Updated: Sep 20, 2020
Being a young coach is possibly the toughest it has ever been. These are tough times in
the coaching market and the job market in general. A lot of young coaches are discouraged by the fact they seem to think they can’t get a job, and even more are quitting the profession
because they cannot afford to volunteer or find a job that pays enough. However, the market is still full of capable coaches. We need to realize the sacrifices we must make if we want to make it in this profession, and I hope the advice I have garnered early in my career can lead to some successful young coaches jump starting their careers. I’ve got ten key points for all of the young coaches breaking into the game.
The first piece of advice I have is simply to be professional. It might sound simple and
easy, but it is something we have difficulty mastering as young coaches. The way we talk to
other people in the profession is most important. We need to show the respect to older coaches as young coaches in the same ways we did as players. It might be tough sometimes because they may be on the opposing side of the ball, they may do something we disagree with, or they may not realize our potential. I can honestly say I have been given the ability to realize my whole potential throughout my short career. So while this may be more easily said than done, I know this is the best advice I can give about how to conduct yourself around other coaches. The next situation which requires a lot of professionalism is conducting yourself around recruits. That does not mean you have to use perfect grammar around them in person or you have to wear a bowtie every time you are around them, but emulate the top recruiters you see on TV and twitter and within your own program. Wear your football gear, dress professionally, and have a natural conversation with your recruits the way your top recruiters do. Think of what you liked and disliked out of recruiters in your high school and college career, and conduct yourself the way you wanted a recruiter to conduct themselves around you.
The next part is simple. Dress professionally, act professionally, and post professionally.
Like I said earlier, you put yourself at an advantage by dressing the right way around recruits.
This also goes for interviews. You can never be overdressed for an interview, but you can be
underdressed. So if you’re caught between polo and shirt and tie, go with the shirt and tie everytime. The way you conduct yourself around recruits and coaches needs to be different from how you act around teammates and friends. If you are not sure how casual to be around a superior, always let them guide you. Never be more casual with them than they are with you. Finally, perhaps the biggest part out of all of this is post professionally. Stick to your brand, stay on topic, and do not be divisive. It is better to tweet middle of the road tweets than to get fired for something you said, posted, or liked on the internet. Don’t let the superficial world deter you in the real world.
THE MORE YOU KNOW YOU DON’T KNOW, THE BETTER
This one is an obvious cliché, but it needs to be applied. As young coaches, we do not
know everything. Even the best coaches did not know everything at this point in their careers. We need to realize and apply this. Even if you know all the playbooks and you’ve been to more clinics than the entire staff combined, you still might not know the techniques or what works best for the players. It’s a very tough thing to grasp, especially if you’re a fast learner who can grasp all of this information quickly. You might feel like you know so much that you can game plan as well as all the other coaches on staff, and in some cases that may be true. However, it is always better to humble yourself than to overstep.
SET YOUR PRIDE ASIDE
This has a lot to do with the last topic and another one I’ll cover later. Nick Saban did not
become Nick Saban overnight. You aren’t ready to go toe-to-toe with his staff game planning yet, and neither are the fans yelling at the coaches from the stands. This also means you’ll have to do dirty work. While it may be disappointing that you don’t get to coach your own position, or you aren’t involved actively the way you want to be, you should take these experiences to learn. If you just sit in the back and don’t learn from the rest of the staff, you won’t be ready for your interviews or for when your name gets called to finally teach a player something, run an indy period, or contribute to the practice script.
This one is as important as anything else in this article. This profession is about who you
know. Most of the jobs that get posted online are already filled by the time they get posted, so you need to stay ahead of the curve. The first way to do this is twitter. Perhaps you know of a recruit who posts their Hudl under every coach’s tweets. Perhaps you were that recruit. Get back to that habit. DM all the new coaches who follow you back. Continually make connections and follow as many coaches as you can. Some will even reach out to you.
You might not have a LinkedIn yet, but make one. It is better than twitter in terms of
getting to know other coaches for a few reasons. First, sometimes on twitter you won’t see every single follower you get. A head coach with tens of thousands of followers may very well miss you and not follow you back, despite the fact they would have if they noticed you. However, on LinkedIn, it is much easier to see the connection invitations, and you will automatically be allowed to message everyone you connect with. It is also a more professional setting than twitter, although your twitter should still look as professional as possible. It also helps if you have something to send them. I have sent out my first article to a large number of coaches. I wrote an article on analytics, which is a marketable skill and something with which I have a lot of experience. Greet the coach, ask them to view your work, and then stay in touch with them. A lot won’t reply. However, it only takes one coach who enjoys your work to you get the ball rolling.
LEARN MULTIPLE POSITIONS
This is a great way to break into the position coaching arena from the volunteer and
assistant side of the game. The first way to do this will be to learn multiple positions associated with each other. If you started with running backs, learn tight ends, full backs, and offensive line. If you started with quarterbacks, learn offensive line or wide receivers. Your college position and your favorite position to coach won’t always lead you to the best opportunity, so learning multiple positions will help. Go to clinics, work on both sides of the ball, and learn every opportunity you have. Another huge way to benefit yourself in the field of learning multiple positions is to learn some on both sides of the ball. If you played offensive line, try working with defensive line or linebackers. If you played wide receiver, go for a spot with the defensive backs. This will lead you to having a ton of versatility because an entire staff could essentially be structured to fit you if you can work on either side of the ball. Special teams is also a great way to build your repertoire. I played punter in college, so I
have a unique skill set which most coaches do not have. Almost all young coaches will have to do some work with special teams on the way up the ladder, so you might as well get as good at it as you can. You need to learn and clinic special teams just like you would for offense or defense, because sometimes it can be your way in.
