Tyler Phillips, Athletic Director at Hauser High School (IN)
When I was asked to write this article, I have to admit I never put a lot of thought into this transition from coaching high school basketball to running an athletic department. For me, they are two different animals; however, running a high school program helped prepare me for running an entire athletic department. I remember at an earlier point in my career, I interviewed for an AD position and didn’t get it. Their reasoning? I had never been a head coach and they didn’t feel I was ready. Being young and inexperienced, I thought that was a bogus excuse, but now that I am on the AD side of the desk, I see they were exactly right.
The biggest similarity I have come to find in being a head coach and an athletic director is the management piece. As a high school basketball coach, everything that happens in your program is on your watch and your responsibility. As an AD, the happenings of the entire athletic department, from coaches to athletes to even the spectators in your bleachers, are on your watch and your responsibility. Both roles are similar to owning a small business; when you move from coaching to being an athletic director, your business just expanded.
I’m thankful for my time as a coach because of the memories and relationships I was able to build and still maintain today. I am also thankful for the role it played in helping me prepare for my new position as an AD. Through coaching, I was able to learn how to make tough decisions, budget, manage time, manage personnel, evaluate players and assistant coaches, and so much more. Much of these same things are things that I have to do on a daily basis as an AD. Instead of coaching kids to be better at their given sport, I now have to coach coaches on how to be better professionals, better communicators, better leaders…in a word, better coaches. This would not have been impossible had I not been in their shoes and experienced first hand what they have to deal with on a daily basis. So while I was upset in my youth for not getting that AD job, I am now thankful that they saved me from failure as I was nowhere near ready for such a role.
As all coaches know, one of the hardest parts of coaching is getting your foot in the door of being a head high school basketball coach. I interviewed and finished runner up more times than I care to share, and all for the same reason… lack of experience. Every great coach needs that first chance to show they can run a successful program. Bob Knight was an unknown coach when Army hired him; he wasn’t exactly proven when Indiana University brought him to Bloomington. During those times interviewing, I always tried to put myself in the shoes of the interviewers.
Anyone who has interviewed for a head coaching position knows what I’m talking about. While I can’t speak for all AD’s, I can tell you in my first year as an AD and hiring coaches (between junior high and high school), I had to hire 15! I can share what I have noticed that I look for.
The biggest thing I have noticed about hiring coaches is I look for the things that were important to me as a coach. I wanted to build relationships, culture, chemistry, and a family atmosphere. I wasn’t as worried about X’s and O’s or the system I ran offensively or defensively. As I look back at the questions I was asked at various interviews, I can now see what was important to each interviewer… I can see what they put their stock into. I can also look back and see what jobs I am thankful I didn’t get because of where the importance seemed to be placed… the almighty W-L record! I would have to think long and hard what my records as a high school player were; I’m sure we lost more than we won, but I do remember the relationships and lessons I learned that help me now as a grown adult that far outweigh the games we won or lost. As an administrator, I’m looking to hire coaches with that same mentality.
So as for me as an athletic director, here’s what I look for and emphasize when searching for a coach:
A very experienced, wise Indiana basketball coach once told me that everyone in Indiana thinks they can coach basketball… he’s not wrong in saying this. Everyone has a system, a set of X’s and O’s they think are better than everyone else’s. That is what makes coaching so much fun. There are numerous ways to coach basketball and they are all right. When hiring a coach, I’m not looking for a system coach or a masterful X and O coach; I’m looking for a coach that will invest in kids and build relationships that will last far beyond their time in our basketball program. If these relationships are created and that type of culture is established, winning will take care of itself… and you will win some basketball games as well.