While I have never been professionally diagnosed as obsessive compulsive if you were to ask my family or anyone who has ever worked with me they’d tell you there are definite tendencies in how I operate. In most cases they come out relative to avoiding situations I hate dealing with.
A good example is my approach to maintenance for my Jeep Wrangler. I’m the guy who pours over the owner’s manual, meticulously tracks oil changes, transmission fluid changes, tire rotation, etc. The reason – I never want to be stuck on the highway, hit with an avoidable repair, or put myself or my family in danger because I failed to take appropriate precautions.
On a professional level, all too often I see head coaches defer the responsibility of scouting, identifying, and recruiting their next class to assistant coaches. That’s not intended to be as much a generalization but rather an observation. As a head coach, is there ANYTHING more valuable to your success than your next recruiting class? That’s intended to be a rhetorical question. We both know the answer.
As a former athletic director at a DIII school I know full well the often impossible expectations placed on head coaches at all levels, regardless of division. While the weight of all those responsibilities (alumni engagement, competitive success, academic monitoring, civic engagement, secondary duties, etc.) is significant I want to make the case that the recruitment of your next class demands your utmost attention and engagement. A bad class not only has competitive consequences but can also affect the long term culture of your program. Something you may have spent literally years building.
As a result of the multitude of duties head coaches have, recruitment duties regularly fall to an assistant coach working what might qualify for as indentured servant status. With great affection and appreciation for the commitment most assistant coaches bring to their duties, in many cases they are just one or two years removed from their own playing experiences with little or no recruiting experience. The only context they have for the exercise of recruiting is their own which may or may not reflect your practice or priority. So what investment have you made in your assistant coach or assistant coaching staff?
The status of assistant coaches received significant discussion a few years ago when there was a conversation about minimum federally mandated levels of compensation for that class of employee. (Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA). Many athletic programs were able to leverage that discussion into enhanced stipends for assistant coaches. In turn that provided opportunities for head coaches to refine performance programs for the assistant coach staff. Those assistant coaches who were left behind continue to work for stipends supported by “a love for the game” more than reasonable monetary compensation. The question head coaches are left with is “How much can I reasonably ask of an under compensated assistant coach?”
At one time I worked for a vice president for administration who was very supportive of his athletic program but deeply pragmatic. Every budget conversation ended with “Show me the money!” I used those words to argue for enhanced stipends across the board for our assistant coaches. I went through rosters and calculated how many spots we could grow (just like admissions counting empty beds) if we could enhance recruiting with greater commitment to our assistant coaching ranks. Better qualified applicants, less turnover in staff, enhancement of our image by moving those assistants on to good head coach positions, additional staff to support operational needs, better support for academic monitoring, etc. Each of these points resonated with my VPA and my president. We got the stipends with the contingency that I would be responsible for the stated growth and improvements. I took the deal.
We also took advantage of opportunities for assistant coaches with resident advisor experience to “double duty” as dorm directors. This took some negotiating and dealing but by splitting one dorm director position into two sharing a single apartment and dorm director duties it was a win/win… More coverage in the dorms to accommodate scheduled coaching duties as well as providing housing opportunities for two more assistant coaches.
I then went to our director of dining whose value is determined by the number of meal plans sold. I contended that if my coaches can fill rosters and recruit that many more students, their meal count goes up exponentially. In turn, I asked if they could offer me a set number of “limited” meal plans I could offer to our assistant coaching staff. Again, we were successful with the request.
The final phase of this assistant coach initiative was tied to professional development for that group in the area of sales. It was at this point my engagement with Tudor Collegiate Strategies took off. I believed it was unethical to hire an assistant coach with responsibilities tied to recruiting without offering them training for success. We scheduled TCS training for our assistants, enrolled them in Tudor University, and made their education in this area priority one.
The dividend? Many of those assistants have gone on to head coaching jobs at very successful programs AND we saw a much better candidate pool for subsequent vacancies BECAUSE we had placed assistant coaches in good head coaching positions.
In closing I continue to believe that there is absolutely no substitute for the role the head coach plays in the recruiting process. As they say, “The buck stops there.” It is the head coaches program and reflection of he or she. That being said there may be ways for you to get the most out of your assistant coach position but you may have to be creative and tap into your negotiating skills to get there. Even for the most experienced HEAD COACH sales is often the weakest link in the necessary skill set. It’s unlikely an assistant coach will land in your program with the recruiting experience necessary to be successful. Professional development and training can get you the results you want and the experience they deserve.
Greg Carroll is a former college athletic director who now advises coaches across the Northeast region of the country for Tudor Collegiate Strategies. Contact Greg at email@example.com