November 1, 2011

On Coaching Your Assistants

Very recently I was fired from my position as Defensive Coordinator/DB coach, which has led to me reflecting a great deal on the various things that happened this season that I either didn't like or could have done better. One of the big things was that I needed to coach and manage my assistants much better than I had previously. At my prior gig, just about every one that I was coaching with were people that I had known for a long time and were a great support system for me in a lot of ways. This job was a patchwork group of guys coming together for the first time and it definitely showed at times.

Support Them, Don't Enable Them

Something that I did a great job of was support my assistants and give them a great deal of autonomy within their individual time and their coaching styles. Everyone has to be their own person and has to coach in their given style. One of the reasons why I left my previous position was because the head coach wanted me to coach in a way that I wasn't comfortable with. You have to coach to your personality or you're going to miss on making a genuine relationship with your athletes.

Another thing that you will see repeatedly in management books, classes, etc, is that you need to train or provide the opportunity for advancement within your team/organization. Not everyone needs to be learning to be a DC some day and, frankly, if everyone thinks that they should be wearing your hat, you've got some bigger issues. But you should be preparing someone as if they will replace you or as if they are moving on to another job at some point.

I think this is a healthy practice for a number of reasons. 1-It gives motivated assistants a reason to work hard and to immerse themselves in improvement. 2-It shows that you are a long term thinker. 3-It spreads coaching families, which benefits everyone greatly in a profession that is very transient by nature. 4-It attracts talent in the way that ambitious young coaches will want to be a part of your program if you consistently produce coaches who move on to success.

However, you must avoid a mistake I made this season: I enabled my assistants too much. I was so gun shy about being demanding and harsh with them that I allowed things to happen that I wasn't OK with. I got run down by my last boss like I was a player and I didn't want to do that to those that I was responsible for guiding/directing. I let too many bad habits, bad coaching practices go without addressing it head on. I was passive and not direct with them.

Listen to Them, HEAR Them

I was accused on multiple occasions of ignoring the input of my assistants. In my defense, I wasn't ignoring their input, I simply wasn't acting on it. It is one thing to offer suggestions, tweaks, etc, to what you're doing. I was getting input like "Switch to a slanting 4-4 and tell the LBs just to fill a gap". While this was horrible advice for our situation, the bigger issue is the feeling that input is being ignored.

The best organizations make assistants feel wanted, necessary, and a part of the decision making process. This is true from Disney to Taylor's Hot Dog Stand (Real place, great chili dogs!) and everywhere in between. The people who are not in charge need to feel as though they matter. It may be only a question of degree, but without that feeling of meaning, of purpose, assistants will burn out or lose interest. Help them to feel a part of what is going on.

But Be Yourself…

At the end of the day, you have to be yourself and do what you think is best. I did my best to coach our boys to the best of my ability and in the best way that I know how. I changed a bit too much for my own liking, but I did it all my way. I was, for the most part, true to what I believe in and what I stand for. Because of that fact, I sleep well at night and with a clean conscience.

However, I had assistants doing things that I did not approve of, coaching in a way that I did not care for, and offering input that was not solicited. I needed to be more firm, to be more strict with my expectations, to be more clear with what their roles were in things. My staff was not a good reflection of myself, my philosophies, and my defense. It was a bad situation, but I did not handle it was I should have or needed to. As funny as it is to say, I basically needed to throw around more "Because I F***ing want it that way" and a lot more "STFU and be as assistant" because I was so focused on being a positive leader. Just like with players, it's always a question of can't or won't. If they can't, help them get there. If they won't, find someone who will. I needed more can't, I had too much won't.


  1. Coach,
    I've gotta say I don't think you acted inappropriately after reading your comments. Yes, you might have learned how to be more clear with assistants and expectations, but I would bet on that school continuing to have issues with the current coaches they are letting run the program down. Sorry it had to end that way but you're better off not coaching then coaching where you are not supported by Administration or the HFC or your Assistants. Good luck and hopefully you find something more enjoyable next year!

  2. This is great to see I really like the leadership shown