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  • Bill Vasko

Getting Your Foot in the Door – Entry Level College Coaching Positions

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

The competition for Grad Assistant (GA) and entry level college coaching positions, even at the lower divisions, is insane. This is especially true in football and basketball. There are so many coaches and aspiring coaches, young and old, who are looking to get their foot into the college coaching door. Things have gotten so crazy at the Power 5 level that we see top assistants or even head coaches who get fired and become GA’s at other programs!

Unless you played or have really good connections, it can be near impossible to land a GA position. Most GA positions are filled with someone the coach knows or by someone who was referred to them. Rarely does an unknown person come in and get the job unless they've got an outstanding playing or coaching resume.

Many young aspiring coaches are under the impression that they are going to land a GA job and work another job on or off campus to make ends meet financially. It just doesn't work that way. When you are a GA, you are typically expected to be there full time. That means minimum 10 hours a day 7 days a week during the season, and 40+ hours in the offseason. That's why most GA's can only afford to do it when they are young and single.

If you’re out of college and looking for a way to get into college coaching, your best bet to get experience without totally sacrificing everything financially is to seek out volunteer or part-time positions at smaller colleges near you. Make in-person visits to talk to the coach and see if there is anything you can do to help. That way, you can get a position that will give you more flexibility to work a second job. If you really want to work your way into the profession, then expect to spend every spare hour you have at the athletic office. That's the only way to learn and also gain a good recommendation from the head coach.

I have a lot of volunteer and part-time experience in my early years on my resume. But most of those jobs, I spent full-time hours at the office because I knew I had to make an impression if I wanted to move on to a better position. Since I spent so much time working and had so much responsibility, I did not list those jobs on my resume as "volunteer" or "part-time." I worked full-time hours for part-time pay or for free. If you just show up for practice and pre-practice meetings, don't expect the head coach to give you a glowing recommendation when you start applying for full-time positions.

At one point in my career, I took a part-time D1 position when I was 41 years old. I was divorced and determined to make a run at a full-time D1 position. I worked 10 hours a day the entire school year for $15,000. It ultimately paid off with a full-time D1 assistant position. The sad part was, I still made less than I did as a high school teacher 10 years prior. Sometime those are the sacrifices one must make to be a collegiate coach.

Here are some valuable tips for securing a Graduate Assistant (GA) or entry-level college coaching position:

Establish Credibility Beyond Credentials:

While possessing the required degree, certifications, and practical experience is essential, it's crucial to recognize that these factors serve as entry points to the conversation. Beyond meeting the baseline qualifications, focus on showcasing your expertise and commitment to the position.

Sell Your Value to the Head Coach:

Effectively communicate what you bring to the table, particularly when interacting with the Head Coach of the specific sport you aim to work with. In the realm of coaching, building belief among coaches and athletes is vital. A well-rounded background, including practical experience and a nuanced understanding of the sport, can be a key differentiator. Former athletes often enjoy an advantage in this regard.

Build a Network and Gather Endorsements:

Networking plays a pivotal role in landing coaching positions. Actively engage with coaches, attend events, and leave a positive and lasting impression. Having others vouch for your capabilities significantly enhances your credibility. In a competitive field, personal connections can open doors and set you apart from other candidates.

Stand Out in a Competitive Field:

Understand that competition for coaching positions is fierce, and numerous candidates may vie for the same job. Ensure your resume not only meets the job requirements but also reflects your experience and passion for the sport. Seek endorsements from individuals who can validate your skills and contributions. Recognize that hard work, dedication, and a proactive approach to networking contribute significantly to your success in a highly competitive field.

By combining credibility, practical experience, and effective networking, you can enhance your chances of climbing the college coaching ladder. Keep in mind that it's not just about meeting the qualifications; it's about demonstrating your value, building relationships, and leaving a lasting impression within the coaching community.

What Opportunities are Available?

While the NCAA has severely limited the number of assistants that can be on a staff in pretty much every sport, there are still several entry-level opportunities for someone looking to get experience at the college level.

For those who are still undergraduate students who would like to get into coaching at the college level but don't currently play a sport in college, you can still create opportunities for yourself. College sports programs are ALWAYS looking for student-assistant coaches and managers who can fulfill important duties within the program. I didn't play sports in college.....instead I was a student assistant for the football team. It gave me invaluable experience and led to great opportunities. Throughout my coaching career, I have always looked for undergrads who were interested in a coaching career who could assist our program. Good help (that's cheap) is always hard to find! Go knock on the door of the head coach at your college and get started!

For those looking to become a college coach later in life, explore the rules at all divisions. Consider NAIA or Junior College programs. Visit the head coach at a nearby college or university and inquire about opportunities to help out. You may be surprised at the options that are available!

