What in the world? Are we talking about the iconic breakfast drink called Tang that was launched in 1959 by General Foods? No, this is a blog about an amazing man named Jerome Tang. Never heard of him? No surprise – most people haven’t.
Jerome Tang was born in Trinidad in 1966 and moved with his parents to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was the head basketball coach for the Heritage Christian Academy in Cleveland, Texas. In 2003 he was hired as an assistant coach for the Baylor Bears basketball team where he served for the next 19 years. In March 2022, Tang was named head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats where the basketball program was suffering successive losing seasons. The team was in such despair that only two players were left when he arrived – the remaining players had transferred to other schools. Pre-season polls unanimously picked Kansas State to finish last in the Big 12 conference. Fast forward to March 2023. Kansas State claimed third place in the conference; was a number three seed in the NCAA Tournament; beat blue-blood teams including Kentucky and Michigan State; and lost in an Elite Eight contest by three points, finishing the season with a 26-10 record.
This is an incredible “rags to riches” story about how Jerome Tang created a winning culture – instantly. And it has profound implications for entrepreneurs. With only two players waiting for his arrival, Tang turned to the transfer portal and was successful at bringing together a group of young men who wanted to win. He spoke often about how he wasn’t there to rebuild the basketball program – he intended to elevate it. He told the players that his goal the first year was to win the NCAA Championship (something Baylor accomplished in 2021). Big Hairy Audacious Goal? You bet. But why not?
Kansas State happens to be my alma mater, so I had a close-up view of how this man built a winning culture so quickly. He did it with joy. Jerome Tang was always smiling. It was obvious that he was having the time of his life. Before games, the team would sit in the locker room and dance to a rap song. Guess who was leading the clapping and swaying? Jerome Tang. Bramlage Coliseum had been coined as the Octagon of Doom in earlier days but the fan base had slipped over the years. Tang preached joy from the moment he set foot on campus. During the 2022-2023 season, the Wildcats won all but one game at home and the fans came roaring back. Tang did not disappoint. After each game he would jump into the stands and dance with the band or the students. At the conclusion of the last home game the entire team went into the stands and danced.
Along with joy came a positive attitude. Coach Tang set the tone and the players responded to the positivity. When the Wildcats lost their final game in the NCAA Tournament, Tang met every player as they entered the locker room and congratulated them with a hand slap and a “head up” exclamation. Star player, Markquis Nowell explained, “he said if this is the worst thing that we have to go through, then our life will be pretty damned good. There are some people really going through some hard things in life, and I just lost a basketball game.” Earlier in the season, the fans were engaging in a derogatory chant about archrival, the Kansas Jayhawks. Tang grabbed the microphone at the end of the game and encouraged everyone to cheer for K-State and not against another team. He then led the crowd in a K-S-U chant that became the standard at the games thereafter.
Jerome Tang led by example in the off-season and throughout the regular season. He is a man of deep faith and did not hesitate to thank God for his blessings. Many of the players embraced his proclamations of faith – something he called Crazy Faith – and did the same during press conferences and media interviews. He was the epitome of humbleness and never took credit for himself. His players did the same – always pointing to the team effort. Clearly the players loved each other and celebrated each other’s success.
Tang was also a most gracious man. Thirty-three minutes before the start of the Michigan State game in the Sweet Sixteen, Coach Tang dialed a stranger in Wichita, Kansas to offer his condolences to a couple who had tragically lost their daughter (a K-State student) days earlier in a car accident. The grieving mother said, “He didn’t do it for it to become public, so if anything comes from this, we would want it to be a beautiful example of how Christians not only treat each other, but how Christians treat other people.” After the final game in the Elite Eight when the Wildcats lost in heartbreaking fashion, Tang made a trip to the opposing team’s locker room and told them that they were the “toughest sons of guns we’ve played all year.” He congratulated the opposing players and urged them to stay together and not get distracted and told them how proud he was of them. The opposing team! And, in his opening statement at the press conference after the game he said, “If we can’t be grateful in these times, then all the love and joy that we talk about is fraud. And we’re not frauds.”
Jerome Tang has a bountiful future ahead as the charismatic head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats basketball team. The legacy he is building is something for which every entrepreneur should take notice. A Winning Culture can be built with Joy, Positivity, Grace, Humbleness, Faith, and Love. And it can happen quickly.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.