A Brand New Start: Advice for Taking Over A Program

TAGS: new program, athletic administration, hiring process, Coach G, strength and conditioning, coach, program, strength training

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This is going to be an article that I have been asked to do for years from various interns. I always ask my interns what they would like me to write about in my articles. The most constant question I get is, “what advice could you give on taking over a new program?” I am far from an expert on this subject, but having to do this on numerous occasions, I do have some experience in this matter.

The number one and probably most important thing to start with when you take over a new strength and conditioning program is to be yourself. You were hired by the coaches and administration because of who you are: who you were when they knew you before, how you were in your interviews, etc. That is who they are expecting, that is who they want, and that is who they hired. Give them that.

If you have been known as a reserved, intellectual type and that is who they wanted, don’t go in and be a raving lunatic screaming at every little thing that is going on. This also true on the opposite side of the coin; if they know you as someone with an aggressive personality, that is who they wanted. Give it to them. When you try to be someone you are not, no one wins.

The second most important thing is to let the athletes and coaches know that you are in charge now, and things are going to be done your way. I always start when I meet with the athletes for the first time by telling that I don’t care what you did or did not like about what you did here before, we are going to do things differently now — our way. We are all in this together, and I and my staff are going to do everything we can to help you succeed. We just want your best effort every day.


WATCH Cleveland Cavaliers Head Strength Coach Derek Millender


There is a lesson of loyalty and leadership to be learned from the journey of Derek Millender.

Do not get involved with bashing the last guy that was there; it is all negative and it really does not matter. You are where you are right now. The team that is standing in front of you is your team, no matter how pretty or ugly they may be. This is your starting point, and you will only get better from that day on.

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The third biggest thing to do is to shake some things up with the weight room itself. Move and get rid of some equipment, tear apart storage rooms, revamp offices — and do it all at once. Get all staff members, GA’s, and interns all busy doing something. This is important for a number of reasons. It lets the entire staff know there is a new boss in town and you can tell right away who is all in, who is on the fence, and who is out. It will also show administration, coaches and players that you are serious about making changes for the better, and you are going in with both guns blazing. Players will start to get excited, and it is a great way to start off with a positive buzz around YOUR new strength and conditioning program.

Next up is to meet with the existing staff, getting the lay of the land in terms of who has what teams, what is working, and what they feel is not. If you feel comfortable and the sport coaches are happy, then I would leave them be. I would have your list of rules and regulations meeting right off the bat, and let them know this is the protocol they are going to follow. I am not a cookie cutter strength coach — I do not want every strength coach and team doing all the same workouts as what I am doing with the sports I am covering.

Everyone is a professional, and as long as there is solid explanation as to why you are doing what you are doing (which could be as easy as, "this keeps the head coach of my sport happy"), there is the right science base, and the athletes are getting taught the same safe technique, then I am in. My biggest issue (and now your biggest issue) is the safety of your athletes. Proper technique and supervision trump everything else. If those two things are done on a consistent basis then you will all sleep better at night, trust me.

When meeting with your staff, be tough but fair. Just because you did not hire them does not mean that they cannot become an excellent strength staff. I have inherited some great ones, some not so great, and some that I knew right away would be a bad fit. The most important thing is to make your own judgements on your staff.  I remember one place where a position coach I knew from a previous stop was ranting and raving about this one individual that was at the place I was going in to take over, and killed all the rest of the staff.

Like a dummy I took his word for it, and went in putting this person on a pedestal. And do you know what happened? It was the exact opposite. That individual was the worst fit ever for me, and rest of staff was some of the best I have ever worked with. Make your own decisions. If some have to go, they have to go. Do not treat those who stay on as “his” hires — they are now yours. Treat them as such.

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Some words of caution: beware of the first person who comes in your office when you take over, whether it is an athlete, strength or sport coach. They are going to be your biggest pain in the ass. I know all the head strength coaches are nodding their heads in agreement.

Another big decision: if you can hire someone, who is it going to be?  Someone you know? Someone you don’t know? Who? This is one of the most critical decisions you will have to make as a boss. Make the right one and you look great. Hire the wrong one and you will regret it until the day one of you leaves. The best advice I can give you on this subject is to hire the person that your gut tells you to hire, and make sure they are the perfect fit for what you want your program to portray.

I recently had an opening, and had a big list of people that I knew, people I didn’t know, and people I have been friends with for years. I knew exactly what I wanted in the hire, and one name kept popping up in my head. It was someone who had interned for me at another school, then went off to work at another university. It was hard at first, because my brain kept running all these people over and over in my head. But I finally followed my gut and hired the former intern and I could not be happier. He has exceeded what I wanted and has really helped our team improve.

The last thing I am going to go over is your first workout with a team you are covering. If anyone else is going to help you, you must make sure they know exactly what you want and what is expected of them. Any mishap and you will all look like clowns — not a good way to start. Make sure you demand from your staff and athletes that things are to be done right. Make it a hard workout, set the tone right away. Find a way to push them harder than before.

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

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