In separate conversations, we asked two high school coaches with more than three decades of head coaching experience why, after their twentieth year as head coaches, their teams went on to win strings of state championships in their respective states. Both replied, “Better coaching staff than in the past.”
What Were They Doing Wrong the First Twenty Years?
One of those coaches, as he was building the program, consistently hired former players as a way of keeping them involved in football but found that he was spending too much of his time teaching them how to teach the game. And on game days, he had a difficult time trusting their judgment.
The other coach had access to former NFL players who lived in the community and wanted to stay involved. While each had knowledge of the game at the highest level, they had a difficult time communicating that knowledge to teenagers. And they often disrupted cohesion within the coaching staff; they may have been contributors on NFL teams, but considered themselves stars in the meeting room.
And for some reason, intuition maybe, those coaches changed their approach, and that change changed their programs forever.
What Are the Top Three Qualities Should Coaches Look for in Potential Assistants?
1. Balance between football knowledge and kid knowledge
The more time you spend with kids, the more you know you’re teaching them football, not just coaching football. And to teach teenagers effectively, you need to be able to connect with them. Not only must a coach connect with players; he must also understand their capacity. In a classic example of over coaching, one quarterback “expert” hindered a future D-1 QB’s performance by giving him too many reads on passing plays. Too much to think about will limit any athlete’s ability to use their natural talent.
Once you’re convinced that a potential assistant has the position knowledge you’re looking for, ask them what they’ve learned about kids through their coaching experiences.
As large as many of today’s coaching staffs are, chemistry within the coaching team is as important as chemistry among players. It’s great to find coaching candidates who have a lot of knowledge about the game and their craft. It’s even better to find candidates with a thirst to learn more. Assistants who can speak knowledgeably about their expertise and confidently about how they want to grow as coaches contribute to chemistry more than assistants who can only do the former.
Sometimes, when a head coach from an area school leaves their position, you might be excited by the opportunity to bring that level of knowledge into your program as an assistant or coordinator. But slow down and make sure that knowledge is a good fit with your staff. Many former head coaches are excellent fits because they’re all about the team and they have a passion for teaching. Others, however, might have a hard time letting go of head coaching habits. They may worry about areas outside their own responsibility, and start to coach other coaches, or simply have a wandering eye during practice that prevents them from focusing on the details of their own job.
If you hire a football genius who is late for meetings or misses them altogether, you’ve done more harm to your team than good. Same goes if you hire someone who is inconsistent in their approach to film study, whether that’s in timeliness or attention to detail. When one coach dodges accountability, every coach faces a greater challenge in keeping players accountable.
Ask candidates how they prepare their individual responsibilities when the team is getting ready for the next opponent. Find out if they vary their approach or if they remain consistent in the way they approach the responsibilities you value.
A championship head coach is a coach who has put together a championship staff. To be able to hoist that trophy at the end of the fall season, start by adding the pieces to your staff that will create the energetic, accountable environment characteristic of every winning team.