By Dr. Howard Gauthier
Periodically, I receive telephone calls or e-mails from people who are seeking advice about their job search. That was the case last March when “David” contacted me about the possibility of applying for a head soccer coaching position. David was an assistant soccer coach at a low-major Division I program on the East Coast and he was thinking about applying for a head coaching position at a mid-major Division I soccer program on the West Coast.
David knew that I was a former Division I athletic director and he wondered how a Division I AD would view his application. He wanted me to be honest with him, so I was. I asked if he knew anyone at the institution – he didn’t. I asked if he knew anyone, who knew anyone at the institution – he didn’t. I asked these questions because the best way to get a job (assuming that you’re qualified) is to have connections with people at the institution. If you don’t have these types of connections, you then need to have the skills and experiences that will make you a very attractive and qualified candidate.
Since David didn’t have any connections within the institution, he now became a bit of a long shot for landing the job. To complicate matters even more, David was trying to make the leap from being an assistant coach at a lower level to a head coach at a higher level. This is a difficult move to make.
So what type of candidate would an athletic director recruit to a position such as this? Typically, a head coaching position will be filled by either (a) someone who is an assistant coach at an equal or higher level of competition, or (b) someone who is a head coach at an equal or next lower level of competition. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules. But these strategies are pretty common hiring practices in both coaching and athletic administration.
For example, if a mid-major university such as Colorado State was looking to hire a coach, they would likely hire an assistant from a major program such as the Big 12 or Pac 12, or hire a head coach from an equal (or slightly lower) level of competition such as the Missouri Valley Conference or the Big Sky Conference. To further this example, take a look at the hiring of the last two Head Men’s Basketball Coaches at Colorado State. In 2007, Tim Miles was hired after leading North Dakota State to success as an independent (he was a head coach from the same Division but at a lower level of competition). Miles had success at CSU and was then hired by Nebraska for their head coaching position in 2012 (he was a head coach from the same Division but CSU is in a lower level conference than Nebraska). Colorado State responded to losing Miles by hiring Larry Eustachy from Southern Mississippi (he was a head coach from the same Division and Southern Mississippi is at the same level of competition).
These two hires are pretty typical for every sport at every level. Athletic Department’s either hire a head coach from an equal or slightly lower level of competition, or hire an assistant from a higher level of competition. The bottom line is, that in order to being hired you need to be qualified for the position, it helps to know the people doing the hiring, and you need to position yourself for the job. David’s desire to make the leap from a lower level assistant to a mid level head coach was unrealistic. And after our conversation, David reasoned that if the mid level is where he wants to be a head coach, he would either need to become a head coach at a lower-level Division I program or as an assistant at a higher-level Division I program. He now understands the importance of positioning.
Howard Gauthier is an Associate Professor of Athletic Administration at Idaho State University. He is a former collegiate athletic director and collegiate basketball coach. He is also an author of 9 books. Check out his book, Getting Hired In College Sports – 2nd Edition at www.sportscareersinstitute.com or his new book Execute for Success at www.execute4success.com.
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