How To Get Into Coaching at the College Level - Part 1
Updated: Jan 22, 2020
I originally wrote this article in 2014. It has been updated to reflect my career history as well as the changes occurring in the coaching profession.
The question I get more than any other is, "how do I get into coaching at the college level?" There has long been an allure about coaching at the college level. Before someone contemplates making the move to college coaching, here are some things they should consider:
What is your family situation?
What is your financial situation?
Do you teach at the high school level?
If you go the college route, are you prepared to earn less money?
If you leave a teaching job, it will be tough to get back into teaching.
Do you have any contacts at the college level?
The competition for jobs at the college level in any sport is extremely high. It is especially tough in football and basketball. There are thousands of coaches just like yourself who are looking to land one of a very limited number of coaching positions--especially positions that pay well. You need to have either good contacts at the college level, a stellar resume, or playing experience at a major program, otherwise, it will be difficult to land a job that makes any type of good money.
Unless you make it to the elite level or land a head coach position, it is unlikely you will make a sustainable living as a college coach unless you have other sources of income. I supported myself in the early stages of my college coaching career by working and running camps as well as earning income from my web design business.
Coaching at the college level is great. But it is a grind. And aside from the poor pay, there is no job security whatsoever, and often times, no health insurance or retirement benefits. When people ask me about making the move, I tell them to weigh the cons carefully.
If you decide you really want to pursue it, the best way to get in at the college level is to offer to volunteer at a local college. The NCAA in recent years has limited the number of volunteer coaches a program can have in all sports, especially at the Division I level. However, there are positions set aside specifically for volunteers. This is a great way to get your foot in the door if you are a teacher or have another job that pays well. Being a volunteer allows you to gain some college coaching experience while giving you the opportunity to evaluate if this is ultimately the career path you want to take. You'll often find that some volunteer positions are supplemented by working the institutions camps.
Some programs also have paid part-time positions available. Some of these positions are full-time positions with part-time pay. Some of these positions are actually what they are designated to be....part-time positions with part-time pay. These positions are terrific for someone who works a regular job or is a teacher and typically comes in to help about 15 hours a week, primarily with practice.
One of the best benefits about being a college coach, is the opportunity to work camps. For someone trying to get into the profession at this level, this is going to be a critical means to support your salary if you are working full-time as a volunteer or part-time coach. It is also a very important method of growing your coaching network and social circle.
A little background on my situation.....I started my coaching career as a student assistant with the football program at Ohio State in 1992. My first job after graduating was in 1994 at a D3 school where my only pay was tuition for postgrad classes. I was basically a full-time volunteer. I supported myself by working at Walmart in the evenings and paying my bills with credit cards.
I then coached three years from 1995-1998 as a full-time football/baseball coach at another D3 college. However, I was on a restricted earnings contract where my pay was a whopping $9000 a year for both sports! I supplemented my income by doing odd jobs within the athletic department that also gave me valuable resume material.
After those first 4 years in the profession, I decided I actually needed to make some real money. I went back to school for a year and got my teaching certification. I taught for 2 years while still coaching part-time at the college level, both football and baseball.
I then became a high school teacher, athletic director, and head softball coach. After 6 years, I realized how much I missed the college level and set my goals on returning. In 2008, I took a position as head softball coach at a D2 college--my salary was about HALF what I was making as a teacher/AD. I left that position after 3 years due to financial reasons, and did a few other things to try and make some "real" money again.
After a 2 year hiatus, I once again returned to college coaching in 2013. This time I landed a job as an assistant softball coach at a small D1 institution. I worked full-time on a part-time salary of $15,000. The only way I was able to survive was because I was receiving unemployment benefits because I had been laid off at my previous job.
After one year, I finally reached a milestone--full-time assistant softball coach at a Division I institution. Funny thing......my salary was STILL below what I was making as a high school teacher and AD almost 10 years prior!!!
I served in this position for 4 years. I absolutely loved it! I didn't receive a raise in 4 years, but by this point, some of my side businesses had really started to take off. I left this position in 2018 for my current position, head softball coach at a D2 school, when I am FINALLY making more then I did as a high school teacher and AD in 2008!!
Though the pay can be awful, the benefits are sometimes non-existent, and the job security is lacking, I love coaching at the college level.....But I also have nothing holding me back. I am divorced with no kids, and willing to relocate anywhere.
I hope this information helps out someone who is contemplating the move. Best of luck!
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