Monday, December 17, 2012

So You Want to Be the Head Ball Coach???

There's more to this than you think!

This is the time of year when coaching jobs are opening up daily, and younger coaches are putting together their resumes and getting their interviewing skills polished up.  I think many, if not all young coaches aspire to one day be the head coach of their own team, and rightfully so, that's how our American society works.  We are taught from a very young age to attain the highest level of achievement possible, so wanting to be the "boss" is not a bad thing by any means.  However, what I think a lot of folks miss, is what is it, exactly that the head football coach does?  I'm going to go through some of my experiences, and then give my opinion on where I'm at in my career and what my direction is going to be.  Hopefully this will steer some of you in your decision as those jobs keep popping up on your state association's websites.

What Does it Mean to be Head Coach?
You need to sit down and ask yourself, what this means.  I used to think it meant I got to run my stuff, how I wanted it, when I wanted it, and if somebody didn't like it they could pound sand!  Well, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Being the head coach means entirely different things at different places.  Of the hundred or so guys I played college and high school football with, I know of nine that are currently head coaches.  Every one of their programs is different, and some quite glaringly different.  This is the top factor to keep in mind when selecting a job to interview for, in my opinion.  You need to ask yourself, and the school where you are interviewing, "What is the job description for the head football coach?".  You might be quite shocked that folks have no clue as to what the job description for a high school football head coach is.  Mainly they want you to win, period, and some places may have a clearly defined set of parameters that they want the head coach to live up to, which is much better than working for folks who have no clue what they want other than a "winner". 

Again, what does it mean to be the head football coach at a high school, or anywhere for that matter.  I think the number one thing young candidates forget is the scrutiny in which you will be judged.  Remember, all the good things that happen are because of you and the bad things are because of you.  It does not matter that little Timmy can't bench press 100 pounds and is your starting tight end, or that you have three FBS running backs in your backfield, everything will revolve around YOU.  This comes as a shock to many new coaches, and some simply can't hack it.  Society has deemed the job this way, you either get used to it and evolve with it, or you will certainly get tossed by the wayside when you can't cope. 

I will give you an example.  I have a buddy, who took over a decent program a few years ago, they had won a state championship in school history and they had been to the playoffs a few years before falling on down times and firing their third year coach (whose best record at the time was 5-5).  In comes the new coach, right about the time that a crop of talented young freshmen were making their way on campus, having won two Pop Warner regional championships and one Pop Warner state championship, these guys were loaded.  A lot of these players started as freshmen and sophomores as my buddy had a little "house cleaning" to do when he got there.  Anyhow, long story short, they played for the state championship two years ago and lost by one point.  They did with 7 kids that were signed to FBS scholarships, 7 kids who went to FCS teams, 2 that played Division II ball, and 5 that went Division III or NAIA.  The next season, when the cupboard was bare, this team that was 11-3 the year before, went 5-5 and didn't even make the playoffs.  The following season they went 6-4, but also missed the playoffs, and my buddy is now no longer coaching there.  The reason, he didn't run a successful program.  Was he a good coach?  I think he his, hell I coached three years with him, and I thought he was a fine coach, but what do I know?  Did he win with just talent?  Maybe so, but talent is part of the picture when it comes to winning.  I have always defined success as when coaching meets talent.  A lack of either, and you can kiss success goodbye.

So remember, just because you think that being the head coach is the "dream job" you will be viewed under a microscope when it comes to EVERY decision you make.  These are things, as an assistant coach, you don't always see on Friday nights.  Every eye is on your decisions, and the outcomes, without having any inkling of what goes into preparing a bunch of young men to play the game in a week's time. 

You are also going to find that being the head football coach, in some places, has little to do with actual football.  In the grand scheme of things, football will be less than half what you have to do at some places.  I have been involved in programs where the head coach had to do all or some of the things listed below:
  • Fundraising- this might seem trivial, but I actually worked at a place where the football staff did no fundraising whatsoever.
  • Field Painting- yep, everywhere I've been the coaches have painted the field.  I have friends who look at me like I have an arm growing out of my ass when I say this, but that's just how it is.
  • Field Maintenance- Yep, you better believe it, be careful where you apply if you don't want to get those hands dirty!
  • Practice setup- I have seen this done different everywhere I've been.  The best place, was where I worked as a DC for the first time, the coaches did nothing when it came to field setup for practice.  We showed up, coached and left...why did I leave????
  • Strength and Conditioning- this too has been a 50-50 split where I've been.  Some programs have had S&C coaches on staff, while others did not.  Not a big deal, but it can be a further time suck.
  • Booster- I worked one place that the requirement was for the head football coach to be a member of the booster club as well as attend all meetings that were held so long as you were not in season.  My last gig as an assistant coach, the guy I worked for didnt' even know the names of the boosters!  Again, this differs everywhere, and I prefer a happy medium of the two situations I listed.

