Four ADs speak on how (and how not) to get a head coaching job

Earlier this week we provided a report on four coaches' views on how to move from a graduate assistant to a full-time coaching position. Now, we'll examine how four athletic directors view the best way to advance from an assistant coaching spot to a head coaching job.

First, the particulars. The panel featured one athletic director from every level of NCAA football: Louisiana Tech's Bruce Van De Velde, Eastern Illinois' Barbara Burke, North Alabama's Mark Linder and Scott Carnahan from Linfield College (Ore.) in Division III. Van De Velde recently hired Skip Holtz to lead the Bulldogs' program after Sonny Dykes departed for Cal, while Burke and Linder's head coaches, Dino Babers and Bobby Wallace, each just finished their first season at their respective schools. The panel was moderated by Central (Iowa) College coach Jeff McMartin. 

On the terms of a standard head coaching contract....

Carnahan: "Ours are one-year deals and include other responsibilities as well. At our school that means a 25 percent teaching load."
Linder: "A three-year contract which is renewable every year after."
Van De Velde: "We do a five-year contract. We don't guarantee the total package, just the base salary."
Burke: "We typically start with a three-year contract with an automatic roll-over. We build in incentives and buyouts, but those are all negotiable."

On the specific job duties expected of a head coach....

Van De Velde: "The number one thing is to make sure the needs of our student-athletes are met, and to run a clean, honest program. I want to trust my head coach."
Linder: "We talk a lot about culture and buying into the mission of the university and athletic department."
Burke: "Leadership across the board. A head football coach has got to lead other programs."
Carnahan: "Our football coach is an integral part of the admissions process. Athletics help pay the bills, so that's a job of every one of our coaches. He's recruiting more student-athletes than any other program."

On how quick a turnaround they expect after making a new hire....

Burke: "We try not to put a time limit on success. I want to win, but it's how you get there. There are different levels of success. How are you going to reach your success point?"
Carnahan: "We have to evaluate what the issues have been previously. A coach is only as good as his student-athletes, so we've got to look at recruiting. There's no time frame, but we want to turn it around quickly."
Linder: "Immediately. Success can be defined by a lot of things. I expect kids to buy in to a new system or leave."
Van De Velde: "Off the field, we want progress right away. We certainly have more patience on the field. The window has shrunk with the AQ's, which encourages taking shortcuts. We pay $500,000-$800,000, and we're getting closer to $1 million, and that shortens the window."

On unwritten expectations in the interview....

Van De Velde: "Are they ready to be the CEO of football? Do they have a plan for all areas of football?"
Linder: "I like to go out to eat with a candidate and see how they take care of the waiter. I think it gives me an insight to their character. Just because you're not interviewing doesn't mean the interview is over"
Burke: "I look forward to having dinner privately on campus. There they'll get my undivided attention, for two hours, three hours, I've had some that go four hours. It gives me a chance to really get to know them. We can communicate openly and honestly. I want you to communicate. Some people want your plan in writing, I don't."

On using search firms...

Van De Velde: "I have used them in the past, not to identify candidates. I keep a short list in my back pocket. They help with logistics and dealing with agents. Sometimes you need a buffer because you can get used by coaches looking to improve their situation. You have to be protective. We use them to line up interviews, background checks, handle the travel plans and for character references."
Burke: "We do not use search firms. I get to know more of the candidates by handling it myself. It's important that we do our jobs."
Linder: "I have not used a search firm. It can get hard to protect candidates since resumes are open-record. I can see us getting to that."

On how a coach can get on an AD's list....

Burke: "I am always evaluating talent, from watching other teams, talking to other athletic directors, talking to search firms. We look at pedigree, and style of play factors into it."
Van De Velde: "Performance. Fit is what I'm really looking for. Can they fit into our culture."
Linder: "It depends on what the university needs. All programs go through a life cycle. When Mark Hudspeth left, we had a great assistant coaching staff so we renewed all of their contracts and looked for a head coach that could fit with the staff. That's what our program needed at the time."

On dealing with agents...