Volunteer and Part-Time Assistants

Colleges and universities with smaller budgets often fill spots on their staff with volunteers and part-time coaches. Volunteers obviously work for free, while part-time coaches receive a stipend and sometimes other benefits in exchange for coaching (for example, the opportunity to take classes). Most volunteers and part-time coaches are supplemented with funds from camps.

A volunteer or part-time position is a great opportunity to get your foot in the door and gain experience, while also earning income from your main job. However, the title of “volunteer” and part-time” can be misleading. Expect to spend a lot of hours with your coaching duties. Most volunteers and part-time coaches will spend 20+ hours with their role, and some may spend 40+! This is especially true at the Division I level where volunteer positions are expected to be full-time positions. If you are looking to get into college coaching as a full-time career, be prepared for the time commitment. If you put in the time and work, you’ll be able to list “Assistant Coach” on your resume, regardless of your compensation!

If you are honestly looking for a part-time position to supplement another full-time career, make sure those expectations are addressed with the head coach prior to agreeing to take the position.

Graduate Assistants

Many colleges and universities will have graduate assistant coaches on staff, depending on their budget and NCAA regulations. Graduate assistants receive compensation in a variety of ways, typically in some combination of the following: stipend, tuition waiver for graduate school, housing, meals. When applying for graduate assistant positions, it is important to find out what the compensation package consists of.

Life of a graduate assistant is difficult. You spend a lot of hours at the office, on the field/court, traveling during the season, and on the road recruiting. On top of all that, you have to take classes. All in exchange for a compensation package that is difficult to live on. Don’t expect to have a lot of time to work another job. If you plan to do so, don’t expect to get much sleep. Grad assistants can often make extra money by working camps.

The experience you will gain as a graduate assistant will be invaluable. Many head coaches treat their grad assistants like full-time coaches. I know I do. I give as much responsibility as possible to my GA’s. It helps lessen my workload while providing them with an opportunity to learn as much as possible about the profession. It also gives them the chance to add experience to their resume.

Graduate assistant positions are limited to 2 years. However, they can serve as a major springboard into a full-time position. Even though many people view GA’s as a step down from an assistant coach, a GA who proves their worth to their head coach will be able to list “Assistant Coach” on their resume instead of “Graduate Assistant.”

Don’t underestimate the value of the experience you will gain and the importance of that degree. Many full-time college coaching positions require a master’s degree. So take the school part seriously.

Director of Operations

This staff position is almost entirely administrative and is prohibited by the NCAA from doing any on the field/court coaching and is also prohibited from off campus recruiting. Director of Ops are, however, permitted to work camps (Please check current NCAA rules for your sport for most recent regulations).

A director of ops position provides an opportunity to develop skills that are critical to nearly all aspects of a college program. Often times, a director of ops position can lead directly to an assistant coaching position.

Below are some typical responsibilities of a Director of Ops:

  • Budget management

  • Camp set-up and coordination

  • Social media director

  • Facility scheduling on a day-to-day basis for all practice times

  • Film breakdown and exchange

  • Coordinating team travel, including:

    • Itineraries

    • Setting up lodging, transportation, meals

    • Coordinating practice sites and times while on the road

    • Post-trip expense reports

  • Game day operations, including:

    • Collaborate with visiting teams to schedule practice times and assist with game day needs such as pre-game meals.

    • Handling all aspects of scheduling and contracting game day officials

    • Game day event set-up

    • Managing game day personnel

  • Responsible for supervising and team managers and support staff.

  • Responsible for organizing all aspects of official/unofficial recruiting visits and other recruiting events (itineraries, host coordination, hotel accommodations, meal schedule, flight arrangements, transportation, campus meetings with personnel such as the faculty and athletic staff).

Video Coordinator

The position of video coordinator is one that has evolved over the years in response to ever changing advances in technology. With computers, tablets, cell phones, and video editing software, video has become an invaluable teaching tool. It has also become a critical component of the recruiting process for many college coaching staffs.

Video coordinators spend so much time reviewing video and discussing what’s important to the coaching staff, they are often able to gain incredible insight into the world of college.

Below are some typical responsibilities of a video coordinator:

· Coordinate the filming of practices and games from a variety of angles

· Utilizing camera and filming equipment specifically designed for athletics

· Entering video into editing/analysis software

· Breaking down the video by play, offense/defense, position, etc.

· Uploading breakdowns into appropriate folders for review by coaches/players

· Provide resources required for game prep and scouting reports

· Coordinating all aspects of film exchange

· Creating cut-ups and organizing prospect videos for recruiting purposes

Student Assistant

Many head coaches at the college level supplement their coaching staff with student assistant coaches. These may be players whose careers have been cut short, or aspiring coaches who may not have been talented enough to play at the college level. This was how I got my start in coach, serving as a student assistant coach with the Ohio State football program.

Hope this helps give coaches some direction on getting their foot in the door!

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