Some other things, that aren't necessarily school enforced are listed below:
  • Manager- that's right, you have to be the macro-manager of the entire ship.  You will be not only managing players, but assistant coaches as well.  Some guys don't see this, as they only see the X's and O's, but you are ultimately responsible for the daily managing of a football program, whose number could easily exceed 100 players, staff and personnel. 
  • Counselor- yep, you bet your sweet ass!  I have had to counsel many a young man when it comes to problems, most not having a single thing to do with the gridiron.  Some coaches don't think about this, and it becomes a drag on the job, but in all honesty I enjoyed helping young people, so it didn't bother me.
  • Coordinator- at both my head coaching stints, I was also a coordinator.  My first high school job I worked under a guy that was nothing more than a "figure head" coach.  Most schools don't have the money to spend on coaches, so having to coordinate is something you may have to do.  At the very least you might have to be a position coach, which isn't bad, but most coaches I know do have some sort of role as a coordinator on their team.  I even had a friend who was not only the head coach, but was also the offensive AND defensive coordinator where he worked.  Needless to say he was run ragged by the end of each season he coached there.
  • Parent- whether you like it or not, to a lot of the players you coach, you will be more of a father figure than they've ever had in their life.  Not many books on coaching spell this out, but it is an ever-growing part of the job that we must realize, and it does take time away from the actual "football" that you could be doing.  This part of the job can also put a lot of stress on you as a coach, so be warned!
  • Banker-most places I've been the coaching staff didn't manage there money, however in some places you will have full control over your account and your budget.  If you are not good at accounting, better find a staff member that is.  Also, if you are not good at budgeting, time to start getting better, especially since in most programs you need to get the most out of the dollar you possibly can!
  • Problem Solver-this is a big one, because everyone will be looking for you to put out the daily fires within the program.  You need to be quick with this one, as untreated problems within, or game time problems need quick thinking and action in order to solve them.  In one way or another, you will solve several problems throughout the course of a single football season, can you handle that?
I'm sure there's more that I'm missing, but these are basically the "highlights" of what can be asked of a head coach either directly or indirectly. 

Some Questions to ask About the Job You are Interviewing
  1. What happened to the previous head coach?  Was he fired?  If so what for?  Did he resign?  If so, why?  Sometimes these answers aren't obvious, but if you can get your hands on the previous head coach, you need to pick his brain.  See why he left, evaluate his reasons and determine if this is still the job for you.  Nothing says that you have to take the job, and it's still wise to interview, but you need to keep some of this stuff in mind during the application process.
  2. What is the current staff like?  Are they staying or leaving?  Will they be loyal if you are hired?  Are any of them also interviewing?  Some of this you'll have to find out for yourself after the hire.  You can get a good judge though if you can meet the current staff.  Most high schools don't get rid of entire staff's (though I was a part of a major purging here recently), so you should be able to contact them.  If one is interviewing for the job, just realize he's at an advantage over you in that he's known, however he can become a bigger problem for you if you get the job.
  3. What is the administration like?  Are the open and receptive to your ideas, or do they already have an idea of what they want to do with the football program?  How long has the current administration been at the school?  These are serious questions, because the administration is your boss, and you need to know who's running the ship.  Do they seem knowledgeable about football?  If they are is it to the point they would be meddling?  If they are not, are they open to learning about the game and it's impact on the school?  How is the A.D.?  Is the A.D. a "football guy", or is he involved mainly with some other sport?
  4. How is the booster club set up and what influence do they have on the hire?  I have been at only one place where the booster club was present at the interview.  This place was terrible, because the boosters basically ran the school, and the football program.  If things weren't done to their liking you got a visit from them, and no head coach has lasted very long at that school.  You need good boosters, but not meddling ones.  Most are meddlesome, however some to the point of being annoying, yet you can get involved with some that are power hungry like I've been involved with.  The power hungry booster club is a recipe for disaster, I highly recommend avoiding them at all costs.
  5. What is your budget?  Where does this money come from and how is it used?  I worked at a program that the baseball team kept the money for parking simply because they worked the gate.  THE BASEBALL TEAM!!!!  You got it, and yep, that football program wasn't very good either.  I also coached at a place where we kept the parking money and used it for charter buses to away games.  Nothing better than rolling up in a nice air-conditioned charter bus than the ol' yellow bird anyday.  You need to think about this one seriously because you need money to run a program, and to keep things nice and new to attract players. 
  6. How supportive is the community?  This is a big one.  Not only do you need an administration that is supportive, but you will need to have not only parents on board, but local businesses as well.  Most, if not all, good programs, have tremendous support for their local high school athletics, so check this out before interviewing. 
  7. What are the facilities like?  Are they in good shape and well kept, or in need of repair and revamping?  If they need to be revamped, is the A.D. and administration open to spending money to get the school's facilities on par with that of your competition?  What is the field like?  Is the football field in good shape?  Who maintains the football field?  You need to know this, because the answer to a lot these questions might be you!  You also need the freedom to keep up with your competition, especially in today's "instant gratification" society.  Kids want to go where it's cool and they can look good.  If you are entering a program that has a 30 year old weight room  and has been using the same jerseys for the past ten seasons, I would LOOK OUT!
  8. How has the program been doing both recently and in the past?  Has this program ever been to the playoffs?  Has this program ever won any sort of championship (district, region or state)?  In the words of a former mentor, "Don't go where you can't win".  This is very important, as I know we all want to leave our mark and our legacy turning around that downtrodden team, but believe me, all you are doing is shaving years off your life with the stress you'll ultimately inherit.  Take a long look at the school's history and how things have been in the past.  Why are they this way?  If you can't put your finger on a solution, I suggest avoiding that job altogether.

