Lessons on Leading Through Change from Nick Bayer and Coach K

I will never forget where I was and the shock I felt when Bo Ryan uttered the words, “we don’t rent-a-player.” 

It was April 7th, 2015, and Bo’s Wisconsin Badgers had just lost to the Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA Championship game. That was Duke’s first NCAA Championship since Coach K had not only accepted the one-and-done players but embraced them.

As Duke celebrated on the court, Bo stood outside the Wisconsin locker room and conducted a post-game interview with CBS and he uttered those words that made college basketball fans gasp.

Now, I was and am a huge Bo Ryan fan. I was fortunate enough to get to know Bo during my coaching days and he was someone that helped me and my teams out on more than one occasion.

That is why I cringed. I knew what Bo stood for as a coach, what types of kids he recruited, and how he wanted his teams to play. That is what made Bo and his teams so good.

This a man who, after winning four Division III National Championships at Wisconsin-Platteville and serving as Head Coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee for two years, won three Big Ten Tournament titles, four Big Ten regular-season championships, and went to back to back Final Fours in 2014 and 2015.

And here he was, on college basketball’s biggest stage, acting like things weren’t fair for his Badgers.


In my humble opinion, it was because he was frustrated at the way the game was changing.

A lot of great coaches were and one of the most outspoken critics of the one-and-done era when it began in 2006 was Duke’s Mike Kryzewski.

As a matter of fact, in 2005, when the NBA was considering a rule change that required players to be at least 19 before entering the draft Coach K stated, “I would never recruit a kid who said, ‘I’m just coming for a year’, I never have. “…For our school, we can’t do that. A kid says, ‘I’m going to come use you for a year’- that’s not what we should do.”

Coach K resisted change for the longest time as for three decades he saw trends come and go in a sport that was always changing, yet he continued to win doing it the same way every year. By bringing in highly touted freshmen who develop over their careers, the majority of them becoming significant contributors their junior and senior seasons.

Then it happened…Duke began to slide down the annual recruiting rankings as Coach K claimed he’d never participate in the one-and-done trend.

In the 2008 NCAA Tournament West Virginia had upset Duke in the second round. One day, not long after that game, Coach K walked into a coaching staff meeting and told his staff that, as he saw it, they had two choices: They could either recruit the nation’s best players or accept that Duke would be playing against them!

“The world changed,” he said…so he decided he’d better change too. “We have to keep adapting.”

The shift in Coach K’s approach also included the way he coached the new generation of players. When he reflects on the old days, he says he was more of a micro-manager.

Now, he considers his players’ motivations and wishes, occasionally reveals his sense of humor and is able to delegate more tasks to his staff and yes…he even sends emojis to players.

But Duke Basketball has not changed what it stands for.

Fit is important, with Duke’s tradition, history of developing leaders, and rigorous academics.

“You’ve got to just keep going at it and trying to recruit the guys you think would be good for Duke,” Coach K says.

Assistant Coach Jeff Capel adds, “When we recruit, even with the kids we know are going to be one-and-done…we felt like they fit the profile of the kind of guys we want.”

Selfless, high-character, talented, committed, workers, and winners.

There is no doubt that Coach K and Duke basketball represent resiliency at its finest.

Resiliency in Business

Resiliency is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness. It is the ability to withstand disruptive shocks, manage complexity, and recover from challenging times.

Resilient organizations require a special kind of leader- one who accepts reality and understands the challenges they face, has a solid grasp of the risk and opportunities that are present, ability to communicate these things to stakeholders and has integrity, energy, and passion.

Resilient leaders have a vision, with long-term thinking being a key to their evolution and ability to improvise.

We live in a world where trends and societal moods are always changing with the pace and range of change today being unlike anything we have ever seen in our lifetime.

Change is good.

Change is necessary.

At the end of the day though…change is going to happen.

Resilient leaders understand that, and they accept reality and the challenges that they face.

Not only that, they have a solid grasp of the risk and they embrace the OPPORTUNITIES that are present.


Change is uncomfortable. Heck…it can be downright frightening for some people and for the organizations and leaders who push back on change and do not respond quickly enough…well, they fail.

Take Kodak, a technology company that dominated the photographic film market during most of the 20th century. Did you know that they could have led the digital photography revolution years ago?


Kodak engineer, Steve Sasson, actually invented…that’s right invented…the first digital camera back in 1975. Almost 45 years ago!

 The leaders of Kodak failed to see digital photography as a disruptive technology.

Don Strickland, a former vice-president of Kodak said, “We developed the world’s first consumer digital camera but we could not get approval to launch or sell it because of fear of the effects on the film market.”

Kodak was so dialed into the film success they completely missed the digital revolution even though they started it. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

It seems as though Kodak was playing not to lose as opposed to playing to win….merely surviving and then eventually just trying to keep their head above water.

The Difference

Unlike the leadership at Kodak, resilient leaders and organizations have several traits that set them apart from those who are simply trying to survive and keep their heads above water. Those include:

  • External awareness and appreciation of trends

  • Compelling vision and strategy formula

  • Risk awareness, assessment, and management

  • Stakeholder engagement

  • Flexibility and adaptability to change

  • Ethics and integrity

Nick Bayer and Saxbys Evolution

You do not have to suffer setbacks on the biggest stage of your industry to make a change. Often we wait to change until the pain of failure has become greater than the pain of change.

A wonderful example of a resilient leader with exceptional awareness and appreciation of trends along with the ability to execute a strategy moving forward is Nick Bayer, Founder, and CEO of Saxbys, a coffee and hospitality company.


People’s changing attitudes toward food compelled his team and him to completely overhaul the menu at Saxbys. They went through every single menu category and made them more inclusive by adding vegan options.

Get this…

Saxbys added a Veggie Smash lunch sandwich at all cafes while completely revamping their smoothies so they are 100% vegan. Their customers’ favorite coffee drinks are now being made with oat and almond milk. They offer plant-powered oats, power bites, seasonal fruit, and veggie cups.

Saxbys guest demographic skews younger as their cafes are located on or near college campuses and younger people want healthier options – they demand healthier options.

Like Coach K, Nick and Saxbys did not stray from their mission which is to ‘Make Life Better.’

Here is another thing that makes Nick so damn good at what he does…

In an article Nick wrote for LinkedIn he said, “Like our guests, I’m noticing all these trends – and the delicious plant-based food options available – and changing my diet accordingly…I feel like our guests and I are on this healthy journey together. As I continue to make healthier choices, our guests are too – and I’m excited to ride this healthy wave right alongside them.”

What’s Next

Nick Bayer shows us that change, though hard work, does not have to be painful. It can be an enjoyable experience especially when your spirit of authenticity leads the way.

The key is your awareness and the ability to courageously act on what you see.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is trending in my industry that we are not doing?

  2. What is trending in other industries that could be a game-changer for us?

  3. Who can help me answer these questions?

Dig deep, get to the answers, and then get to work!


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