Bringing order to a chaotic life, one day at a time

Buzz Williams is as intense off the court as he is on it.  (USA TODAY Sports)

Buzz Williams is as intense off the court as he is on it. (USA TODAY Sports)

This is Part 2 of an exclusive five-part series documenting how Marquette head coach Buzz Williams has grown since he took over the helm in 2008.

Part I (Sept. 9): Four dusty corners: Where it all began

Buzz Williams’ spacious office in the southeast corner of the Al McGuire Center on Marquette’s campus is the definition of ordered chaos.

Like moss on a weathered rock, frames and photos cover the walls. They engulf all available space, from tabletops to desks to sinks, nestling in any flat or vertical space. His wife and kids are prominent subjects of these portraits, residing in every nook and bend. And physical memories of Buzz’s Bunch members and former players aren’t far behind.

Lying flat on the floor to the right of Williams’ desk are about 15 large, blue envelopes, glossy with a Marquette theme that would distinguish it from your average USPS correspondence. They are addressed to worthy recipients but rest empty for now, waiting to be filled with words of encouragement, gratitude and love.

The rest of the office is filled with books and trinkets of symbolic value to their owner. A large, gold basketball trophy gleams under the eastern-most window, a hint of sun commemorating Davante Gardner’s 2013 Big East Sixth Man of the Year award. Across the room, atop shelf-upon-shelf of diverse literature, is an army boot worn by Williams on the deck of the USS Yorktown, a memento of a game that never was or will be, but an incredible experience he won’t soon forget.

Cluttered? Absolutely.

Messy? Not in your wildest dreams.

Buzz Williams doesn’t do messy. The Van Alstyne, Tex., native lives off of rigid organization.


One computer-generated 8-by-12 inch piece of paper is the scaffolding of not only Williams’ day-to-day life, but the Marquette basketball program as a whole. Every hour of every day is mapped out in a meticulously detailed calendar that is adhered to with zealous rigidity.

Take Sept. 3, the date of Paint Touches’ interview, for example.

It began as most days leading up to the start of basketball season do, with early morning individual workouts for his team.

This wasn’t an average Tuesday in the Williams household, though.

It was the first day of the school year, which meant it was time for the ceremonial “team picture” with all four of his kids, and taking those kids to school. Williams wanted to personally see his kids off this morning, as fathers are wont to do at the start of a new semester.

Be sure to read Part 1 of our Buzz Williams series on how four dusty corners started it all.

Be sure to read Part 1 of our Buzz Williams series on how four dusty corners started it all.

That was followed with a media interview, a compliance meeting, book-club meeting with Chris Otule, dinner with his assistant Barb Kellaher and her husband, Rich, and finishing the day off by re-running individual workouts (Williams kicked out every group in the morning session in classic Buzz form.)

“So what?” you may ask. Plenty of busy people lead busy lives and most use calendars to help sort out the clutter. Williams is neither original nor unique in this regard.

You’d be right. Williams hasn’t created the wheel. His schedule has been packed pretty much since he took over 1,974 days before we spoke to him. In fact, the Chicago Tribune had a much more detailed and interesting day-in-the-life story of the man they call Buzz all the way back in 2008.

All that is true. But, and there is always a but, few people in the world, let alone those in prominent Division I athletic coaching capacities, have ever been more attached to that one sheet of paper.

Buzz’s schedule is no mere guide or road map; it is the vehicle upon which he traverses his frenetic life. If it’s not on the schedule, it’s not on his mind and it most definitely is not going to get done.

Take recruiting, for example.

“Everything is off of this calendar,” Williams told Paint Touches. “I’m not real big on meetings because I think meetings sometimes are a waste of time.”

Buzz’s preliminary schedule for the month will be printed up and distributed around the office to coaches, managers, secretaries, drink stockers and whoever will be a part of Williams’ life the next month. As it pertains to recruiting, the assistant coaches will know exactly when he will be available to help reel in the catch, and when he’ll be unavailable. It’s either on the calendar or it isn’t.

“So (assistant coach Isaac) Chew is never gonna say to me, ‘Hey Buzz, can we go see Mark on Friday?’ He’s never asking that question until he gets the latest [calendar].”

The Reds are in town? Buzz will be catching up with Dusty.

Blue and Gold Fund auction? Buzz is needed there.

Every recruiter will know exactly what date and what time Williams will be available.

But that’s not all it’s used for.

If it's not on Buzz' calender, it's not getting done, no matter what that "it" might be.

If it’s not on Buzz’ calender, it’s not getting done, no matter what that “it” might be.

Every Monday, each coach will provide Williams with their calls for the week, referencing which recruits they are looking at, how they are communicating and so forth. Williams will then have a list of people to contact throughout the week and whether they require calls or texts.

Related, the calendar contains every recruit who is either scheduled to visit campus or be visited by Buzz for the month. Subsequent pages behind the calender have a color-coded chart for players being recruited, organized by position and year.

“It’s the real dudes,” as Williams called them, “not those other guys we’re messing with that I don’t know of — if you make it to this list, you’re real people. And that’s the list, in essence, that I go from.”

So you have daily activities and an all-encompassing recruiting guide down.

But wait, there’s more.

Ever a relationship builder, Williams makes sure to keep in contact with people he has met throughout his life. As busy as he is, it’s difficult to keep track of everyone he has corresponded with. Enter the calender.

