Football coaches guide to handling opportunities in the profession.
The coaching carousel accelerates as the football season progresses in the fall and hits a fever pitch right after the last games. This turbulent time of the year when coaches are hired, fired, and moving from place to place at an unprecedented pace is unheard of in any other profession. In speaking with an Athletic Director friend of mine, he made mention that he wondered if football coaches are ever really happy where they are…
“Of all the sports that I deal with, Football coaches are the most transient group of all. With the current climate of ‘Win or you’re out,’ these coaches are trying to stay one step ahead of the posse and another group is always searching for their dream job… One that may never actually exist.”
How much time is wasted in search of the next job? In our profession, we have websites and social media that directly relate to the football coaching market. The most utilized website to stay on top of the coaching carousel is footballscoop.com. In many ways, this website is brilliantly disguised as a source of coaching information but one can see that the most viewed pages are related to searching for the next job.
A few years ago, I did a simple study. I signed up for Twitter alerts to see how often and what type of information would come my way for 30 days. I told myself that I would open the Twitter notification when it showed up on my phone and read whatever came my way and spend time researching any and every job that came which I could tie myself in some capacity to (more on that later) …. It became addictive and time-wasting at the same time.
Coaching Carousel: Six Degrees of Separation.
Football coaches as a group are vain in their views of themselves in this profession. It’s intriguing how many times I have found coaches telling me how they feel they are a top candidate for a job as they triangulate to a position that just came open.
“I’m from Ohio and this job is in Ohio and I know somebody that went to school there, and I know someone that knows a former coach there that is close to the wife of the Vice President… I’m in!”
Some things I have heard are not far off from that type of faulty logic.
In essence, you can connect yourself to just about any job opening you want to but do you really have a chance at getting that job? In most cases, your chance of getting the job is slim. Most likely, you are wasting so much time focusing on what you can’t control.
In my 30 Day research project regarding the coaching carousel, I noticed the following:
The constant research of who was going where and what job I could tie myself to became an obsession.
The amount of time to just check the tweets was mindboggling. Open the tweet, read it and then do some research on who you might know. Then start contacting these people.
In my research project, I decided to apply for a head coaching position for the sake of investigation. Regardless, even though I knew, I might not actually take the job, I just wanted to understand the time-consuming nature of the process. It’s remarkable how much time it takes actually to apply for a job.
The results… I applied for 3 jobs. One, I never heard back from. Two of them I had a phone interview and one of those wanted to fly me out to interview in front of the committee – I respectfully declined the offer. Actually, one positive from this was I was able to help one of our assistant coaches get an interview for a Division II position job. He interviewed for and accepted the receiver job. Had I not been getting those alerts, I could not have helped him.
What is at risk when you decide to ride the coaching carousel?
This addiction can be detrimental to one’s career in so many ways. If one is locked into this way of thinking, it’s easy to get distracted by the current demands of your job. The post-season is so important in improving as a football coach. This is generally the time of year when I do research on the results of my strategies from the previous season. I also like to study the various trends going on in the college and pro game. Speaking engagements are common during this time of the year. Recruiting is ongoing at the college level. Player off-season development is also a component in high schools and small colleges where you may not have a strength coach or you are the strength coach.
Coaching Carousel: Who Are You?
I believe knowing who you are is critical to your career in coaching. Take a look at your strengths and be honest about your weaknesses and you will go a long way in making yourself more marketable to future employers. Getting an accurate assessment can certainly be eye-opening. Ask someone you trust to tell you how you are perceived in various areas of importance to a prospective employer. (More on what decision-makers are looking for today, later.)
Where are you now and where have you been in your career?
The body of work you have put together, your influences, and ultimately your results are what matter most. Once you accurately assess where you are and have been, then ask yourself this next question.
“Based on my career to date, what is my next best move, if any?”
