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Our Conversation with Coach Bob McKilllop

by | Jan 16, 2021 | Local, News, Sports

This 2019 photo of Coach McKillop and one of his granddaughters helps further define the man featured in this interview.


A little less than weeks ago, Coach Bob McKillop hit a monumental mark in college coaching – 600 wins, and specifically – 600 wins at one school.

We asked Coach McKillop to help us give a more personal take on this – above and beyond the press release from Davidson Sports Information.

He was kind enough to share some insights (via a phone call) that we could provide to our News of Davidson (NoD) readers. We decided that putting this in a straightforward Q&A format would be the best way to share what Coach McKillop had to say.

Before we got to the question about 600 wins, we walked things back to the start of his Davidson career.


NoD: What drew you to Davidson in the first place?

Davidson Coach Bob McKillop guiding his team against the defending national champion UNC Tarheels at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte in 2017.

Coach: As a college player at East Carolina in 1968-69 we were in the Southern Conference, and I played against Davidson in my final game at East Carolina – at the Charlotte Coliseum.

I was blown away by the level of support, the level of talent – how good they were.

It was as big-time college atmosphere as I had ever seen.

That year we played against Frank McGuire at South Carolina – which is as big as it gets. I thought Davidson was incredible. So, I just registered that in my mind.

When the opportunity to become an assistant coach at Davidson occurred in ’78 -’79 – I quickly jumped at that chance. Eddie Biedenbach was the head coach – he treated me so kindly. We didn’t win many games, but again I got a terrific feel for the town of Davidson, the community, the campus, the college – life at Davidson.

I said to myself – that’s a pretty darn unique place. There are so many pluses. It just stuck in my mind. I made a lot a of friends during that year I was here and stayed in touch with a lot of them.

When the opportunity for the head position became available, I applied. And I had the fortune of being in the similar situation as Lefty Driesell.

Lefty Driesell was hired as a high school coach to come to Davidson, so maybe they looked a precedent and said let’s hire another high school coach. And that’s how I got here. That’s my arrival.


NoD: Let’s talk a little more about that high school time in between serving as an assistant coach and coming back as the head coach.

Coach: I think it is important to note that prior to coming to Davidson as an assistant coach I was a classroom teacher – a teacher of history and head coach. I also helped out with summer camps.

When I went back to high school, I was an administrator – eventually moving up to headmaster at the school. I didn’t just work summer camps, I ran my own summer camps. I ran clinics.

I had much more of a hands-on, involved, administrative role: managing budgets, managing staff members. Responsible for a lot of different things: raising money, keeping admissions/enrollment at high level. It was a private school, and we needed high enrollment to succeed.

Coach Bob McKillop watches a young Stephen Curry take a shot at the Wooden Classic in 2007.

So, I had a lot of experiences as a high school coach that have paid dividends for me here at Davidson as a college coach.


NoD: What has kept you at Davidson?


Coach: I first have to look at my family. They left the comfort of their home, their own family. My wife’s family. Their grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, their cousins – and they moved 12 hours away – by car – to North Carolina.

The big weekend family gatherings at the all those things that were part of a big close-knit family evaporated. That was a tremendous sacrifice for Cathy and the kids.

As they came down here and got immersed in the Davidson community, the college community their affinity and their love just grew and grew.

They loved it here.

So when something attractive in the college coaching community became available, what did I do? Did I chase the golden ring, or reward the sacrifices my family? Picking up and moving wasn’t fair to them, and that wasn’t good for them.

Stephen Curry and Coach Bob McKillop share a hug at a Davidson College basketball game in Feb. 2019.

I also saw the dream that existed here. That dream of Lefty Dreisell’s glory years – and all those guys who were part of it. That was a bar that was set, and was forever in my vision – whether I got there or not. The inspiration was always there.

The longer I stayed here the more players I had that became part of my family. These guys became part of my family – because of the close-knit nature of Davidson college.

All of a sudden, your family grows and grows. You make commitments to kids and realize how important those commitments are.

Those things kept me here.


NoD: How have you grown as a coach?

Coach: The greatest change, the greatest transformation has been understanding that coaching is a ministry. Coaching is an opportunity. It is a sacred undertaking.

It is a chance to influence lives and help people. Every day that it is presented to me as the Head Coach at Davidson College – as the coach to the players on the team, as a coach with our other coaches, with the people in the Athletic Department – that perhaps is the greatest thing that I have become aware of, and has transformed me is the understanding that this is a sacred venture. This is an opportunity to help.

This is an opportunity for me here. And believe me, I’m not preaching that I’m righteous – by any stretch of the imagination. I have to be woken up, I have to be shaken, to understand that this is an opportunity for me here for that purpose.

I make plenty of mistakes, I still lose my temper, but the guiding light is that this is something that is really a sacred trust.


NoD: 600 wins is a remarkable measure of success. You joined the ranks of Jim Boehiem, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, and Mark Few. Numbers aside, what qualities do you think define a successful coach?

Bob McKillop was visibly emotional – even behind a mask – as he discussed his 600th win. [CBSSN screenshot]

Coach: The players and the coaches who have been part of our program over the years are the ones who define that. By the people they become. The careers they have. The families they raise. The success stories that they write. The leadership that the demonstrate.

It is affirmed and validated by who they are. It is not a number. It is an affirmation and a validation. These guys are part of a brotherhood that is pretty well connected and depends upon each other.

They truly does Trust the culture. There is a Commitment to everyone within the culture. And they Care about everyone within that Davidson basketball culture.


NoD: That’s a great segue to one of the other questions I had jotted down. Several summers ago, you took your team to Auschwitz – and the late Eva Kor was your tour guide. How have you seen that experience play out in their lives as scholar-citizens off the court?

Coach Bob McKillop and his team at the USS Arizona Memorial.

Coach: The greatest messages we got from that trip was (1) the message of forgiveness in the heart of Eva Moses Kor – someone who experienced the horrors, the degradation, you can put any negative adjective next to what she experienced. For her to forgive those people was absolutely a powerful, an extraordinary statement and message for all our guys.

We live in a world with a lot of evil and our guys understand forgiveness.

Another thing is Gratitude. Our guys saw how fortunate we are to live in this country where we live. Despite all of its warts, we are blessed far beyond any other country, almost any other group of people around the world – and there is a sense of gratitude about that.

With this gratitude and forgiveness – how can we make this world a better place. I really think our guys have carried that message someway in their own lives.

NoD: Here, here coach. Thank you! As a biased alum and local resident – you make our campus and community a better place, and we are grateful!





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