I got my first head coaching job at Rhode Island College in 2005, and I was hired in September, after school had started. When I got the head job at the University of Maine in 2014, I got hired in May, after school had ended. I met with the team on campus during my interview, but by the time I got hired most of the players had gone home for the summer (Maine did not have money to pay for summer school). I didn’t see them again until late August.
It takes time to establish your own culture when you take over a program. I learned in both situations that what we did on the basketball court wasn’t nearly as important as the time I spent with my players away from the gym. They need to learn who you are and what you are all about before they are willing to follow your lead. It’s not enough to give them a basketball plan that makes sense, and help them get better on the court. Those things are certainly important. But what you can teach them in the gym is only going to go so far.
One reason why you always hear about how hard it is taking over a new program, or how long it may take to establish a new culture, is because when you first take charge your relationships with your players are transactional. There isn’t a lot of depth to them, and how can there be? You don’t know each other very well. You are the new coach, and they are supposed to do what you tell them. It’s a transaction. I tell you what to do, and you listen. It will help make you a better player, and your points and rebounds will help our team win. I will make you better, you help me win. That’s the transaction.
It takes time to establish a relationship, and therefore it takes time to get the most out of your players. Your job is to make sure it’s not transactional. Your players have to see that it’s not just about how many points they score or how well they defend. They have to know that who they are matters to you, and that the development is about more than just basketball. It’s about character development and constant improvement. When they see that you are driving them hard to make them better as people, and you genuinely care about them, then you can really push their limits.
It’s your job to make sure your relationships are not transactional. When you first take over an organization, the time you spend making sure they do the job right isn’t nearly as important as the time spent getting to know them as people. I realized when I took over at Maine that they weren’t going to respond to the things I said on the court until we had a deep sense of trust off of it.
Make sure your relationships aren’t just transactional. Get into the depth of who they are and they’ll start to buy in to what you do.