So I've Got the Job in Mind I Want, Now What Should I Do?
The number one thing I would tell any young coach, is to have a plan.  I would have a three, five and ten year plan developed based on the questions you've asked, as well as the research you've done.  Be very detailed in your plan, describe how you plan on achieving your goals for the program.  Described any changes you would make, and be very descriptive about these changes.  Make your plan liquid though and adaptable, you never know what you might be up against. Sure a part of your plan is to be a state champion, but who's isn't?  Also, how attainable of a goal is that really?  Looking at an example of mine, I worked for a guy at a private high school, that was doing well why I was with my friend, enrollment was at it's highest, as was sport participation.  Things were going good until the recent economic decline, then numbers began to dwindle, as did the facilities because the school was not generating the revenue to keep the facilities up.  Wins dropped off and the coach was to blame, and ultimately got fired in what is now a six man football program that hasn't won a game in the past two seasons (my friend has not been there for five years now, and I've not been there for over ten).  One of the parts of my friend's plan was that the team would be competitive and win championships, which he did in his first six seasons at the school, however once the talent level decreased and numbers dropped, so did the record.  His plan wasn't "fluid" enough to cover the bad times.  We know as a coach, we are all going to experience these bad times, you need to have this built in to your plan, and what the football program will look like, and be trying to do during these times. 

In reality, winning should NEVER be a part of your plan, and I know this sounds stupid, but when you have to "run what you brung" in high school football, you need to be careful with stating winning as your ultimate goal.  This is why I refer to the movie Facing the Giantsbecause in this movie, the team's goal is altered and they actually start winning.  Now I know, that's fairy-tale bullshit to most of you, but if all you coach for is wins, you are a very hollow person.  I coach, for the betterment of the young men I coach.  I want them to be better fathers, husbands, and members of society, so that this great country can prosper.  That is actually in my mission statement for every program I've ever interviewed for.  I don't coach to win, winning is secondary to our ultimate goal of making better men out of our players.  I think that is what every football coach's mission statement should say, but what the hell, I'm biased!

When you present your plan, be ready for questions.  Actually, you should prepare to be questioned.  You have to realize that Columbus was probably seriously questioned when he set sail for the New will you.  Your plan may be new or foreign, many folks may even use the age old axiom "That can't be done here".  Don't let them sway you, stay true to your plan and your goals for the program when presenting the material.  Answer the interviewers honestly, and if you don't know, simply tell them, I do not know the answer at this time, but if that situation every arises, I will figure out a solution to the problem.

Whatever your plan is, it should be about the program and the players, and how the program will benefit the players and the school.  The administrators want to hear how you are going to bring school pride into the school, how you are going to help handle some of the more "troubled" kids by using football as a tool to reach these young men.  This is where you need to understand that being the head coach is so much more than just football.  I don't think many guys figure this out until it's too late, and unfortunately I was one of those guys.

My future
I don't know that I will ever head coach again, to be honest, it's not been fun for me.  I don't like the daily grind of things that aren't football, yet I completely enjoy the daily grind of football.  I really enjoy being a coordinator, however, after being an interim head coach last year, and the guy I'm working for retiring here soon, I'm sure the opportunity will arise for me to take over the head coaching role at the school I'm currently at.  This will be a big crossroad for me, as I've enjoyed being a coordinator for over five years now, but there is something in all of us that says "I want to be the boss".  We shall see, but the way I feel currently is that I will more than likely turn down the job, and at that point try to get back into high school football.  Anyhow, I hope this was a rewarding piece of information for those that are currently seeking employment as a high school head football coach.  Don't take that title lightly, as there's more to it than most realize!