Friday, November 6, 2015

The five most important elements to picking a job you can turn around

Gonna change pace from the X's and O's a little bit. I'll be back with part II of the loaded double options from the flex next week. Since the open job season is coming up, I thought I'd look back at my multiple jobs and pick out the five most important questions / characteristics to look for in taking a losing program with a chance to win.

Understand, I've taken over 11 programs in between moving and going back and forth to college. I have been able to get 7 of the programs deep into the playoffs. Most were never there before and all were very unique. The ones that I didn't win at had some common threads. Even some of the ones that I was successful in had some of these traits and made my work seem as if I was pushing a car uphill. (Understand I am old enough, mature enough, and intelligent enough to realize part of the problem in these settings was me. Time off allows you to analyze and take long looks at yourself.)

As I've gotten older I've learned to listen better and interview the interviewers better. There have been many times I've taken jobs that didm't answer these questions right (see #6) but looking back I wish I had listened to the message. Don't get lost in being interviewed - remember you are making a decision also. Get the info you want.

1. Is your vision and their vision the same. This is not as simple as saying "we want to win." This entails everything from "what is winning?" to structure and demands of the program to what is expected from the coach and the program on and off the field. Questions such as "Define winning?"  and where would you like to see the program in three / six years?" will not only help you understand what they are looking for but give you an idea if they have any clue as to what they want. (Many don't! They just interview in generalities as to what feels good today. These get you in trouble as the "Flavor of the day" changes often.)Pin them down. And if they have no clue - well I am at a stage where I really want to be someplace else.

If your two vision are not perfectly in sync, then there will be a time when you feel you are fighting with one arm strapped to your side. There will be a time when something you feel is on track will be totally derailed as it didn't fit in with their expectations. (Don't get me wrong - this is a group effort and compromise is essential as long as the train gets to the same destination.)

Most losing program will answer with "we want our program to be successful on and off the field!" Well what does that mean in absolutes. Make them answer in absolutes and if they can't you know they have no idea of what they want. You will be at the mercy of daily whimsical fleets of fancy. The more concrete you are the more they should want you.

(Imagine interviewing at Chrysler for a manager of a new car line. When you ask the CEO "What is your vision for this car?" He says"we want it to be good!" Wouldn't happen.)

2. What is their "ideal coach?"  This seems stupid and trivial as no one can get their ideal but every coach is different.Somebody told me years ago there is a right job for every coach and a right coach for every job and sometimes they are not mutual. Everybody is different. Everybody has different personality traits. Everybody has a different coaching style. Not everybody - no matter how good you are as a coach is a perfect match. (Just take "intensity" level - and you get a job in a laid back liberal school. No! Not a good match.)

So when I interview I always ask them, "So describe your ideal coach." Listen closely and be honest with yourself. Am I that person. (Many many of the schools I interviewed at, especially lately, looked at me like deer in the headlights when I asked them. They had no idea. Trust me - this method of picking a coach doesn't work. In my last interview in January, I flew out to another city to be met by a thirteen person panel. When I asked this question they went from one to the other asking "do you want to answer that?" Nobody had a clue. How do you pick something if you don't know what want?
Its like me giving you a blank check and saying, go buy "something" on amazon.

This question will also give you an idea as to how important sports are to the school. If they haven't prepared a list of why they are looking for, its probably not that important to them.

Again, compromise is the answer. You will always have to change to fit into the new environment but a total remake? Eventually, it'll rain, the whitewash will come off, and the zebra stripes will appear. You are who you are.

3. Do they have the fortitude to support you? There are going to be disagreements and you being the new kid / outsider will be put on the chopping block and tested many times early. Will you have to change, apologize, give in with any agreement or are they hiring your philosophy. This is less and less as more and more money gets into education. As a former principal said to me, when he started principles were making 20000 and teachers about 13000 (He's a dinosaur like me.) So when put on the spot they supported the coach. They could easily make 20000 in another profession. So they did what they deemed right with no second thoughts. Today principals make well into six figures with bonuses for test scores, the decision is not so easy. Getting a job that pays as much as that is pretty hard.

So I asked them to define the word "support" as it pertains to their role with coaches. I could fill a book with the answers and PC crap that came out of most but the good ones said the right things and understood athletics. (The late great principal of Langley answered "My job is to get the peoples out of the way of the cart so you can drive it easily." I signed up immediately.)

4. What is the current state of the culture and do I as an outsider fit in? To be honest, this is one I haven't followed always and gets me in a lot of trouble. At Holy Spirit they wanted an alumni and three applied splitting the groups. They also wanted the AD (non-alumni) out and he was hiring me. Not a good culture to enter. At Manassas I received an email inviting me to a baptist church that Sunday. When I replied I was Catholic, the response stated "not for long if you want to coach here." (I later realized the the city was a resounding majority Southern Baptist! Nothing wrong with that. In my stay in Virginia many administrators and friends were Southern Baptist. Great people. The point is that this was a very closed group. Very hard for an outsider.

When you take over a "Losing" program, you have enough on your plate. You don't need to be walking on pins and needles trying to fit in at every corner.

While there is no specific question you can ask here, you need to do your homework. Research the internet. Browse around town asking questions like a tourist, eat at a local diner. You will be surprised as to the inside info you can get. (but don't tell them you're a candidate for the job or they'll tell you what they want to hear.

5) Are the people interviewing you trustworthy and taking ownership for the program? Tough to figure out but you can if you ask the right questions. First and foremost, ask them what happened with the last couple of coaches and why they don't think they are successful. If the blame is constantly on the previous coach / coaches, they are just hiring another scapegoat. Yes, some of the blame starts there but all of it. I once had a school that had 14 coaches in 20 years. When asked why they hadn't been successful, the AD said sternly, "We have the perfect program here. We just haven't plugged in the right coach!" You've been losing for thirty years and had 14 coaches, one of those must have had some ability. Do you think it may be a bigger problem. (I took the job and it was. Micromanaging from above, answering every hint of displeasure (The AD and head coach were required to go to every board mtg.), split little leagues arguing and putting the head coach in the middle, split booster clubs, etc.)

Now, to the contrary when I took over North Stafford, Woody (one of the best AD's a coach can ask for!) said to me. "John, I don't think we've ever had a great coach but then again we've never had a great program. We are looking for somebody to come in and tell us how to do it." Can't ask for more. Easy turn around for a school that lost 37 in a row. Did I get everything I wanted - NO! But the effort was there to give me everything I needed. They took accountability for the problem!


6. Why am I taking this job? This is one you have to ask yourself and nobody on the search committee. As one AD told me "Everybody wants to coach and more want the title Head Coach" As a result we trick ourselves. This perhaps is my biggest career mistake. I take a job so I can coach. End of story. All the questions above were answered wrong - yet, despite my gut, I had this overriding need to coach. Like if I didn't I never would again or that some value of me would be missing.

Take a job because you want to be at THAT school. Is there a perfect job? NO! its give and take and adaptation. However, there is an ideal situation - one you and the program can grow with the umbrella of the school district, making all sides happy.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

I could have used this list a few years ago..Took the job for the wrong reason