Van De Velde: "It changes a great deal. We work with them quite a bit, unfortunately."
Burke: "I prefer not to. I have had success without working with agents."
Linder: "I haven't. I've had an agent contact me before to express a client's interest and it really turned me off. How bad does he really want it?"
Van De Velde: "It can be off putting if I heard from an agent first and not a head coach. If we reach that point, I'll work with the agent on negotiating the contract."

On the best way to contact an AD....

Van De Velde: "Hopefully they've done it before I have an opening. I'm continually meeting and evaluating. Every day is an interview. It's how you conduct your business day-to-day."
Burke: "I track the careers of our former assistants. What are you doing with your current athletic director to help your career?"
Linder: "It's amazing how many how many hands my cell phone number can get in. Show effort. Show that you want it. Be transparent. I would say, contact me and ask 'how will you advise me to get your attention?' and I'll usually say to call me every three days, or something like that."
Carnahan: "We want people that want the position. That can be collegial with other programs."

On the interview process...

Linder: "We're going to spend more time with the relationship than in paperwork."
Van De Velde: "I look for professional conduct skills. Look, dress, can you a leader - a CEO for football."
Burke: "I do look at personal aspects. Can they command a room. How do they interact with the staff."
Carnahan: "The final decision is made by the president. At our school it's a two-day process."

What not to an interview...

Burke: "Don't be over-aggressive. Be yourself, be honest."
Carnahan: "Don't be too pushy. Be yourself. Don't put something out there that's not there."
Linder: "Don't forget that you're interviewing the school, too. Know that you don't have to have to all the answers."
Van De Velde: "Be yourself. Be concise but pervasive. Answer the question, don't dance."

Final thoughts...

Carnahan: "Be the best recruiter you can be. Know the admissions process."
Linder: "Communicate honestly and know that adversity will happen."
Van De Velde: "We look for someone that's committed to integrity. Know the NCAA rules and university policy. Have a deep desire to make a difference in young people's lives."
Burke: "Believe in yourself, your program, your vision. Don't look in the rear-view mirror."



Glenn Caruso explains how to build a program

Every once in a while, there comes a moment in life when you find yourself wishing you were born in a different place and time. That happened to me on Tuesday morning.

Sitting in the in a Gaylord Opryland ballroom, I found myself cursing the powers that be that I didn't have the fortune to arrive in this world at a time and place that would allow me to play football for Glenn Caruso at the University of St. Thomas. 

Caruso took over a St. Thomas program in 2008 that had gone 2-8 in the year before his arrival and produced a 7-3 season immediately upon his arrival. Since then, the Tommies have never won less than 11 games and recently capped off a 14-1 campaign in which they reached the Stagg Bowl, the Division III national championship.

In building his 43-7 record over five seasons, Caruso says it all starts with honesty to his players. Brutal honesty. "I want a kid to know what the expectations are on the front end, so if you get him he's all in."

That honesty begins before a player even enrolls at St. Thomas. "When I go visit a quarterback and the parents start asking me how many passes their son's going to throw, I give them the number of our competitors and say 'Good luck,' ", said Caruso. "It's not the kids you lose that beat you, its the ones you bend to get. If there's a question in your heart, you know."

His program's methodology starts with a core belief of what he calls "non-negotiables". Explaining that those non-negotiables may be different for every program and every coach, Caruso said it was imperative to define what is crucially important to your program.

"I may never sign a $2 million contract or run into an 80,000-seat stadium and I'm fine with that, but I can lay my head on my pillow at night knowing I never compromised my integrity," said Caruso. 

Those hard-line principles stem from Caruso's father, who raised Glenn and six siblings after their mother passed away when Glenn was eight years old. After her death, Frank Caruso, a lawyer, moved his practice inside the family home. Ever since then, family and work have been inseparable in Caruso's life.

"I told my wife I wanted our rules at home to be the same rules I had for my football team," Caruso explained. "We never quit, we never whine and we never get embarrassed."

