College Football: Day in the Life of a Graduate Assistant
As is the case with many of the finer things in life college football is more than meets the eye.
Yes, the product we see on the field on fall Saturday’s is the result of 1000’s of hour of preparation, planning and careful consideration by a group of often unsung heroes who put their heart and souls into the serious business of winning football games.
One of the key figures in this process, and one we may hear the least about, is the overworked and under compensated graduate assistant who basically acts as a coach in every way except for recruiting related travel.
So, what does a college football G.A. do during a normal, ordinary day during the season and how much does this candidate for a future permanent coaching gig contribute to what we see as our team hits the field each weekend?
To answer these questions we sat down with Kevin Oliver who is a G.A. at Texas Tech where he serves in an offensive capacity.
Oliver is a graduate of both Texas Tech and Angelo State (Texas) and has spent the last three years as first a student assistant and then a student manager with the Red Raider football program before being named to his current position as a G.A. in February.
Oliver is responsible for prepping the scout team that faces the starting offensive unit during practice each week and he also oversees special positional areas such as deep snappers and kick holders.
Along with his gridiron commitments Oliver is in the classroom three nights per week and ultimately he sees his hard work, sacrifice and dedication leading him up the ladder as a coach at the college level where he enjoys the opportunity to help kids grow through the passion filled collegiate game.
So, how does Kevin Oliver fit all this (and more, the guy even has a family) dedication into one single 24 hour day and what specifically does he do for the Texas Tech gridiron squad?
The following slideshow takes an hour-by-hour (and then day-by-day) look at Oliver’s daily routine during the football season. His insight goes a long way in helping us understand all the many hours of toil involved, on an individual level, in getting a FBS football team ready to hit the field.
The photo included features Texas Tech G.A. Kevin Oliver (on right) and his brother Bryson Oliver who is currently the O.L. coach at Tiffin University.
5:45 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.
After a Sunday filled with reviewing film from Saturday’s game and a meeting and work out with the team the day starts bright and early for the G.A. on Monday morning. This is no “hit the snooze” job, and to make it in college football coaching, you need to be prepared to sacrifice sleep.
Oliver hits the athletic offices early, and his first chore on Monday is to begin to prepare the “cut-ups” or film-driven scenarios that break down the upcoming Saturday’s opponent.
These film clips have been collected both in the offseason and as each upcoming opponent plays a game in the current season and are analyzed to track tendencies in opponent’s play calling. (i.e. West Virginia runs a Cover 2 defense on 1st-and-10 but not on 3rd-and-5).
The clips have to be carefully compiled by the G.A.’s ultimately whittling down the massive library to highlight film involving opponent’s games played against teams with a similar offensive and defensive scheme as the Red Raiders run.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Oliver uses the early mornings for a work out as he says that otherwise "he wouldn't ever get a chance to exercise."
Depending on whether it’s a home or away game, it’s up to the office early to be ready to travel, do last-minute preparation tasks or attempt to keep fit with another workout.
8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.
After the cut-ups are complete, the entire staff spends five to six hours analyzing film. Each position coach comes up with different scenarios for each position, and the very beginnings of a game plan begin slowly and laboriously to emerge.
According to Oliver the "main responsibility of the G.A. in this process is to ensure that all the data is put up or tagged accurately" meaning basically that the opponent’s tendencies have to be presented absolutely precisely to form an effective foundation for the scripting.
Per Oliver much of this data "is logged into several spreadsheets by the G.A." (Oliver is looking at the upcoming opposing defense while his counterpart tracks the offense), and these tools are used as the week goes on.
He also stated that "he's always got a bunch of spreadsheets going at the same time, sometimes three to five, sometimes more...and they're massive."
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
The entire offensive staff meets, along with Oliver, during this time period and continues to work on the upcoming game plan.
Friday’s schedule varies based on travel plans; if the game is at home, it's back in the office for more meetings, preparation, etc.
On game day, Oliver is responsible for "going from room-to room at the hotel and waking the offensive players up" in time to make breakfast and meetings before the game.
9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
On Mondays, the staff is still watching film, tracking tendencies, coming up with scenarios and Oliver and the defensive G.A. continue to be responsible for the accuracy of the data.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
The entire staff meets at 9:00 a.m.—offense, defense, special teams, both G.A.s and Coach Tuberville. The group continues to look at film (the cut-ups) and works on the script for that day’s practice.
One of Kevin Oliver’s most telling insights was how crucial all the preparation time is due to the limited amount of time that the staff actually has with the players.
With only 20 hours per week to prepare athletes for an upcoming contest (that as fans we are living or dying for), the entire coaching staff has to be prepared to utilize every moment to the very fullest.
And that is what has impressed Oliver most about working at the college level, he stated that the degree of "effiency required was amazing."
Expanding on this idea further he talked about spring ball, "You've got only 113 plays on a Saturday scrimmage to work with and you can't waste a single down."
Meetings or travel as needed
This time slot is obviously totally dependent on what time the game is, but regardless of where they are (home or away), the team is in a hotel and the pregame routine is fairly static.
First comes a final walk-through of the game plan followed by a presentation of a highlight or pump up video for the entire team.
