James Franklin Penn State
Penn State

For the third year in a row, FootballScoop had the opportunity to sit in on the GA Career Forum at the AFCA Convention. Held with the intention of helping young coaches move up in the ranks, those young coaches must first help themselves – the forum began at 9 a.m. Monday morning, and all available seats were gone well before then. Division I-A Athletics Directors Association executive director Dutch Baughman opened the morning with a brief address, and by the time he finished I estimated a standing-room-only crowd of close to 500 coaches gathered to hear Penn State head coach James Franklin, SMU defensive coordinator Van Malone, Eastern Michigan offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer and St. Thomas (Minn.) head coach Glenn Caruso. Once again, the forum was moderated by Murray State cornerbacks coach Carlos Alvarado.

Let’s get to it.

On developing relationships with mentors
Malone: I’m always making sure my mentor is getting a note from me, I find him at the convention and ask about his family and he knows about my family. I want to pick his brain and have him let me know what I can do better.

Caruso: The most crucial part is who you chose to be a part of your culture. I’ve learned a lot from guys I’ve gotten to mentee. Trust is such a big part of it. It’s going to take a while to build. You’ve got to be prepared to put that trust in and wait for an opportunity.

On working camps:
Franklin: The college camp thing has gotten tricky. The background checks make it difficult, and everyone is doing one-day camps now. You’ve got to use those opportunities to refine your craft. Just doing it over and over and over again. Camps and clinics are what your off-season should be built around.

On pursuing the next job now versus in the future:
Caruso: That’s a tough one. The younger you are the tougher it is. I think it’s crucial that whatever you’re doing, you are in that moment. Right now our phones are going off and you’re wondering, ‘Is that a recruit, is that my head coach?’ Whatever you’re doing now is the most important. Singleness of purpose.

Malone: I always share it with my head coach if it’s serious. We’ve built that trust. I go to him to let him know it’s something I’m seriously considering, but also so he can advise me.

On asking for more responsibility in the office:
DeBoer: You’ve got to make sure you’re doing your job as good as you possibly can. It has to come on the heels of doing a great job with what you’ve been given.

On seeking an FBS job versus a job at a lower division:
Franklin: It comes down to people and opportunities for growth. I always tell people to stay broke for as long as possible.  When you have a car payment and other things like that, it becomes a factor. Keeping money out of it allows you to chase your dreams longer. Young guys, and I was one of them, are so worried about handing out 1,000 business cards at conventions like this, and those aren’t the people that are going to get you hired. The guys you work with are going to fire you. You interview every single day. When I got to Penn State, I had guys that GA’d with me at Maryland wanting to interview. I told them, ‘I’ve already interviewed you.’

Caruso: If I don’t have someone in mind, I reach out to guys I trust. Once the name is out there, it’s the guys who follows up who’s going to get the job. If a guy waits three days to follow up, we’re probably not going to follow up with him.

DeBoer: We get interviews constantly. What’s the extra touch? You need to be intentional. Writing a note, having someone call on your behalf, those are all good steps to take.

Franklin: To me, a job is never open. I have 15 wide receivers, linebackers coaches on my list. I’ve never looked at a resume in my life. If I meet someone that impresses me, like today walking around the convention center, I’ll tell my DFO and we’ll add it to the list.

Do not have anyone on your references that won’t pound the table for you. I’m not putting my name on anyone that I’m not confident is going to be a great representative of me. I’ve known guys that have had Joe Paterno, George O’Leary on their list of references, and to me those are bad references. They didn’t work with you day in and day out.

On questions to ask in the interview process:
DeBoer: You should make sure it’s a good fit for you. If not, you’re going to be miserable.

Malone: If I was a GA, I’m going to meet with an assistant coach and I’m going to sit down with him for a couple hours. I’m going to fly or drive to where he is.

On preparing to be interviewed:
Franklin: This summer when there’s down time in the office, maybe it’s a Sunday or something, have a coordinator or an assistant interview you. Now when a question comes up you feel prepared. Be willing to work outside your box. You have to refine your craft, but you have to broaden your horizons. If you’re a running backs coach, learn everything you can about coaching wide receivers. To know the part, you have to know the whole as well.

