Bob Richey has never been afraid to dream big. Like many who pounded the pavement with a basketball growing up, the Florence, South Carolina, native envisioned a day when he’d be playing for a Division I college team in front of thousands of adoring fans. Afterward, who knew? Coaching? The NBA? When you refuse to put boundaries on where you can go and what you can achieve—and you’re willing to work hard in pursuit of those goals—future possibilities truly do seem limitless.
Of course, some dreams don’t come true.
Despite a stellar high school career, Richey came to realize that he wasn’t meant to compete on the Division I level. Ultimately, he signed with Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, then later transferred to North Greenville University, a Division II institution in South Carolina where he finished his playing eligibility and completed his degree.
Following graduation and a five-year stint as an assistant coach at Charleston Southern University, Richey landed a spot as an assistant at Furman University, a private liberal arts college located in Greenville, South Carolina. Six years later, in April 2017, at age 34, he took over the program, making him one of the youngest Division I head coaches in the country at the time.
More than two years into his head coaching career, Richey has guided Furman to unprecedented heights. The Paladins completed a school-record-tying 23-win campaign in his first season (2017–2018) and followed it with 25 wins in 2018–2019, including victories over defending national champion Villanova and 2018 NCAA Final Four participant Loyola–Chicago. Furman finished the season with a 25–8 overall record and earned the school’s first trip to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) since 1991.
Richey’s enthusiasm is contagious, and anyone looking to inspire an organization should appreciate his thoughts on leadership, building teams, and always striving to improve. His words—the spoken manifestation of his personal dream—resonate as well in the boardroom as they do on the court. Since he is a coach accustomed to giving direction, we asked him to share his visions for leadership and success. Here’s what he had to say:
I believe culture isn’t a point where you arrive—it’s something that’s built daily. It’s a living organism inside your organization, the accumulation of your attitudes and behaviors. So your culture will be defined today by how you go about your daily activities. How do you approach those small details? Can you really understand that your culture will be defined by some of the things that separate you?
For us, it’s about being deliberate, having an urgency and an immediacy behind our desire to improve. When you see ALL DIN—the second part is an acronym for Deliberate Improvement Now—we want everybody inside the walls of our organization to live ALL DIN and to make sure it’s part of our everyday culture.
A huge part of leadership is having humility. When we have humility, we acknowledge the gifts that we’ve been given. But we also acknowledge that we’ve got to continue to get better, continue to learn, continue to grow.
It’s easy to stand back and say, “Something’s not right. Who’s messing it up?” Because I’m a leader, it’s got to start with me. If there’s something in our organization that I don’t feel is correct, then I’ve got to have the humility to self-reflect and ask myself what I could be doing better. I have to be okay with that.
There’s magic in the messy—having this self-reflection and figuring out how you can improve and then creating processes and procedures that can get the results you really want. It’s hard, but you have to be willing to break all that down and literally get a group of people saying, “How can we get better today?” That’s where the magic takes place.
I want people on my team who want to bloom where they’re planted. And I want to take people and help them grow by putting them in a structure that’s going to stretch and pull and create the tension that’s going to make that growth take place. And then I want to see the final product. That’s the reward.
As a program, we want to identify differentiators. You can easily get into doing what everybody else is doing, what’s popular at the moment. I think that can cap your growth, so I like to find ideas that we can apply to the way we do things to be unique and stand out in college basketball.
Being different helps you align the people you’re trying to [recruit] with the people you’re trying to produce. When they see your vision, they’re going to feel it. And if they want to be a part of it, it’s really going to be hard for them to say no to it. If they don’t want to be a part of it, then they’re going to say no to it. There’s almost this built-in filter that helps you in your selection process.
Make big plans. Aim high and hope and work. I’m not trying to chase what we’ve already done. I’m trying to chase something better. We’re trying to build a legacy around here that can impact our whole community.
For us, success is [defined as] are we chasing the best version of ourselves on a daily basis? I don’t want success to be measured by how many games we win—I want winning to be a by-product of everything else we do. I want to win games because we win every day. That scoreboard is going to be in our favor because we won today. We want to focus more on the things that will create the results as opposed to just focusing on the results.
It’s not about your five-year plan. It’s not about your goals. It’s not about what you want to do. It’s about being deliberate in your improvement right now, this second, to be your absolute best, to go chase greatness in everything you do and accumulate that over 365 days, then just see where you end up. It’s amazing when you don’t spend all that time sketching all this stuff out and just attack it. Do it with passion, do it with conviction. I think that’s the fun part in the world and in life, just seeing if we can sometimes outperform our own expectations. Often, that’s the reward behind it. That’s when we win.