Caruso may not fear embarrassment, but he does fear three things: cancer, alligators and entitlement. "Once they get a grip on you, they never let go," he said. "Just because you work and just because you wait doesn't entitle you to a darn thing."

In Caruso's combined world of football and family, he closed his talk with a phrase used in his household, "Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child." Translated into football terms, Caurso said, "Coach the kid, not the scheme." 

Inside the Grad Assistant career forum at the AFCA Convention

The big names may draw headlines at the AFCA convention (look, it's David Shaw! hey, it's Mark Richt!) but it's the lower-rung guys that this event is built for. With that in mind, I stole a seat at Monday morning's Graduate Assistant Career Forum to see how graduate assistants advance from their current position to, as the panel put it, running their own room.

On the panel were Chris Thomsen, most recently seen as the interim head coach in Texas Tech's bowl win over Minnesota, ULM head coach Todd Berry, Missouri S&T head coach David Brown II and Buffalo cornerbacks coach Maurice Linguist. 

The session crammed more than 60 years of collective experience on all things big and small and crammed them into two hours. It would be futile to relay the entire two hours so, with that in mind, here are the highlights:

On the importance of working camps and networking throughout the summer...

Linguist: "When you get two or three weeks off in the summer are you going to just go home and hang out, or are you going to go visit a coach?"

Brown: "(Other coaches) are going to see you work, and that's how you get hired. You learn how to coach. If you screw up with 12-year-olds, nobody's going to know. You can get your coaching voice, see yourself in the mirror as a coach without your head coach or coordinator being critical."

Berry: "You can get exposed to different people and different systems early on and see what you really believe in."

On the application process...

Berry: "I don't want to have to tell a guy to send his resume to human resources. If you've done that ahead of time, it shows you're proactive."

Brown: "Be strategic. If I'm set in a man scheme, I'm probably not going to get on at a place anchored in a cover-two."

On the interview process...

Berry: "Find that one guy that can champion you. As a head coach I don't have time for 15 calls, that drives me crazy. But I do have time for one call."

Brown: "Be over-prepared. Some schools are going to ask you a bunch of questions, some are going to give you the mic."

Linguist: "If you don't know how to answer a question, say so. Don't answer a question you don't know how to answer. Don't embarrass yourself. Don't open that can of worms."

Berry: "If you don't know an answer to a question, the best thing to say is 'My special teams coach handled it this way, and this is how I felt about that.' It shows you've been thinking about things."

On when a graduate assistant is ready to become a position coach...

Thomsen: "You're not going to hire someone that you know can't control a room."

Berry: "If I walked out of a room in a recruit's home, is he going to finish the job? If I left a meeting, is he going to handle himself well with other coaches? I can't be in his meeting room, so is he going to have his guys ready to play?"

Linguist: "It's like getting married. You know when you know."

On whether it's better to be a Division I GA or a Division II full-time assistant...

Brown: "Don't think about levels. Be a full-time head coach, have benefits. There's a big difference in Division I. There's Idaho, and then there's Alabama. If you have a level as your goal, what are you going to do when you get to that level?"

Berry: "If your ultimate goal is to be a I-A guy, you've got to have that on your resume."

On putting in long hours as a GA...

Linguist: "Hide your watch. You've got to know your role - that I'm here to help."

On when and when not to look for jobs....

Berry: "If I see a guy take a job, and then leave to take another job two weeks later, I cross that guy off my list as a no-call guy. I know then I can't trust him. I will give any coach all the help he needs from the end of the season to March 1. If a guy interviews after March 1, he'd better get the job because he's not about to have one with me."

On managing down time in the office...

Linguist: "If a guy walks into your office, are you on FootballScoop every other minute or are you doing your job?"

Brown: "You've got to work on your circles. It sounds like a little thing, but it's huge. Not everything is done on paper or the computer. Sometimes you have to go draw something up on the white board."

On managing career and family....

Berry: "It's managing your career versus managing happiness. What does my family need at this point in time? It's difficult. There's a special place in heaven for all coaches wives, because it can be hell on Earth."

