Northern State University coach Don Meyer, one of the nation’s most successful basketball coaches of all time, died Sunday, May 18, finally succumbing to cancer after a courageous six-year fight. Meyer was 69.
Meyer made college basketball history in 2009, surpassing Bobby Knight as the career victory leader. For two years (2009-2011), Meyer held the record for most wins for a men’s college basketball coach. Meyer retired in 2010 with an overall win-loss record of 923-324. His most-wins record was topped a year later by another basketball great, Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Meyer’s battle with cancer began in September 2008 when doctors treating him for injuries sustained in a life-threatening car crash discovered cancer in his liver and intestines during emergency surgery. Doctors amputated Meyer’s left leg below the knee as a result of injuries he received in the crash. Several days later they operated on the cancer.
Despite an 8-week stay in the hospital, Meyer returned to the sidelines for the duration of the 2008-09 season, leading the Wolves to their second straight appearance in the Division II national tournament in March.
Meyer's challenges garnered national media attention throughout the 2008-09 season. He was awarded the Jimmy V. Award for Perseverance at the 2009 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles. He also received the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, given by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for significant contributions to the sport of basketball.
Meyer is also the subject of an extensive biography, “How Lucky You Can Be: The Story of Coach Don Meyer,” written by ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney. Olney has had a close relationship with Meyer since Olney was assigned to cover baseball in Nashville while Meyer was coaching at Lipscomb University.
Meyer coached at Hamline University (3 years); Lipscomb University, Nashville (24 years); and Northern State University, Aberdeen, S.D. (11 years). Meyer’s teams made countless national tournament appearances, including one national NAIA championship (Libscomb 1986).
Meyer’s name is respected nationally in the coaching ranks. Well over 10,000 coaches from all over the nation have attended the Don Meyer Coaches Academy, where featured speakers have included Pat Summitt, John Wooden, Dick Bennett, Tubby Smith and Jerry Krause.
Don Meyer is survived by his wife, Carmen; son, Jerry; daughters, Brooke and Brittney; and several grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.
A memorial service will be held in Aberdeen, S.D., on the campus of Northern State University at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 24, in the Joseph H. Barnett Center on Don Meyer Court.
A second memorial service will be held in Nashville, Tenn., on the campus of Lipscomb University on Sunday, June 1, on Don Meyer Court in the Lipscomb University Allen Arena.
For information, news updates, to share Don Meyer memories or obtain information on memorial gifts, go to coachmeyertribute.com