Your next best move may be to continue to “bloom in place” and get better at each area of your job. It may possibly be just being able to handle the demands of your current coaching position and still have a life outside of the profession. You may even decide to get off the coaching carousel altogether and do a little bit of soul-searching. Researching and just getting energized to make a run at it again. It’s your decision, not anyone else’s. It’s important that once you make this decision act upon it with passion and integrity.
Coaching Carousel: Research for higher probability.
The off-season is the best time of the year to work on your next job. Schedule some time to research and fully understand where you are a “fit.” Doing this exercise on your own time is generally best and make sure to block off the time so you are not interrupted.
Look into the following areas…
Regarding “fit”, Is there a region of the country where you are a better fit for a position?
In the type of job you aspire to, who is actually the decision-maker? The athletic director, the head football coach, the principal? And, what is this person’s background?
How about looking into prospective jobs that could open at the end of the season? If you are searching for a head coaching job that may be a bit easier. All one has to do is see what programs are underperforming and have run their course in building the program. From there, you can look into who the decision maker actually may be and see if you have common ground.
I would not in any way approach these individuals. Why? Because, if they are taking communication from coaches regarding a job opening that isn’t even open, what does that tell you about working for them 3-5 years down the road? Your job security may not be what you want when you are always looking over your shoulder. Ideally, you want a trustworthy individual as your boss.
With that being said, most decision-makers already have a short list of candidates for each position in their program. I know that if I decide to take a head coaching job, I already have a list of 3 candidates for every assistant coaching position. And, as a head coach, I always knew who I would hire if I lost an assistant coach.
So, if you shouldn’t contact these decision-makers, how in the world can you ever land a job working for them?
In most cases, it’s about your closest circle of influencers that can help you to get in on a job you aspire to. Think about it, who is that very short list of people you are very close to that will help you? A great book that explains this concept is The Power of Who, by Bob Beaudine.
In essence, networking is just the opposite of what most football coaches think it is…
“It’s not the size of your network, it’s the quality that matters.” – Bob Beaudine
Here’s a video with an out-of-the-box way to create a meaningful network…
Coaching Carousel: A historical perspective.
Back when I started American Football Monthly we became known as experts in the field of up-and-coming football coaches. As a result, we began the Professional Services Group to aid schools in searching for and hiring their next football coach. This search firm, led by Barry Terranova, created a rather rigorous process of researching the prospective candidate pool for a specific school.
PSG discovered that in the 30 years prior there was a startling trend in the hiring process resulting in some of the best and worst hires, which still goes on today.
Understanding some of these findings can be beneficial for you in your search for the next opportunity. It’s all relevant today regardless of the position you are looking to attain.
Before moving forward, take a look at some of these hires…
Bill Snyder … Ron Prince … Bill Snyder
Luke Fickell … Urban Meyer… Ryan Day
Terry Allen … Mark Mangino … Turner Gill … Charlie Weiss … David Beaty
Jim Grobe … Dave Clawson
Skip Holtz … Willie Taggart
John Blake … Bob Stoops
Spike Dykes … Mike Leach … Tommy Tuberville … Kliff Kingsbury
Bill O’Brien … James Franklin
Here are a few key points that were discovered by the Professional Services Group:
Schools generally employ the “opposite” of the coach who had departed. I mean it was bizarre to the extent that this was done…
Spread Offense vs. Pro-style offense.
Offensive vs. Defensive background.
Minority vs. Caucasian.
Highly regarded recruiter vs. closet strategist.
Thin coaches vs. heavy coaches. (Yes, this happens often)
Experienced and seasoned coach vs. enthusiastic young coach. (Mind you, enthusiasm is not based on age, yet there is a stigma in this area)
Alumnus vs. Outsider.
With some of those examples mentioned above, the extent to which these types of hires were made was certainly evident in the psychology of the decision-makers. The probability is so high that you really should not ignore the fact.
There was also a disproportionate hire based on the “good old boys” network. Basically, hiring a friend on a recommendation from a friend without thorough research. (This rarely worked out)
Coaching Carousel: An AD’s Perspective.
