A Checklist for New College Football Coaching Hires
For many programs, especially those that endure lengthy coaching searches, getting the name is the final leg of the race. The introductory presser is the grand finale, as fans get to see the head coach in front of the cameras and then hear him stroke their egos as he makes the radio rounds.
The reality of the situation is that agreeing to terms is just the starting gun of the transition. It initiates the most intense time for the new coach, and it is absolutely critical that this period go well for the coach to hit the ground running heading towards National Signing Day.
This is the part of the action that takes place somewhat under the radar. The part of the job where things get hairy and hectic and, outside of the announcing of a new staff member or two, very few people know much about.
The first facet of the coaching change that comes to most folks' minds is assembling the staff. That is most certainly a big deal and truly helps set the program in the right direction. Coordinators come first, and they are who help establish the identity of the program.
Some head coaches come in as offensive guys, while others are defensive-minded individuals. And yet other coaches are more CEO types that look to farm out the heavy lifting on both sides of the ball. Either way, bringing a coordinator into the fold is the start of forming a coaching staff.
There are a couple of schools of thought here, and years in the profession, contacts made and the state of the current program all play a role in whom your new coach can hire.
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If you've been coaching awhile and your coordinators have a good track record in gaining opportunity, you get a leg up on other jobs. If you're a good guy to work for, or you have made genuine, solid contacts during your run with coaches and possible references, you get a leg up on hiring. If your school comes with some legitimate prestige and a budget to match, you get a leg up on hiring.
Now, if a coach does not come into the job with a lot of these assets, then he'll be doing a lot of vetting via the phone as he searches for a position coach who is ready to make the leap; or a current coordinator at a lower level who wants to step up. Trying to blend philosophies through talking with mutual friends, phone conversations and watching their results is not an easy task.
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Once coordinators are hired, the coach has some allies. Two or three heads now working together to select the rest of the staff. That is more work experience, more years of working with different people and, ultimately, more names of potential candidates.
Assembling the coaching staff is about finding the proper mix of personalities, philosophies, work ethic, ability to develop talent and recruiting prowess. You want a mix of guys who are content career assistants and some who are looking to claw their way to the top via this job. You also want to blend guys who are tied into your philosophy, but also coaches that excel at getting the best out of their position, independent of system.
Which brings us to another coaching quality that every staff has to have: the ability to recruit. If you're the new head coach, it boils down to a few different elements, where recruiting is concerned. Some coaches are simply that, coaches. They are not big on recruiting, but their value is measured in how great they are at being a coordinator or getting results from their position.
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Other coaches possess varying degrees of regional-recruiting appeal and an overall recruiting zeal. The cream of the crop is a guy that has tremendous devotion to recruiting and knows the area where he'll be recruiting very well.
When you're assembling a staff, both qualities are important. If you're new to the area, having a sort of "regional guide" to help show you where the state's talent is and open doors for you is a plus. If you're taking a step-up job, then overall enthusiasm for going out to get the best players possible is a must to help stock your coffers.
One element of the coaching-staff search that is remarkably undervalued on the general market is the strength-and-conditioning hire. This guy is your program. He plays as much of a role in the success of your squad as anyone on the actual X's and O's coaching staff. He is the coaching staff's shepherd in the summertime and the guy responsible for growing boys into men.
The S&C coach is the one who puts the muscle on your kids. He is the one who gets them bigger, faster and stronger. He is the one that helps get their bodies ready for action, and that includes flexibility, strength, conditioning and working to safeguard players from injury.
Folks, I implore you to pay attention to S&C hires. They help you win games in the trenches. They help turn the 25-yard run into the 75-yard score and they help keep players off the injury report.
Speaking of players, they are, interestingly enough, not a major player in the early stages of a coaching change. Whether they are headed to a bowl game and working with their interim coach or they are home for the holidays, their interaction with the new coach and staff is relatively minimal.
Those current players will get enough of the new coaches come winter conditioning and spring to decide whether they want to stay or go. However, another group of players still has a major decision to make, and that's where a new coach must focus more of his already-divided attention: recruits.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, and we've already talked about getting coaches on staff with zeal and know-how; another big step for coaches to make is to connect with the existing recruits. That includes committed kids, high schoolers who have received offers, those who have shown interest and players in whom the school has shown interest.
First and foremost, you have to let kids know whether or not you plan on honoring their scholarship offer. The next step is to put the ball in their court and find out if they are interested in maintaining their commitment to the program or taking you up on your scholarship offer.
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For some kids, the level of commitment is as solid as a rock. They bought into the school and are not going to waver. For the bulk of them, though, you are going to have to resell these youngsters on the university and, more importantly, your new staff and yourself.
With the dead period starting on Dec 17 and running through Jan. 3, the time is limited on both sides. Most coaches barely hit the ground at their new gig before the dead period starts, and in that time, they have to make contact and forge some semblance of a relationship before cutting off legal contact.
What about coaches, like Gary Andersen, who are hired in the middle of the dead period and have to wait until the new year to contact the commits, the offered and interested kids? They only have a month to wheel and deal to get players on board for National Signing Day.
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It is not ideal anyway you slice it. Dave Doeren, Gary Andersen, Bret Bielema and every other coach who is in a new location is working to build a staff while hoping they can really make some sense of their recruiting class after the dead period passes.
Once the hire is made, the real action starts on plenty of levels. There is the glad-handing that must be done for top boosters and personalities to be appeased. There is also the real work of putting together your position staff and coordinators. Toss in creating your strength-and-conditioning program and working in a little recruiting, and the plate is full.
Winning the presser might be what fans and know-nothing media types are focused on. However, winning the next few weeks of your job, from a hiring and recruiting standpoint, is how coaches really get themselves off to a good start.
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