HAVE A MARKETABLE SKILL
I feel like this is the thing on this list which I have mastered the most. It is great to find a
niche, or something you’re good at, but don’t settle there. There are plenty of skills that head coaches and assistant coaches look for in their prospective employees. I have worked hard to start analytics departments at small schools, and I have worked hard to become as good at it as I can be. With that being said, I am always trying to improve. I am also a recruiting coordinator and have been part of a staff which has been able to put together an entire juco football team since our hiring, which was after national signing day. The final marketable skill which is biggest for young coaches is administration. Work in football operations and be an assistant with the team for on-field activities. This way, you will learn the system at your program and demonstrate your work ethic.
DO THE DIRTY WORK
No one ever said this profession was easy. Your early and mid twenties will probably be
relatively uncomfortable. We don’t get into this profession for the starting salary. We get into it for the impact we make. With that being said, you may have to volunteer. You may have to work for just student pay. You may be considered part time despite working eighty hour weeks during the season. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets a GA position, you still won’t be making enough to live comfortably. The next thing is to be a “gopher”. Go for this, go for that. Go grab the bags for the drills, go warm up the players on gameday. Go hold the scout cards on special teams. This is all essential work and another place where you can demonstrate your work ethic. Working hard as a gopher will lead to coaches wanting to teach you more. In turn, you’ll learn more, get more experience, and have a shot to do some real coaching. Help with the scout team. If you want to demonstrate your skill in player development, this is how you can do that early. Help the scout players give the starters a better look, and you’ll easily start to turn heads. This is another great way to gain recognition from the staff at your program.
This last part is somewhat controversial, but I believe it is better to volunteer at a small
school than the Division 1 level. Volunteering at Division 1 may get you some great connections, but it is also possible that you will go by the wayside at a huge program while you are still learning. There are too many coaches at these programs for a volunteer to get to have a real coaching opportunity. I volunteered at a D2 powerhouse (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and actually got great coaching opportunities. I ran meetings on occasion and also got a chance to contribute my analytics reports during every offensive line meeting. By the end of the season, the tight end group and running back group were split during most Tuesday and Wednesday practices, so I got to run the indy periods for the running backs very frequently. I was in the offensive staff meetings and occasionally got to contribute. Division 1 volunteers rarely get the opportunity to do any of this. They also do not get to clinic every day with the coaching staff during the offseason like I did.
DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED
This is another one which is more easily said than done. However, most of the job
postings online have already been filled. This is because there are people out there who may
have a better connection, and probably are working just as hard as you to get a job. I applied to roughly 150 jobs and only had about ten offers. If you take out the high school and prep school jobs, I only got two offers from over fifty attempts at the college level. The thing you need to realize is that you only need one. I was getting ready to accept a job for which I had done about fourteen hours of driving, had my car engine die, stayed in a hotel (for which my grandmother paid, luckily) and gone to a coaching clinic. However, that job offer kept getting smaller and smaller. I interviewed for an offensive coordinator job, for which I later learned I was not really a candidate because of only being 21. I was never afforded a courtesy call about not getting the position. However, after the quarterbacks coach quit, they offered to do some restructuring and offer me the offensive line job. Out of nowhere, this turned into a tight end coaching position. My ideal job seemed to have gone away. Then, only a few days later, I got an email that I had been selected for a phone interview with Jersey Coast Prep Academy. On the spot, I was given the jobs of Special Teams Coordinator, Director of Analytics, and Offensive Recruiting Coordinator. Later, I earned the title of Running Backs and Full Backs Coach. It only takes one offer. Do not let your misfortune discourage you. If you are outworking the competition, you will get your time to shine.
The next point with this topic is that you need to give everything you have to every
interview you do. I did not want to coach high school, but I applied for 100 high school jobs
because they were open much more often and I was willing to do whatever it took to get to the college level. I was fine with doing a year of high school coaching if that was what it took. These interviews helped me get my interviewing skills to where I needed them to be in order to be successful in my next few interviews. Always have your philosophies, manuals, and playbooks prepared. In addition, know the face of the person who is giving you the interview. I made the mistake once of not learning an interviewer’s face, and I will never make that mistake again.
ALWAYS BE THE HARDEST WORKER IN THE ROOM
If you’re going into the field of coaching football, you probably played in college. Even
if you did not, you probably played in high school. Your coaches always told you that you were building habits for your life, not just for football. In college, I was the only specialist who stayed after practice daily to work on my craft. Some people put emphasis on the fact that your body needs to rest, but I knew I was never the most gifted player on the field. I earned every snap of high school and college football I got to play by outworking the competition.
This is how you apply those habits in real life. I was the first one in and the last one out
for practice, and I am in the football office too. Whether I am watching film, learning schemes and techniques, or running an analytics study, I am always working. This is a profession where the hardest workers thrive. In addition to doing great with what you are required to do, do some work on your own as well. This is the second article I have written this offseason. I have spent hours putting together manuals, coaching points, and drills for my players to do during the offseason. Last season, I ran individual studies to demonstrate the importance of run efficiency for the offensive line in addition to my studies on our own run efficiency. Working harder than the competition is not only something you owe to yourself, but something you owe to your players and colleagues as well.
NEVER FORGET WHERE YOU CAME FROM
This is the most short and sweet piece of advice I’ve got. I’m a family guy and I’m a
team guy. I would never forget where I came from because I know that I did not get where I am alone. I had help from family, colleagues, mentors, players, and others. You should never forget where you came from because your mentors and colleagues are the best connections you make. Always stay grounded and stay true to your roots.