Basketball Is Life: McKillop Brings Hardwood Know-How to Off-the-Court Role

Bob McKillop headshot

Bob McKillop offered a swift response to the anticipated chorus of: “What’s next?”

A few weeks after he announced his retirement from coaching in June, McKillop helped preside over Stephen Curry’s commencement, Davidson Hall of Fame induction and jersey retirement. Not long after that, he took on a new role as Davidson’s first leader-in-residence.

The curiosity of fans and friends about McKillop’s future was natural. No one expected him to take up residence on a beach.

He stepped down after 33 seasons as Davidson’s head men’s basketball coach, a tenure that captured:

•  600 wins.

•  23 conference championships.

•  10 NCAA tournament appearances.

•  Nomination to the Naismith Basketball

     Hall of Fame.

He is the winningest coach in the history of Davidson, the Atlantic 10 Conference and Davidson’s previous home, the Southern Conference. He has coached 57 players who went on to play professional basketball, with Curry as the most visible and successful.

The first word in Sports Illustrated’s story on McKillop’s retirement was “legendary.”

McKillop is a 1972 graduate of Hofstra University. He was inducted into the Hofstra Basketball and NYC Basketball Hall of Fame. After college, he was signed as a free agent and then cut by the Philadelphia 76ers before becoming a history teacher and coach.

The teaching part never disappeared.

Throughout his career, McKillop taught or spoke to audiences on leadership. Even his post-game interviews included lessons. He now brings that hardwood know-how to an off-the-court role as Davidson’s leader-in-residence.

“I’m excited and honored to start this new chapter. It’s a fascinating role that will touch all facets of Davidson.”

He already has talked with Davidson classes, student organizations and teams, campus staff retreats, and corporate and civic audiences.

The role is familiar. When he was still head coach, he spoke to business and civic organizations. He took his team to the USS Arizona Memorial, at Pearl Harbor, and to Auschwitz on a trip to learn history, not play basketball. He talked to a Shakespeare class about how sports are interwoven in the playwright’s works, and to a psychology class that evolved into a debate over analytics and data versus instinct.

“Davidson prepares students for lives of leadership and service,” says Davidson College President Doug Hicks. “Bob has provided leadership as our winningest coach, has guided scholar-athletes in learning leadership through teamwork, and routinely is called upon to help organizations within and outside Davidson in examining and developing leadership skills. Now we have the terrific opportunity for him to help us and represent us in this field.”

McKillop will speak and write about leadership for students, faculty and staff, alumni, friends of Davidson College, and public groups, Hicks says. McKillop’s role also may include mentoring students or alumni interested in developing leadership competencies, and he may represent the college in engaging alumni at events and meetings.

“I’m excited and honored to start this new chapter,” McKillop says. “It’s a fascinating role that will touch all facets of Davidson: students, faculty, alumni, the community. And it’s an opportunity to use platforms outside of the college to speak about the unique qualities, the excellence, the intimacy that is Davidson and separates us from so many other institutions.”

Translating the wider value of what happens on a hardwood court to analysts at Ernst & Young or lawyers from a 250-attorney firm, both of whom McKillop has addressed, is natural, he says. The foundations of his program at Davidson—trust, commitment and care—cut across all endeavors, and Curry provides high profile proof.

“Basketball is life,” McKillop says. “The things that happen on the court or in the locker room, such as learning to work as a team, recovering from setbacks, figuring out a different approach—it’s all just like life.”

This article was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2022 print issue of the Davidson Journal Magazine; for more, please see the Davidson Journal section of our website.


  • November 30, 2022