It’s mid March…. Every assistant in the country (excluding the 10-15 at the perennial powers) has their “job board” going. What schools MAY open, what have already opened, who’s getting which job, who will get the positions those coaches left and so on. It’s the annual rite of Spring in the college coaching world. Men’s or Women’s basketball, it’s all the same.
So, you start your “job board”, you have your list of potential positions, your network is gathered together, you get and go for an interview! After you answer all their questions there’s that inevitable moment: Do you have any questions for us?
This is your moment.
It may be the only opportunity to find out whether you really want the position on this staff and, in particular, what kind of person your new head coach might be. I believe one of the greatest fears of every assistant is to make the “wrong” move. To take the new opportunity, the one you believe is the next step in you attaining your ultimate goal…. and find out 2 months, 6 months a year later you were wrong.
How do you know?
The greatest piece of advice I was ever given came from both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy. Both said to me at different times….”Do the job you have today like it is your first day on the last job you will ever have…. and the rest will take care of itself.”. I love that! That is completely true. IF…. the head coach you are with is committed to being a Mentor Leader. If they believe and commit to teaching, molding, guiding and helping each staff member grow in the profession. IF that is not the type of person or head coach they are, look out.
How do you know that a head of time?
Ask these questions, they will reveal the true colors of your next head coach.
1. Of all the people who have worked for you, who are you proudest of — and why?
You want to work for someone who will help you grow, develop and advance. A person who will invest the time in you to teach you what they have experienced. Not just tell you what to do and go home for the night. One who will also allow you to take what you are being taught and make it your own, allow you to make mistakes without taking your head off or chewing you a new one. A head coach that is willing and able to pick up the phone, call the next head coach or AD and sell you to them as if their own life depended on it. If this head coach hasn’t helped their assistants progress, to move on, to grow and improve to what those assistants goals and aspirations are, this could indicate a fear of rivals — in which case, you’ll be held back. It may also suggest that no significant mentoring, teaching or coaching will occur, in which case: what, apart from salary, will you gain from the position? If you choose a position based on salary – you will make a mistake. Guaranteed. On the other hand, if the head coach can cite a number of former assistants who’ve gone on to a wide range of opportunities, who’ve grown and improved as coaches while on their staff, you could be onto a winner. Reach out to and speak to the potential new head coach’s or new AD’s former assistants or coaches. You will learn a great deal.
2. Can you describe a disagreement within the team, staff or department and how it was resolved?
All healthy staff’s, team’s argue – disagree: that is how organizations think. If there’s no debate, there is no thinking. Debate, disagreement is how we all improve, it does NOT have to be conflict or confrontation. It’s based on trust and communication. If your new head coach views it as a hassle or as conflict – RUN the other way! What you want to glean from the answer is whether there is a professional level of confidence around healthy disagreement. If there isn’t, then your own views won’t be welcome — a sure sign that politics trump intelligence. Avoid this head coach or AD at all costs.
3. Are there formal opportunities to mentor or coach rising stars within the staff or team?
If you can’t be a mentor, it’s highly likely you won’t get one either. Being in a position where you can provide valuable experience to those around you (younger assistants/staff members, managers and players), to be valued for and trusted for your knowledge is important to us all. Many assistant coach candidates hesitate to ask if they’ll get mentoring or coaching from the head coach (they think it looks weak), so this can be a good way to find out without appearing to ask.
4. What did the last person in this position go onto do — and what were they like?
You can find all this out on the Internet before you ever interview. Get a number for the person, call them. Ask these questions of the former staff member. Find out from them what it was like to work for this head coach. The norm in the profession is to not talk if it was a negative experience. You can tell as much by what the former coach does NOT say as by what they do tell you. The background to a vacant position is always interesting. If the past assistant left under a cloud, some of that opprobrium may attach to the position — in which case, beware. If they’ve advanced within the staff, it means you could too. If no one really knows — they’re lying and you should have a serious rethink. If they’ve moved on to a higher, better level or position – fine. It’s helpful to know how the job was done before, if only because it is far easier to follow someone who is different; if they’re too similar, you may find it difficult to assert your own identity and to always be compared to your predecessor.
5. How far have the expectations and requirements of the position changed since it was first created?
If it hasn’t changed at all, there’s a high likelihood that this is a pretty stable — but possibly rigid — head coach and program. Whether that is to your taste or not is a personal choice. But you want to know before you go any further whether you’re jumping into a torrid or a stagnant pond. Whether you can leave an imprint or if you are just along for the ride. Again, personal preference will dictate your choice.
None of these questions will get you into trouble — but they may stop you jumping into it.
Good luck during the Coaches March Madness!