Brown: "If I'm offering $30,000 to a guy with four kids I'm like, 'Come on man, why?' If your your wife has a job that can support you not making much money for a while, that's great. For me, I wanted to coach ball, so I got married at 35. I'm 40 now with three kids, so we started pretty quick."

Closing thoughts...

Brown: "If you're a d-line guy, stay in the room for 7-on-7 film. If you're a DB guy, know your run fits."

Linguist: "Two or three quality relationships are better than 20 or 30 acquaintances."

Thomsen: "The investment you make in people is the most important thing."

Berry: "Don't think we don't take notes. Somebody's always looking."


Sonny Dykes' keys to being a successful head coach

I arrived at Presidential ballroom B at the Gaylord Opryland on Sunday night expecting to hear Tony Franklin talk about quarterback play. He didn't make it. Instead, I arrived to see Sonny Dykes speak on the three things he has learned that are important to becoming a successful head coach.

Such is life at the AFCA convention.

Instead of three things, Dykes ended up listing nearly 20.

Such is life at the AFCA convention.

Here are a few nuggets I found intriguing.

Morale is critical. Dykes told the story of this year's Louisiana Tech team, which started 9-1 and finished 9-3. Louisiana Tech had gotten to 9-1 behind one of the nation's top-ranked offenses and lowest-ranked defenses. Through 10 games, Dykes knew his team had issues forming between the offense and defense, and that his defense was losing confidence in itself. Despite knowing that, Dykes mistakenly did not want to rock the boat of a 9-1 team, and the Bulldogs dropped their final two games. Next time, he won't be afraid to changes things when change is necessary. 

Short practices. Dykes' teams are never on the field for more than two hours, and by the end of the season sometimes practice as short as 40 minutes.

Execution is much more important than scheme. Dykes relayed an anecdote from when he served as a GA under Hal Mumme at Kentucky. The Wildcats had spent all August practicing two scripts, one 11 plays long and the other eight-plays long, with some situational plays (third-down, goal line, etc.) thrown in. For Kentucky's season opener against Louisville, Mumme brought just the eight play script, two third down plays and some goal line plays, bringing the total to 14. Running nothing but those 14 plays, Kentucky scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions.

Don't let it become all business. Dykes said that his teams try to have fun whenever possible, and that he has his staff do something to lighten the mood every day. 

Coach turnovers. Dykes' coaches emphasize turnovers in every period of every practice throughout the season. During Louisiana Tech's 9-1 start, they committed only eight turnovers, and quarterback Colby Cameron set an NCAA record for consecutive passes without an interception. In their two season-ending losses, the Bulldogs committed six turnovers.


Brick Haley teaches LSU's defensive line philosophy

Things fully got underway Sunday at the AFCA Convention, and I had the pleasure of sneaking in to hear Brick Haley disperse LSU's vision of defensive line play on Sunday evening. I was far from alone, as the Gaylord's Presidential A ballroom (capacity: 670) held close to 750 minds eager to borrow a bit of LSU's defensive line success for their programs.

Anyone who follows college football knows NFL rosters are stacked with former LSU players, but it really hits home when Haley acknowledges before his presentation that every player shown on LSU's game tape is either in the NFL or on his way there. That is a lot of talent.

One of Haley's key points of emphasis was to show players that what their coaches ask of them works on film. "It' important that kids see what you're doing, and that they can have success with it," said Haley.

Haley went through a number of drills LSU employs (heel line pursuit, six-point explosion) regularly in practice and provided answers throughout a lively question-and-answer session. One thing Haley, like all other coaches, stresses continuously is effort.

"I'm not going to spend an hour and a half every practice yelling at people to run after the ball," said Haley. "If you don't pursue the ball, you're not going to play. If you want to watch, sit in the stands."

Haley said that LSU stresses that each masters three pass rush moves instead of leaning eight or nine. "We don't ask a 300-pound player to learn a spin move. That's why they call us coaches."

With a handful of LSU's defensive lineman departing for the NFL knows he has a lot of teaching ahead of him. "I guess we'll find out how good of a coach I am."

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