I really enjoy talking with young coaches who are navigating their way around the college coaching business. When I knew I wanted to be a coach I tried to reach out to everyone I could to gain some knowledge on how to get into coaching, and I feel like we should all give what we can when others are reaching out to us.
I recently had a conversation with a young coach who asked a question I hadn’t gotten much before. He said “Coach, what’s one thing that if you had to do it all over again, you would have done differently?” I’ve been very fortunate in my coaching career. I got stared as a GA right near my hometown at Iona College and was helping out with Tim Welsh, who went on to have great success at Iona and get the Providence job. I was a Big East assistant when I was 26 and became a head coach at 33 without having to move. I got the opportunity to be a division I head coach at 42 without ever having played at a high level or having the connections you might associate with getting a D1 opportunity. I really don’t have a lot of regrets.
But that question made me think. What would I have done differently?
I’ve always talked about the value of getting to know players. When I say that players are the currency that is exchanged in college basketball, obviously I don’t mean that the players are just treated like part of a transaction. But getting to know players, and your ability to recruit players – that’s what gives you credibility as a coach. When head coaches hire assistants, that’s the number one thing they are looking for – players. Most head coaches don’t hire guys because they are great with scouting reports. So as a young coach, no matter what your role is, you want to get to know players and prove your value as a recruiter.
When I first got to Providence, the 3rd assistant wasn’t allowed to go out and recruit. After my fourth year, I was able to get on the road. But my role at Providence was as a bench coach – I did the workouts, I did the scouting reports, I helped run the day to day operations of the program. I had a ton of responsibility as a coach, and I’m very grateful for that. But I was never seen as a guy who was a lead recruiter on players (even though I did recruit Randall Hanke, Donnie McGrath, Weyimini Efejuku, etc). Of course I was involved in recruiting, but I didn’t make that a main part of my responsibility.
Then I became a division 3 head coach, and I was able to prove my ability to run a program. We recruited great players and had a ton of success – I probably had 8-10 players at RIC that could have played for me at Maine. But when you are a D3 coach having success, you are looked at as an excellent head coach – but not necessarily a great recruiter.
Ultimately my reputation was never one as a guy who “got players.” When I got to Maine, we brought in two big-time recruiting classes, although they didn’t stay at Maine. But we brought players to Orono who ended up transferring to VCU, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Rider and Colorado State. Getting players has never been an issue.
Like I said, I don’t really have regrets. I love what I’ve been able to do and look forward to my next challenge as a coach. But if I went back along the same path, I’d make sure I always kept one eye on the recruiting side of things. That’s advice I give to a lot of young coaches who ended up fighting their way into an operations or video position at the D1 level.
You can do such a good job in operations that you get pegged as an office guy or an X and O guy, but not necessarily a players guy. Even if you are in one of those spots and you can’t go on the road, there is stuff you can do. Call and get film on all of your recruits. Pick a certain area of the country that has good basketball and your program isn’t necessarily strong in, and reach out to those coaches to develop relationships. Become the recruiting coordinator with regards to all on-campus visits. Run a team camp or an elite camp and invite the best players in your area. Do a great job with all of your responsibilities in the office, but always keep one eye on the recruiting side of things.
Knowing players and being able to recruit is always going to open doors for you as a college basketball coach. You never know what path your career is going to take, but your ability to talk about, recruit and get players will help you at every level.