As part of the research for this article, I decided to call upon some of my friends in the industry that have actually hired football coaches. One such athletic director who did a remarkable job of hiring his coaches is Jim Fiore, the former athletic director at Stony Brook University in New York.
Jim is known as a trailblazer in the industry and his success in putting Stony Brook University on the map is due to his ability to fundraise, administrate a department through growth and hire the best fit in leadership positions. On top of all that, he’s known as a change agent that “moves the needle.” He did this in basketball (Steve Pikiell) and football (Chuck Priore). In doing so, he took Stony Brook University from nowhere to notoriety.
Here’s what Jim looks for in hiring a head football coach…
“Hiring a head football coach is the most critical hire of any athletic director. I look for a coach I can grow old with, basically, a life partner who I can totally support and debate behind closed doors to help him improve the program.”
Key points he looks for:
A personable, passionate, and humble leader.
A leader that has made mistakes. Taken responsibility for his past errors and ultimately learned from these mistakes.
A man with a vision and a detailed plan.
A proven track record in recruiting.
Must have paid their dues. (The level he has coached rarely matters.)
Must be a fit for the university and community.
Jim also concluded that it’s important to know who’s going to be on his staff and what the strengths and weaknesses of each assistant coach are… He would want to know why each of these staff members is so critical to their program’s success.
When all these above-mentioned boxes are checked off, the key that can separate a candidate from the rest of the pool is the next question…
Who are his mentors?
Jim wants to know who your first phone call is going to be to when you want to discuss an aspect of your program. The phone calls are based on topics from schematics to program issues. The better the mentor, the more likely he has a highly qualified candidate.
Ultimately, Jim says that the head football coach is the CEO of his program. Hiring someone that is an unproven leader can be a catastrophe.
Coaching Carousel: Prepare for your opportunity.
Regardless of the type of position you aspire to, you have to be ready when the job opens, based on the kind of position. I would suggest preparing the following materials for each level of coaching.
Just breaking into the business.
Drill manual for your position. Resume. Reference list.
Expanded drill manual for your position. Resume. Reference list. Presentation to discuss the fundamentals and drill progression you have been using to improve your position. Videos of your players executing drills.
Resume, references. Outline of your system. Practice schedule formatting for each position. Cut-ups of each type of play with coaching points. Training Camp installation. Game week organization framework. Game day protocol.
Curriculum Vitae. Career Summary. Cabinet references with quotes from these individuals. Enterprise Management System. Presentation of your Enterprise Management System.
Once you have your materials, you are halfway to being ready.
You are still going to need some other information ready to go when the job becomes available.
You will need a sample cover letter that you can customize for the position. Make sure to get the attention of the employer and take some time to make it in your own words. You have no idea how many people actually copy other people’s letters.
The Interview. This is where the rubber meets the road.
So, do you think you are ready? It’s time for a mock interview.
I suggest you rehearse the following:
Ask yourself how you would handle a phone interview. This type of interview is generally the gateway to getting the in-person interview. Have someone question you and record the conversation you have with them over the phone. How does your voice sound? Are you truly being yourself? Do you show your passion for the job you are interviewing – with your voice? Remember, they can’t see you so you need to get your key points across in an auditory manner.
In-person interview. Maybe the most important and least executed type of interview preparation is the mock interview you need to do in the summer before each year.
For example, if you are looking to be a defensive coordinator and you have your materials ready it’s time for that mock interview. Get a head coach or a former head coach and a couple of assistant coaches and deliver your presentation. I suggest you go through the entire process once you have created the mock committee.
Send them your cover letter. Go through the phone interview. Send a follow-up thank you letter. Give your presentation. Send another Thank You letter.
Video the presentation and take a thorough assessment of how you deliver the material. Ask for feedback from your committee.
Hope this helps as you work your way through your career.
Remember to enjoy the process because often the best job you will ever have may just be the one you have today.
Good luck riding the coaching carousel.