Williams’ schedule has a list of names — 120 to be exact — from all walks of life, that he will send a note to this month.

“These are AAU guys, these are Marquette-specific people, these are personal. The personal are football coaches like Jon Gruden, they’re basketball coaches that I respect [Billy Donovan], they’re retired coaches [Eddie Sutton], some in the media, not a lot, it’s everybody. Search-firm guys, agents, people that, in our industry, it’s important to build relationships with, not necessarily today but for 10 years from today.”

Once a letter is completed and sent, Williams will cross off the name and move on to the next one until he finishes all 120, usually well ahead of the end of the month. When we spoke to him on Sept. 3, he had already written and mailed 33 notes. That’s without mentioning the two notes a day he writes in encouragement meant for those not on that list. But that’s for another Monday.

Get a sense of the magnitude now? Keep going.

Each square on the calender has a series of small, vertical boxes with a different set of initials.

There’s quiet time, which is when he slows down for a few minutes to clear his head. There’s prayer time, when he prays, reads the bible — three chapters in three different books to be exact — and makes notes in his prayer journal. There’s a box to remind him to work on his contact list, whether it be by voice, phone, email or text.

Then there’s email time.

“I’m inundated with emails. I have a private account, and then I have the account that everybody finds out about. Well I feel bad because I’m not trying to feel special by having a private account, so I respond to the public account,” Williams notes. “But I would turn my computer on and get to responding to emails, and people would respond back. I’d be working and I’d feel like I had to respond. So I’m gonna turn on my computer one hour a day and I’m gonna respond to emails.”

There’s a box to remind him to work out — a sit-up routine that he has created — and a box to remind him to eat right, meaning no ice-cream or sweet tea, the latter of which he has been “off” for 670 days. His words.

These aren’t just strings on his finger that he can cut off at any point. He must complete them each and every day to be able to rest at night. It eats at him if he doesn’t.

Before a day is complete, though, Williams will have taken notes: Notes on what he’s read, what he’s learned, what he’s thought about and we he has planned for the future; anything that might pop into his head throughout the day will go down into his book of notes.

As Williams is going over his notes, he walks to his desk and produces a thick stack of paper.

On the first day of every month, Williams will review the notes from the previous month to study how efficient he was with his time. Once he’s done that, he takes out the notes from the previous year of that same month to study that.

“Where I went recruiting, who I went recruiting with, literally everything. How many miles I ran, when I lifted weights, what days we were off,” Williams tells us. “It’s everything. Anything you would want to know that happened in my life last September is on there.”

If and when Williams writes a biography, it will be one of the easiest research projects ever undertaken. Every day of every week of every month for the past five years has been logged, with a detail that Lewis Orr surely would approve of.

But a future book isn’t the end game with Williams logging mechanism. It is a search for efficiency. With so many moving parts to every day, having his thoughts and movements logged and studied helps him stay in the moment at the time with the opportunity to come back to it when he has a bit less on his plate.

Jamie McNeilly knows Williams better than just about anyone without a blood relation. Currently Marquette’s student athlete development specialist, he has been on Williams’ staff since 2008, and was previously a player for him at New Orleans in 2006-07. He still doesn’t know how Williams does it.

Jamie McNeilly has been with Buzz since his days at New Orleans and calls him a savant when it comes to adhering to a schedule. (Marquette Athletics)

Jamie McNeilly has been with Buzz since his days at New Orleans and calls him a savant when it comes to adhering to a schedule. (Marquette Athletics)

“I’m just so impressed. He’s kind of a savant in that sense,” McNeilly told Paint Touches. “Everything on that calendar and on his schedule he’s getting through. He doesn’t function right without that in front of him.

“I personally can’t. It’s kind of weird. You see it at first, and I remember as a player and even the players now talk about it a lot when we get our calendar, it’s kind of daunting seeing everything in front of you.You have your whole week planned out ahead of you. I’ve tried it many times and I’m not that good. I can’t keep up with it.”

Since he began in 2008, Williams says he has learned to refine his calender and be even tighter with his time. Using the previous months as years as reference, he’s able to see what works and what doesn’t. He’s going to be better in September 2013 than he was in September 2012, because it has all been documented. There isn’t a day that goes by that Williams isn’t getting better.

Now he’s helping to pass that along.

“That’s one thing I did a lot with Tony Benford in trying to help him narrow his focus. ‘Tony, last year at this time, who’d you go see? That guy, that guy and that guy. Well how did we go when you should have gone, did I go when I should have gone?’ How can we be better this September?”

Ordered chaos. That’s what it boils down to.

This is the second of an exclusive five-part series chronicling the growth of Marquette head coach Buzz Williams. Each Monday we’ll share a new part of his journey. Mark Strotman contributed to this story.

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Categories: Features, General News, Offseason


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2 Comments on “Bringing order to a chaotic life, one day at a time”

  1. Tom
    October 2, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    Awesome interview and subsequent article, gotta get your spelling of “calendar” consistent though!


  1. The origin of paint touches under Buzz Williams | Paint Touches - October 15, 2013

    […] I (Sept. 9): Four dusty corners: Where it all began Part II (Sept. 16): Bringing order to a chaotic life, one day at a time Part III (Sept. 24): Buzz Williams: The caring ‘monster’ Part IV (Sept. 30): With Buzz […]

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