DETOUR AHEAD: SOME HEAD COACHES TAKE THE LONG ROAD

Daniel Crabtree, Head Coach at North Knox High School, Bicknell, IN

As coaches in the highly competitive job market of Indiana High School Basketball, we have each had unique experiences along the way.  Some coaches were fast-tracked to the top at a very young age.

  • Examples: Ryan Haywood was 25 when he was given the reins at his alma mater, Mt. Carmel, Illinois.  Mark Rohrer took over the South Knox Spartans at the ripe age of 23.

Some have bought their time grinding as an assistant at the same school to finally see that loyalty pay off.

  • Examples: Nathan Fleenor, 12-year assistant coach, was selected to take over the Evansville Harrison program he was loyal to all those years.  Rodney Walker, long time Bears assistant, also saw his loyalty pay off when he was promoted as the head coach of Evansville Central.

Others, like myself, have slowly moved up the ranks while working under multiple head coaches to finally land a job at a new school.  The last group are those of you who are still looking to earn your first head coaching job.  Success doesn’t necessarily depend on which road you take, but what you make of your opportunity once you get it.

The majority of head coaches fall into three categories: 

  1. The Star Player: A lot of head coaches were standout high school players, and/or college players. It makes sense because they have obviously been around the game most of their lives and often played under top-level coaches. This helped them build a network and get a foot into the coaching profession. Administrators and hiring committees feel comfortable hiring people they remember watching tear up the court.
  2. The Loyal Assistant: A common and well-respected route to becoming a head coach is to become an assistant, stay at one school, and be very patient. There are many variables that need to come into play. Obviously, this plan doesn’t work if the head coach stays forever, or the hiring committee wants someone with a proven head coaching record.  However, when it works out, those assistants already have a strong rapport with the players. 
  3. The Relative: Several coaches get into the profession because their father, mother, brother, or grandfather were coaches.  Coaching is “in their blood” so to speak.  They have been around the game, in the locker room, and on the sideline most of their lives. We’ve heard the phrase, “it’s all about who you know.”  While this isn’t an absolute, it certainly doesn’t hurt to know the people who are looking to hire. 

What about the rest of us who don’t fall into any of these categories? Maybe my experience can give some hope to those of you who are grinding and doing all the “right” things, but haven’t landed that allusive first head coaching job. 

I am a 2004 graduate of Tecumseh High School in Lynnville, IN.  Basketball was my first love, but a successful playing career wasn’t in the cards for me.  A combination of a reoccurring pelvic dislocation, and all the wrong attributes of size, speed, and athleticism put my basketball dreams on the shelf.  I was a decent distance runner and was a cross-country walk-on at the University of Southern Indiana. 

My basketball coaching career started in 2004 as a 5th and 6th grade B-Team coach at Elberfeld Elementary.  Soon after, I became the head boys’ track coach and boys’ and girls’ cross-country coach at Tecumseh High School.  I’m not sure if the job was even officially posted or how many people would have wanted it. I took the next five years to focus on my head coaching duties. When I returned to basketball, it was to my same position back at Elberfeld Elementary in 2009.  At this point, high school basketball coaching wasn’t even on my radar. 

In the fall of 2010, while at cross-country practice, Kevin Oxley approached me about coaching the freshmen team at Tecumseh.  Coach Oxley must have been extremely desperate to reach out to me, but I will be forever grateful for that job offer.  Tecumseh was coming off a twelve-year streak of Class “A” Sectional Championships that all started with a State Championship in 1999.  I had the opportunity to watch one of the best ever.  I learned how to run an entire program, how to scout, how to be prepared for anything, and how to compete against bigger teams night after night.  My four years as a freshmen coach and varsity assistant at Tecumseh were the building blocks of my coaching foundation. 

In the spring of 2014, I applied for a head basketball coaching job for the first time.  It was a girls’ job attached to a social studies teaching position I desperately wanted.  I finished runner-up for that job, but landed a teaching job at Princeton Community High School a few weeks later.  Princeton didn’t have any coaching openings at the time so I stayed on Tecumseh’s staff that summer.  A few weeks into the school year, Ryan Haywood approached me about an assistant opening.  I accepted, and spent the first year as a varsity assistant and then moved up to the JV spot for the next four years. 

During my time at Princeton, we went from four wins the first two years, to forty wins and a sectional championship the last two years.  Ryan Haywood is one of the best X’s and O’s coaches I have ever been around.  His sideline demeanor is much different than mine, but we worked extremely well together as a staff.  There is no doubt that our success at Princeton made me more desirable as a head coaching candidate.   

From 2014-2019, I applied for ten different head coaching positions and had twelve interviews (four each from two different schools).  I lost count of how many times schools said I was their second choice or that I was a great candidate, but didn’t have head coaching experience. Sometimes the teaching positions didn’t work out as well.  Then, in May of 2019, I had one of the craziest months of my life.  Ryan Haywood was leaving Princeton to become the next head coach of the Loogootee Lions.  I thought, this is it, my best opportunity to become a head coach is right here at Princeton.  Knowing that nothing in this profession is guaranteed, I also applied at a few other schools and was called for an interview at North Knox High School.  

North Knox notified me that I was being strongly considered, but they were waiting on Princeton’s decision.  After a second round of interviews at Princeton, they decided to hire LaMar Brown, a very well-respected assistant from the Bosse High School coaching tree.  I will be honest, upon hearing I didn’t get the Princeton job, I was crushed.  I remember questioning whether or not I would ever be a head coach.  24-48 hours later, North Knox called to offer me their head boys’ basketball position.  Hindsight is 20/20, but as much as I wanted the Princeton job, it wasn’t my perfect fit.  North Knox has been awesome, and is without a doubt a better fit for me than any of the previous jobs I applied for.  

Thank you for taking the time to read about my experiences.  I would like to give some advice to the aspiring head coaches out there:

Be Patient:  It is much easier to say that after you land a job, but it really is great advice.  At one point, I was so consumed with the idea that I had to be a head coach, I was willing to take any job.  Several of the jobs I interviewed for wouldn’t have been great fits for me or my family. 

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others:  After you have been an assistant long enough, you will start to see other area assistants become head coaches.  Sometimes it is difficult to watch younger assistants get jobs, but in the long run, just be happy for them and continue to be the best assistant coach you can be. 

Don’t Hold Grudges:  Whether it was a teaching job or a coaching job, I held grudges when I didn’t get certain positions.  My focus became all about proving people wrong.  In reality, it is just unhealthy to hold in those things.  Now that I am at peace and let everything go, I can look at past situations as great learning experiences.  Each interview prepared me for the next.  All of my experiences have molded me into the coach I am today.  I couldn’t be happier to be a North Knox Warrior!

Put Your Family First:  Be honest with your spouse or significant other.  Talk to your children about your goals and aspirations.  Make sure everyone is on the same page before applying to become a head coach.  It is hard to know how much time you will put in until you are actually in a head coaching position.  Things are a lot more enjoyable if your family is supportive and understanding.  Take time to put them first.  This is something I struggled with as a first year head coach.  My wife, Victoria, has been a rock star with this process.  My sons Calvin and Nathan have been very supportive and understanding as well.  

In closing, I would like to thank Feel for the Game for reaching out to me about sharing my somewhat unique path to becoming a head coach.  Hopefully a few aspiring head coaches can find some things in this article to give them confidence that good things can happen at different speeds for everyone.   Feel free to reach out to me about anything basketball related, from preparing for an interview, to staying positive throughout the process, or what to expect as a first-year head coach. 

Daniel Crabtree

Head Coach of the North Knox Warriors

dcrabtree@nknox.k12.in.us

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