Inside the AFCA GA Forum with Gus Malzahn, Chad Morris, Dino Babers and Jake Spavital
Their offenses combined to run 4,224 plays for 28,881 yards and scored 2,325 points this season. Their teams played 54 games in 2013, and won 44 of them. There's no disputing that Gus Malzahn, Dino Babers, Chad Morris and Jake Spavital are four of the brightest minds in coaching, but they didn't gather in the Indiana Convention Center's rooms CC 103-104 to talk ball on Monday morning. They were there to tell a thousand younger coaches who want to be them someday how to get hired.
The group comes from a very diverse background. Babers has the most conventional resume, rising from his first job as a graduate assistant in 1984 to his first head coaching job at Eastern Illinois in 2012 with nearly a dozen stops in the 28 years in between. Spavital is the fast riser, taking five different GA jobs ("I probably have enough hours to get my Ph.D.," he said) before leaping into West Virginia's quarterbacks role in 2011. Three years later, he's now the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. Malzahn and Morris are the ultimate coaching outliers, bypassing the ladder entirely and moving straight from high school jobs into offensive coordinator positions at Arkansas and Tulsa, respectively. Malzahn, of course, is the near-national champion coach at Auburn and Morris is the offensive coordinator at Clemson.
Regardless of where they come from, all four know a good and a bad GA when they see one. Moderated by Murray State cornerbacks coach Carlos Alvarado, the panel took two hours Monday morning to share their wisdom on how (and how not) to climb the coaching ladder.
On how to develop a relationship with a coaching mentor
Babers: Constantly staying in contact, asking about family, keeping in touch during their season.
Spavital: The main thing I tried to do is be around. That was the way I expanded my network. Good people surround themselves with good people, and I knew they'd always have some good people around.
On how you know a coach is someone you want to align yourself with
Morris: Try to align yourself with someone you believe in. Morals, ethics, make sure you get hooked up with the right person. Don't be afraid to be persistent. No doesn't always mean no.
Malzahn: Some of these jobs you may think you want, you really don't want. You think you do, but you don't. Look at someone you want to model yourself after.
On the most effective path to becoming a GA
Spavital: I started sending out resumes as a junior in college to as many people as possible. I tried to keep expanding that network. I constantly kept moving.
Morris: The biggest thing we deal with is building relationships. I see it with my 16-year-old daughter, all she wants to do is text. The days of sitting down face-to-face with somebody are null and void.
On what makes a great GA
Malzahn: Hard work. A good GA is a guy that gets there before I am and is going to be there after I leave in case I need something.
Babers: Endless hours. I think you have to be highly competitive. Be the best GA on the staff. I remember one time, a head coach I worked for asked one of our GAs to have a project ready for him the next morning. In the meeting he said, "Do you have that project I asked for?" The GA said, "Oh no, coach, I didn't have time. I'll get that to you this afternoon." Three other GAs immediately pulled it out. They didn't step on his toes, but they had gone above and beyond.
On when a GA is ready to become a full-time coach
Malzahn: It's all about relationships. Do the players respect him, how good a recruiter is he, can they command a room? I want a guy with a great attitude that's a hard worker. I don't necessarily need a guy with great X's and O's knowledge.
Morris: I want a guy that's thinking like I think. You don't have to read my mind, but if I have to ask you to do something I might as well do it myself.
On how to prepare for a job interview
Babers: Be yourself. All you guys are in a job interview. You guys are always on. You're on when you're at the convention, you're on when you're at the bar. We remember faces. We may not be good with names, but we remember faces.
Morris: Dress for the job you want, not the job you've got. If the head man is in slacks and you're in shorts, that's not going to work out.
On the best way to be considered for a job
Babers: Young people want to hit you with a text or an email. Find out who my circle of friends are, and get inside that circle. We're going to hire somebody that we know.
Spavital: Try to find a way to get into their network.
Babers: The first GA job that you get, it should probably be for the guy you played for. I've gotten jobs coaching for the guy who coached me, and then I got another job coaching for the guy who recruited me.
Morris: What's your passion? I want to know what you do when you've got some down time. I'm going to put you on the board and see what you know. Now, I don't want someone that's going to change what we do, but I don't want a staff of yes men, either.
Spavital: Remember that you work for all the coaches. Everywhere I went I found a way to make myself irreplaceable.
Morris: It's all about timing and fit. Is this guy on the back end of his tenure or the front end of it?
On how long a GA should serve before pursuing another job
Malzahn: Once they've been with you for a year and done a good job, you try to help them.
Babers: You need to be there longer than six months. It needs to be a year and a half. By then I'll have a greater feel for you.
On if there's a difference in hours on the job between FBS and the lower levels
Babers: There's no difference. You're going to burn the candle at both ends no matter where you are. We're all workaholics. I'd blow my salary up to go minimum wage with time and a half at night and double time on the weekends.
On the best way for a high school coach to get in with a college staff
Morris: If your'e a high school coach and you've got a great player, bring him to camp. We'll let you work for sure.
Spavital: Work camps, even the little kid camps. It can be annoying, but it's a great way to help out and start building relationships.
Malzahn: I've had a lot of my old Arkansas high school buddies tell me they want to come work with me. I say, "Okay, here's our schedule. We're working all day Sunday, all day Monday. You'll get a couple hours on Friday morning to spend with your family. Go show this to your wife and then tell me how she feels about it." Then they come back and say, "Yeah, I've got a good job here."
On how to be a good recruiter
Babers: You need to enjoy people of all different types and regions. If you're able to bring a calmness about you, that's what coaches want.
Morris: When I was working high school it was all about, does he spend time with me? Is he trying to hit a number of schools? How much time did you really spend with the high school coach? Take time and develop a relationship. If a coach wants to talk ball, get on the board. Do you make that high school coach feel important? If you don't, you may not get that kid.
Malzahn: We've been on the other side of that desk. I knew within five minutes whether he was full of crap or the real deal.
Babers: I was going to treat that person like he was the most important person in the world whether he had a player or not. Babers added that he doesn't care about getting to 15 schools in a day or looking at 100 players, "I'm looking for 2 starters" that's what I'm there to do. "Develop relationships with those high school coaches so they can help you identify players who can be starters for your program."
Morris: Recruiting is nothing more than building a relationship. You might be able to fool your peers, but you can't fool the players.