In this article, I'll cover some decisions, both good and bad, that coaches make when putting together a staff. I'll base this on the “football five” in accordance with the NCAA rule that only five strength coaches can work with football. This is my philosophy on building a staff, and I would use this to put together a staff in any situation, including for football and Olympic sports or for a gym owner. I feel that these are some of the most important decisions you will make as a head strength coach, so choose wisely.
As I've stated before, the first thing that you need to do is have a plan of attack. What is your philosophy? How do you want your philosophy implemented? What do you want your program to be known for? These are the questions that you must answer. There isn't any compromise. If they don't fit, you must acquit!
Make sure that they have the same core beliefs as you do. Know what you're shopping for before you start shopping! Once you have a clear idea of what you want, you can make your Christmas list.
Three of the biggest mistakes that I've made or have seen other coaches make usually take place at this point:
- We try to hire people who are just like us.
- We ask people we don’t trust or know for recommendations.
- We don’t trust our guts.
As we all know, every player on a team gets motivated in a different way. Some players like getting yelled at, some just need a few words of encouragement, and everyone else falls in between. If everyone was a yeller on my staff, would we get through to everyone? If everyone just worked and never raised his voice, would we get through to everyone? The answer is a big fat no!
Players are different today than they were in past years, and some players just need someone who can relate to them and make them work. Your staff should hold all your players to the highest standards and demand that they work to their potential every day. I've had players who I knew right off the bat wouldn't respond to my type of coaching and I've given them to someone on my staff who was more their type. They wind up working their butts off every day and almost always become great players for us. That's the goal, isn’t it?
Sometimes we have to take our ego out of it and just make the damn kids get better no matter what. The same goes for an athlete who just rubs you the wrong way, has gotten under your skin, or drives you crazy. Solution? Hand him off! It's better for you, the player, and your program if you have someone else handle him, someone who can give him a fresh slate and make him work and get better. I've had interns who found their niche with guys like that, and I ended up hiring them. They've done a great job ever since.
I've always liked to split up my staff of five as follows—two hot headed, energy relentless guys; two guys who weren't as loud but were still intense and demanding; and one person in the middle of that spectrum to keep everything moving along. I think that's a great mix to mesh with almost all personalities that a team may throw at them.
Once my staff is clicking, I take it a step further and designate them to position groups—line, mid, and skill. They almost become position coaches. They can put out small fires, and they know their players' injuries, strengths, and weaknesses. They also have the authority to fix them. In this day of social media, they can stay in constant contact with their athletes through Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms and can really build quality relationships to build the bonds of trust. It is a win-win situation on all fronts.
This is a huge mistake. Unfortunately, many people in this business, regardless of what school they're at, just want their guys to go out, get jobs, and subscribe to the quantity over quality ideal. They just push people out year after year just to say that they got people jobs. It's great to help people out, but once you lie to one, everyone else will find out. I've seen guys recommend people who I wouldn't let train a dog how to eat. I've been bamboozled once so bad that it almost destroyed the entire program. I listened to a coach who I really didn't trust. I just took his word for it without checking up myself and boy did I ever pay the price.
On the flip side, at one point I had a position open and it was neck and neck until the final day. One of the finalists was a graduate assistant under a strength coach who I really respected. I called him up for a final word and that conversation made up my mind. I wound up hiring his guy, and it was one of the best things that I've ever done. He turned out to be a great strength coach and a great addition to the staff.
This one is a little different for me because listening to my gut made me turn down an unbelievable strength coach for his own good. He was two classes short of his graduate degree but came with an awesome pedigree, references, and interview. My kind of guy to a 'T.' He personified everything that is good with this profession—passion, work ethic, and the ability to teach. We did some research and found that through the usual collegiate bullshit, most of his credits wouldn't transfer and he would basically be starting all over again. He said that he didn't care, but I couldn't sleep thinking about it and how close he was to his degree. I just couldn't do it to him. It just wasn't fair. I knew that he was good enough to get a job after he completed his masters. If I could, I would hire him down the road. So against my better judgment but listening to my gut, I told him no.
Thankfully, he got his degree and his career has skyrocketed. Remember to listen to your gut when you have to get rid of someone as well. When your gut says that it's time, it's time. We work too long and too many hours to be held hostage to a bad situation. If your staff doesn't gel, you’re working in hell!
My last word of advice on staff building is to find people you like to be around. The best staff I've ever had was like a family to me, and I'm in debt to them forever because of it. You know who you are. Good luck!