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Don  Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated & Business Leadership Coach

Don Yaeger

Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated & Business Leadership Coach


As an award-winning keynote speaker, business leadership coach, eleven-time New York Times best-selling author, and longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, Don Yaeger has fashioned a career as one of America’s most provocative thought leaders.  As a speaker, he has worked with audiences as diverse as Fortune 500 companies and cancer survivor groups, where he shares his personal story.

He is primarily sought to discuss lessons on achieving greatness, learned from first-hand experiences with some of the greatest sports legends in the world. He is also often retained by companies and organizations to coach their leaders, management teams, and employees on building a culture of greatness by studying great teams in sports and discerning the business lessons we can learn from them.

Additionally, as an Executive Coach, Yaeger has worked with a range of leaders from the president of the largest bank in the Caribbean to CEOs of financial services companies to technology executives. His coaching model is based on years of experience and study with those who have inspired championship-level teams.

Throughout his writing career, Don has developed a reputation as a world-class storyteller and has been invited as a guest to almost every major talk show – from The Oprah Winfrey Show to Nightline, from CNN to Good Morning America.

 Few journalists can lay claim to as exciting and colorful a career as Don Yaeger.

In the three decades since he accepted his first newspaper job in Texas, the breadth of his assignments has been astounding. He has traveled the world in pursuit of stories as diverse as:

  • Hiking through Afghanistan with the Mujahadeen as they fought the Soviets
  • Going into Baghdad with the victorious Iraqi soccer team as the battle between insurgents and the US military waged around them
  • Visiting China in pursuit of underworld characters counterfeiting American golf clubs
  • Heading to Damascus to find the last living terrorist from the 1972 Olympics
  • Living with football legend Walter Payton and his family as Payton was dying
  • Journeying around Europe and the Middle East interviewing Iraqi athletes tortured by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee
  • Traveling with candidates from both parties during presidential campaigns
  • Chronicling the high-profile Duke lacrosse scandal

Yaeger began his career as a reporter for the San Antonio Light where he rose through the ranks to pen investigative features for the daily. He later moved on to the Dallas Morning News. Following his time in Dallas, Yaeger worked as a political editor for the Florida Times-Union.

After four years, he decided to dedicate himself to the pursuit of writing books.

Yaeger’s first book,Undue Process: The NCAAs Injustice for All, was published in 1990. In the nearly 30 years since, he has penned 28 more books, including eleven New York Times best-sellers, including:

  • Under the Tarnished Dome: How Notre Dame Betrayed its Ideals for Football Glory, October 3, 1993
  • Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton, October 1, 2000
  • Ya Gotta Believe: My Roller-Coaster Life As a Screwball Pitcher, Part-Time Father and My Hope-Filled Fight Against Brain Cancer(with Tug McGraw), March 7, 2004
  • It's Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered (with Mike Pressler), July 7, 2007
  • I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to the Blind Side, and Beyond(with Michael Oher), February 27, 2011
  • Play Like You Mean It: Passion, Laugh, and Leadership in the World's Most Beautiful Game(with Rex Ryan), May 22, 2011
  • Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: How I Went from Gang Member to Multimillionaire Entrepreneur (with Ryan Blair), August 21, 2011
  • George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution (with Brian Kilmeade), November 19, 2013
  • Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History (with Brian Kilmeade), November 22, 2015 (Paperback reached #1 in November 2016)
  • Teammate (with David Ross), May 28, 2017
  • Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle that Shaped America’s Destiny (with Brian Kilmeade), October 24, 2017

Yaeger also wrote A Game Plan For Life, with legendary coach John Wooden. It was published on Coach’s 99th birthday in October 2009.

Movie rights to four of Yaeger’s books have been sold, with two slated for nationwide release in 2019.

After several years of freelancing for  Sports Illustrated, Yaeger joined the magazine’s staff full-time in July 1996.  Two years later, he was promoted to Associate Editor where his job was to cover not just sporting events but also the off-the-field happenings that affect the world of sports.  He took an early retirement from full-time work at SI in 2008, but continues to freelance for the magazine.

Yaeger and his co-author William Nack were finalists for a 2000 National Magazine Award in the public interest category for their cover story “Who’s Coaching Your Kid?: The frightening truth about child molestation in youth sports.”  This important piece triggered follow-up reports by programs such as Dateline, 20/20 and The Oprah Winfrey Show. It also resulted in changes to the law in several states and several youth sports organizations, including Little League of America, which changed rules to require background checks of coaches and volunteers.

Born and raised in Hawaii, Yaeger has traveled extensively and lived abroad in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Japan and Great Britain. A 1984 graduate of Ball State University, Yaeger currently lives in Tallahassee, FL. He also owns a political consulting business and a public relations firm.  He and his wife Jeanette have a son and a daughter.

Speech Topics

What Makes the Great Ones Great

Over his 30-year journalism career, Don has asked 2,500 of the greatest winners of our generation: “Can you name a habit that elevated you, that allowed you to separate yourself from your competitors?” Their answers inspired this speech during which Don teaches you how to apply their lessons to your personal pursuit of excellence. 

IDEAL FOR: Sales conferences/any gathering of high-performers or people who identify themselves as competitive.

What Makes the Great Teams Great

A few years ago, Don was asked by a corporate executive: “Why are some teams capable of sustained excellence when others rise and fall so often?” More than 100 team leaders from sports and another two dozen in the world of business allowed Don to study their team to learn the answers. This study led to a bestselling book and to this keynote about how your team can become more consistently high performing.

IDEAL FOR: Leadership gathers/mid-level and above for those who manage teams.

Becoming a Team of Great Teammates

Inspired by the story of Chicago Cubs Manager David Ross, who spent most of his 15-year career in the major leagues as a backup, this speech explores how Ross learned to become a great teammate. Don shares the success that can be enjoyed when a team learns to celebrate those who can “become invaluable without ever being most valuable.”

IDEAL FOR: All-hands gatherings/company-wide events

The Art of Storytelling

Don has been called “one of America’s greatest storytellers” by today’s top thought leaders. Through decades of research in this space, Don has discerned the 10 Elements of a well-told story. In this keynote speech, Don teaches your audiences how to tell their story in a way that provides lasting impact and inspires deeper relationships.