had he not been in the wreck.

After surgery and therapy, Meyer was able to sign his release papers less than two months later on Oct. 30. The next day at 4:45 a.m., he showed up to work.

At first, Meyer couldn’t do much but sit and take notes in his wheelchair from the sideline. After some time, Meyer was back to his old ways, motivating, coaching and telling his kids how to play the game.

In July 2009, Meyer was honored with the prestigious ESPN Jimmy V Perseverance award at the ESPY’s for the strength that he showed throughout his career and with the accident.

Today, Meyer is able to coach and has for the past two seasons; however, he is still far from being in good health. At the beginning of the season, Meyer turned in his resignation papers and decided it was a good time to step down from coaching. He will stay with the college in the role of Regent Distinguished Professor.

Of all the greatest coaches, Meyer reigns supreme. Bob Knight did hold the record but retired with 902 career wins. Mike Krzyzewski is still active and with 857 wins currently, could possibly catch Meyer. Ninety-nine-year-old John Wooden, considered by some as the greatest basketball coach, only made it to 644 wins. My favorite coach ever, former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy has a long way to go at 320 wins.

Meyer’s accomplishments despite his circumstances are nothing short of phenomenal. Of course Meyer would love to be going out on top but to retire with the most wins of all time is about as close as anyone can get. Well-played coach, well-played.