After this, the team loads the buses for the game, and since we’re talking Texas Tech here, victory is the next item on the agenda…
12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.
After the film is digested, the coaching staff attends a meeting on Monday afternoons and begins selecting plays based on the opponent’s recorded tendencies for the upcoming game.
Positional groupings are analyzed, and again, scenarios are used to begin to script the game.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
This is the time slot between meetings and when the players come in for practice at 2:00 p.m. It’s another opportunity to get things planned down to the smallest detail.
The team is either in transit, or players are finishing up class before Friday’s light workout and walk-through.
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The staff meeting continues where plays are selected and game scripts are beginning to take shape. Included in these are the G.A.-generated scripts that the scout teams will use in this week’s practice to mirror the upcoming opponent’s offensive and defensive sets and tendencies.
Practice for the week begins with players watching film which has been transformed into a simplified, position-specific version of the cut-ups which will begin to give athletes an idea of what the upcoming opponent will look like on Saturday.
After the film session, players hit the field and according to Oliver they "see the scenarios live via the scout team" which are scripted by the appropriate G.A.
In Kevin Oliver’s case, he’s carefully scripted and is now running the opponent’s defenses against the Tech starting offense.
Oliver stated that his job is to "make sure the Red Raider offense gets the most accurate look at the opponent's different defensive schemes as possible."
All this is put into a spreadsheet tracking what was done on each down (again by the ever handy G.A.), and this data is utilized to determine if all the different looks were actually presented on the field.
Wednesday’s practice is much like Tuesday’s with an opportunity to show other opponents’ possible scenarios that weren’t covered on Tuesday.
Thursday’s practice is much lighter, the special teams unit may be worked, and at the end of the day, everything is now locked and loaded for Saturday’s game.
In Oliver's own words, "everything is now in place."
Depending on travel, the player’s will walk through the game plan again and watch film of the final scripts from Thursday’s practice.
At this point, the staff has the opportunity, according to Oliver, to "point out the good and bad" aspects of the execution of the scripts in anticipation of game day.
4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The process of selecting plays and watching film continues until the next meeting which occurs at 9 p.m.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
After practice, Oliver and his counterpart defensive G.A. are responsible for tagging all the plays from practice to be utilized at the next meeting or whenever the practice is reviewed.
Again, Oliver reinforced that one of the major keys to the G.A. role is "having all the data put up correctly and tagged accurately."
If the team is at home, this is when they load up the buses and head out to the hotel for the pregame ritual.
6:30 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
After all the play selection and scripting is complete, the staff comes together at 9:00 p.m. to formulate the game plan.
At this point, there's a preview and breakdown of the upcoming opponent "by position and by positional coach."
Per Oliver his meeting can last from "midnight to as late as 2:00 a.m.," and again, the G.A.’s function here is to have all the data, cut-ups and film put up and tagged correctly so the game plan can be put together accurately.
Tuesday and Wednesday
On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the coaching staff meets from 6:30 p.m.– 11:00 p.m. to watch practice (again, the film has already been tagged by the G.A.’s) and continue to watch video and plan the next practice.
This meeting is critical to utilize the next day’s hands on time with the players so it can be productive as possible in its very limited format.
Thursday after 6:30 p.m. is a big night for the G.A. and the entire coaching staff who all enjoy their one night of the week away from college football.
According to Oliver, Thursday evening is referred to as “date night” and is the staff’s golden opportunity to spend time with their families or significant others.
Oliver stated that date night is obviously one of the most anticipated events of a regular week in the season and the good news for him personally is that he also doesn't have class that night because his classes are "Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m."
At Texas Tech specifically, Coach Tuberville does a radio gig on Thursday evening giving him yet another night to talk college football while his staff rests their now weary heads.
On Friday evening, the players are kept in meetings until about 9:30 p.m. and then sent off to bed. This leaves the staff with the duty of last-minute planning and the responsibility of making sure everyone stays where they need to be.
According to Oliver the meetings last later on Friday night precisely to help "keep everyone out of any trouble."
Putting It All in Perspective
Since programs are only allowed to carry two graduate assistants at a time, it’s easy to see how quickly their time can be filled up with what is, at the end of day, tasks crucial to making a football team an on-field success.
G.A.’s represent a win-win situation for a college football program…the team gets knowledgeable, eager to please, ready to prove themselves and dedicated staff at rock bottom prices while the G.A.’s themselves get their foot in the door in collegiate coaching.
Texas Tech’s Kevin Oliver represents an entire swath of guys across our football nation who will work hard and go unnoticed this coming season all for the opportunity to work just as hard in the future for a shot to become a known entity in coaching.
So, how realistic are Oliver's goals to, as he put it, "climb the ladder in college football and become a head coach in the future?"
Well, it's interesting to note that Nick Saban was a G.A. at Kent State from 1972-74, Les Miles was a G.A. at Michigan from 1980-81 and Gary Patterson was a G.A. at Kansas State in 1982.
All this adds up to today’s G.A.'s very likely becoming tomorrow’s great coaches.
Many thanks to Coach Oliver for his cooperation in preparing this article.