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Four ADs speak on how (and how not) to get a head coaching job

Earlier this week we provided a report on four coaches' views on how to move from a graduate assistant to a full-time coaching position. Now, we'll examine how four athletic directors view the best way to advance from an assistant coaching spot to a head coaching job.

First, the particulars. The panel featured one athletic director from every level of NCAA football: Louisiana Tech's Bruce Van De Velde, Eastern Illinois' Barbara Burke, North Alabama's Mark Linder and Scott Carnahan from Linfield College (Ore.) in Division III. Van De Velde recently hired Skip Holtz to lead the Bulldogs' program after Sonny Dykes departed for Cal, while Burke and Linder's head coaches, Dino Babers and Bobby Wallace, each just finished their first season at their respective schools. The panel was moderated by Central (Iowa) College coach Jeff McMartin. 

On the terms of a standard head coaching contract....

Carnahan: "Ours are one-year deals and include other responsibilities as well. At our school that means a 25 percent teaching load."
Linder: "A three-year contract which is renewable every year after."
Van De Velde: "We do a five-year contract. We don't guarantee the total package, just the base salary."
Burke: "We typically start with a three-year contract with an automatic roll-over. We build in incentives and buyouts, but those are all negotiable."

On the specific job duties expected of a head coach....

Van De Velde: "The number one thing is to make sure the needs of our student-athletes are met, and to run a clean, honest program. I want to trust my head coach."
Linder: "We talk a lot about culture and buying into the mission of the university and athletic department."
Burke: "Leadership across the board. A head football coach has got to lead other programs."
Carnahan: "Our football coach is an integral part of the admissions process. Athletics help pay the bills, so that's a job of every one of our coaches. He's recruiting more student-athletes than any other program."

On how quick a turnaround they expect after making a new hire....

Burke: "We try not to put a time limit on success. I want to win, but it's how you get there. There are different levels of success. How are you going to reach your success point?"
Carnahan: "We have to evaluate what the issues have been previously. A coach is only as good as his student-athletes, so we've got to look at recruiting. There's no time frame, but we want to turn it around quickly."
Linder: "Immediately. Success can be defined by a lot of things. I expect kids to buy in to a new system or leave."
Van De Velde: "Off the field, we want progress right away. We certainly have more patience on the field. The window has shrunk with the AQ's, which encourages taking shortcuts. We pay $500,000-$800,000, and we're getting closer to $1 million, and that shortens the window."

On unwritten expectations in the interview....

Van De Velde: "Are they ready to be the CEO of football? Do they have a plan for all areas of football?"
Linder: "I like to go out to eat with a candidate and see how they take care of the waiter. I think it gives me an insight to their character. Just because you're not interviewing doesn't mean the interview is over"
Burke: "I look forward to having dinner privately on campus. There they'll get my undivided attention, for two hours, three hours, I've had some that go four hours. It gives me a chance to really get to know them. We can communicate openly and honestly. I want you to communicate. Some people want your plan in writing, I don't."

On using search firms...

Van De Velde: "I have used them in the past, not to identify candidates. I keep a short list in my back pocket. They help with logistics and dealing with agents. Sometimes you need a buffer because you can get used by coaches looking to improve their situation. You have to be protective. We use them to line up interviews, background checks, handle the travel plans and for character references."
Burke: "We do not use search firms. I get to know more of the candidates by handling it myself. It's important that we do our jobs."
Linder: "I have not used a search firm. It can get hard to protect candidates since resumes are open-record. I can see us getting to that."

On how a coach can get on an AD's list....

Burke: "I am always evaluating talent, from watching other teams, talking to other athletic directors, talking to search firms. We look at pedigree, and style of play factors into it."
Van De Velde: "Performance. Fit is what I'm really looking for. Can they fit into our culture."
Linder: "It depends on what the university needs. All programs go through a life cycle. When Mark Hudspeth left, we had a great assistant coaching staff so we renewed all of their contracts and looked for a head coach that could fit with the staff. That's what our program needed at the time."

On dealing with agents...

Van De Velde: "It changes a great deal. We work with them quite a bit, unfortunately."
Burke: "I prefer not to. I have had success without working with agents."
Linder: "I haven't. I've had an agent contact me before to express a client's interest and it really turned me off. How bad does he really want it?"
Van De Velde: "It can be off putting if I heard from an agent first and not a head coach. If we reach that point, I'll work with the agent on negotiating the contract."

On the best way to contact an AD....

Van De Velde: "Hopefully they've done it before I have an opening. I'm continually meeting and evaluating. Every day is an interview. It's how you conduct your business day-to-day."
Burke: "I track the careers of our former assistants. What are you doing with your current athletic director to help your career?"
Linder: "It's amazing how many how many hands my cell phone number can get in. Show effort. Show that you want it. Be transparent. I would say, contact me and ask 'how will you advise me to get your attention?' and I'll usually say to call me every three days, or something like that."
Carnahan: "We want people that want the position. That can be collegial with other programs."

On the interview process...

Linder: "We're going to spend more time with the relationship than in paperwork."
Van De Velde: "I look for professional conduct skills. Look, dress, can you a leader - a CEO for football."
Burke: "I do look at personal aspects. Can they command a room. How do they interact with the staff."
Carnahan: "The final decision is made by the president. At our school it's a two-day process."

What not to an interview...

Burke: "Don't be over-aggressive. Be yourself, be honest."
Carnahan: "Don't be too pushy. Be yourself. Don't put something out there that's not there."
Linder: "Don't forget that you're interviewing the school, too. Know that you don't have to have to all the answers."
Van De Velde: "Be yourself. Be concise but pervasive. Answer the question, don't dance."

Final thoughts...

Carnahan: "Be the best recruiter you can be. Know the admissions process."
Linder: "Communicate honestly and know that adversity will happen."
Van De Velde: "We look for someone that's committed to integrity. Know the NCAA rules and university policy. Have a deep desire to make a difference in young people's lives."
Burke: "Believe in yourself, your program, your vision. Don't look in the rear-view mirror."