Caruso: Our running backs coach left a few days before fall camp when I was at North Dakota State. Head coached asked me if I could coach the running backs. ‘Yeah, coach, of course I can coach the running backs.’ I didn’t know a thing about coaching running backs. I had them doing offensive line drills. I made every mistake you possibly can make. There is no sin in making a mistake once, but tremendous sin in making a mistake twice.

Malone: You’re not looking for the job. You go to talk to coaches because you want to get better. One of the first mistakes I made was I thought I knew too much. As a player, as a coach, you don’t know anything.

On the best way to position yourself for an interview:
Franklin: Again, I don’t think you do. Unless you have a relationship already, you don’t have a chance nine out of 10 times. You’re not going to go to war with someone you don’t already trust. Maybe it’s different for a GA job, but for full-time you pretty much already know who you’re going to take.

DeBoer: I got lucky, my last two jobs I didn’t know the head coach. I got jobs when I wasn’t looking for a job, just because people know you. It’s really important you stay diligent. It may be 10, 15 years down the road you get that opportunity.

Malone: Ninety percent or more it’s going to happen because people know you.

Caruso: If you wait until you have an opening, you’ve already missed out. I’ve eliminated three guys in this room by their demeanor.

On how to prepare for the job before you get the job:
Franklin: I think it’s important you have a manual at your position. Drills, recruiting, all of it, A to Z on how you coach wide receivers. My first head coach interviews I had a manual I spent 10 years putting together. I never opened it and don’t now, but it’s a great way to get your thoughts together.

Caruso: I had an Excel file I was constantly adding to, things I liked and things I didn’t like. That was 20 years ago. That same file sits on my desktop today.

DeBoer: You want the interview to last. You don’t want it to be an hour, you want it to go all day.

Franklin: Controlling the interview is so important. Once you have your opportunity, just go. Do manuals for every position you think you can coach. Even if you never actually coach that position, it helps you evolve.

On how to become a good recruiter:
Malone: The relationship between an assistant coach and high school coach is crucial.

Caruso: When I was young I thought recruiting was sales. I was good at it. I thought it was talking guys into coming, and I spoiled them. I didn’t spend enough time looking for guys that wanted to be there. Are you being genuine throughout the process? It’s not the ones you lose that’ll get you beat, it’s the ones you take you know you shouldn’t.

Franklin: People ask about how we turned Vandy around. The kids trusted us. They knew we would maximize their time on campus.

DeBoer: You’re going to learn every single day. I’m learning as I sit here with these other coaches.

On instilling discipline with players:
Caruso: A lot of that starts in recruiting. Knowing right from wrong is a lot easier to recruit than teach. You’re talking about reengineering behavior in four-to-five years that’s taken 18 years to learn.

Franklin: I don’t think we do a good enough job of clearly addressing expectations on the front end. Clearly identify expectations for every role. I stayed back until Sunday afternoon because I wanted to meet with our five mid-semester enrollees to clearly define expectations.

On raising a family while building your career:
DeBoer: I have the mindset of, when I’m driving home, ‘When I cross this stop light, I’m shutting it down.’

Franklin: Work like crazy now to give yourself options later. Options are power. Maybe not in terms of money, but to work for someone that’s a good guy. When I worked for the Packers, my wife and kids never saw the office. Families weren’t allowed up there. My kids are at Penn State every day. It’s important for us and our own families, but we’re raising kids (on our teams). I want them to see me with my family. There are a lot of a–holes in this business. The best part of being a head coach is I get to choose who I work with.

Caruso: You’re going to have a job which pulls you one way, a family that pulls you another way. Mary well. I’m serious. The number one reason you see good coaches leave this profession, it’s stress at home. Your wife is the number one recruit you sign. She’s raising your kids. I’ll see guys do everything they can to vet their three technique, watching all this film, talking to coaches, teachers, and then they don’t do the same for their wife.

It’s good for your kids to see you in a leadership role, and it’s good for players to see you in a fatherly role.