By Alton Dunham (USAG Fort Huachuca)February 17, 2011
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. - Current All-Army head coach Basheer Abdullah hasn't put forward a losing team in his 14-year career, a remarkable feat considering the unpredictable nature of the combat sport. Abdullah will shoot for a 15th team title and his last, at the Armed Forces championship at Lackland, Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
After 20 years as both a top-tier Army boxer and coach, Abdullah recently announced his retirement during the All-Army camp, here.
"This is where I started my [All-Army] boxing career; this place has embraced me and shown me support as a boxer and a coach. I don't think I could have picked a better place to make this announcement or a place that would truly appreciate what I have tried to do for the Army, and for this community.
"Huachuca is like a second home to me," Abdullah said.
Abdullah's legacy can't simply be defined by his dominance, or numerous titles. His tenure has been a profile in leadership.
He has coached at the pinnacle of amateur boxing, three times at the Olympic level and as head coach in 2004. He has produced countless champions, and his current stable of homegrown talent boasts five boxers ranked in the top portion of their weight class by USA Boxing. There is no doubt he is a winner who breeds champions.
But to truly understand Abdullah, one needs to look no further than his reasons for retirement. He has always realized the sport and the All-Army team is bigger than just one man, and his choices reflect this personal philosophy.
"To me, it is about winning. I keep in mind the program is bigger than me, and my job is to advance boxers and get them to the medal round. If it works, I stay with it.
"This program is bigger than any of us, and I think it is time to put a new face on Army boxing."
Abdullah never truly boxed before he entered the Army. He competed to test himself at a boxing smoker at Fort Bragg, N.C. and after the finals was given an application for Bragg's boxing team. In 1990 he tried out for the All-Army team, but ran into a national champ in Rudolph Bradley and was stopped. Like other sports greats, it was in a loss that he learned how to win.
As a boxer, he led by example.
"I was in the gym every day three times a day for 12 months, ready to come back after that," Abdullah recalls. "During my time at Fort Bragg, I began molding myself after several elite boxers, and developed my own style of boxing."
In 1991 he came back, winning an All-Army gold at 112 pounds, the genesis of a career that would see Abdullah win three straight Army and All-Armed forces titles, and retire ranked third in the country. It was also during this time as a boxer that he began to develop his coaching philosophy.
Before taking the reins as the Army head coach, Abdullah first refined his skill by serving as an assistant coach under his mentor and friend, legendary coach Al Mitchell, at Northern Michigan University.
"That's when I consider myself born as a coach. When I went out there [Mitchell] had several national champions, and I was asking myself 'how do I get these guys to respect me' They have accomplished so much more than I have as a boxer.'"
To answer that question, Abdullah developed the humble approach he still uses to this day. He patiently observed and studied what was working for the boxers so when he did advise an athlete, he made sense. As a leader he demonstrated his technical expertise.
"I listened, understood exactly what [Mitchell] was teaching, and [in] what direction he was moving before I opened my mouth, and the team grew to respect me and my knowledge of the sport."
Abdullah's lack of ego and psychological approach to the game is possibly the reason for his longevity.
His conceptual knowledge and fight IQ, coupled with his ability to lead his athletes to apply his wisdom, is the reason for his winning ways.
"I became a student of the sport in every aspect. I'm very secure and confident, but I have been told that I am one of the most relaxed coaches to work with. I go in there and coach according to the athletes."
He doesn't simply breed good boxers; he focuses on a holistic approach that betters his athletes inside and outside the ring. He has prepared each of his boxers for life after the sport and led them to grow as Soldiers.
And throughout his career, he never once compromised values for the sake of winning.
"I've sent national champions home if they weren't meeting the standards of the program outside of the ring," Abdullah admits. One in particular was upset with Abdullah for years, but recently called the coach to express gratitude for making a hard choice that eventually bettered the Soldier's life.
Throughout the years, the Saint Louis native continued to find unparalleled success with his ability to find out what works with each boxer under his tutelage.
Abdullah's flexibility and adaptability as a leader reflects his winning philosophy that the sum is equal to the strength of its parts.
"You can't be too stubborn to change; you always have to see the way to bring the best out of the athletes," Abdullah said.
"The formula I use, in boxing and life, is success equals ability times effort, times will, times preparation."
That same formula is what he imparts in each of his boxers and what has prepared the team for success year-in and year-out.
At the conclusion of this last run, Abdullah ends a storied career with pride leading the way as a Soldier, a mentor, and a staple of Army boxing.
"I took pride in wearing my Army Uniform and in wearing the black and gold [All-Army Boxing] uniform," Abdullah said.
"I am grateful for the opportunities that the World Class Army Athlete program has given me, and I have given my all to create a winning atmosphere and put on shows for the Soldiers that enhance morale."
The famed coach can also take pride knowing he embodied every part of the Army's Be-Know-Do philosophy of leadership every step of the way.