The big names may draw headlines at the AFCA convention (look, it's David Shaw! hey, it's Mark Richt!) but it's the lower-rung guys that this event is built for. With that in mind, I stole a seat at Monday morning's Graduate Assistant Career Forum to see how graduate assistants advance from their current position to, as the panel put it, running their own room.
On the panel were Chris Thomsen, most recently seen as the interim head coach in Texas Tech's bowl win over Minnesota, ULM head coach Todd Berry, Missouri S&T head coach David Brown II and Buffalo cornerbacks coach Maurice Linguist.
The session crammed more than 60 years of collective experience on all things big and small and crammed them into two hours. It would be futile to relay the entire two hours so, with that in mind, here are the highlights:
On the importance of working camps and networking throughout the summer...
Linguist: "When you get two or three weeks off in the summer are you going to just go home and hang out, or are you going to go visit a coach?"
Brown: "(Other coaches) are going to see you work, and that's how you get hired. You learn how to coach. If you screw up with 12-year-olds, nobody's going to know. You can get your coaching voice, see yourself in the mirror as a coach without your head coach or coordinator being critical."
Berry: "You can get exposed to different people and different systems early on and see what you really believe in."
On the application process...
Berry: "I don't want to have to tell a guy to send his resume to human resources. If you've done that ahead of time, it shows you're proactive."
Brown: "Be strategic. If I'm set in a man scheme, I'm probably not going to get on at a place anchored in a cover-two."
On the interview process...
Berry: "Find that one guy that can champion you. As a head coach I don't have time for 15 calls, that drives me crazy. But I do have time for one call."
Brown: "Be over-prepared. Some schools are going to ask you a bunch of questions, some are going to give you the mic."
Linguist: "If you don't know how to answer a question, say so. Don't answer a question you don't know how to answer. Don't embarrass yourself. Don't open that can of worms."
Berry: "If you don't know an answer to a question, the best thing to say is 'My special teams coach handled it this way, and this is how I felt about that.' It shows you've been thinking about things."
On when a graduate assistant is ready to become a position coach...
Thomsen: "You're not going to hire someone that you know can't control a room."
Berry: "If I walked out of a room in a recruit's home, is he going to finish the job? If I left a meeting, is he going to handle himself well with other coaches? I can't be in his meeting room, so is he going to have his guys ready to play?"
Linguist: "It's like getting married. You know when you know."
On whether it's better to be a Division I GA or a Division II full-time assistant...
Brown: "Don't think about levels. Be a full-time head coach, have benefits. There's a big difference in Division I. There's Idaho, and then there's Alabama. If you have a level as your goal, what are you going to do when you get to that level?"
Berry: "If your ultimate goal is to be a I-A guy, you've got to have that on your resume."
On putting in long hours as a GA...
Linguist: "Hide your watch. You've got to know your role - that I'm here to help."
On when and when not to look for jobs....
Berry: "If I see a guy take a job, and then leave to take another job two weeks later, I cross that guy off my list as a no-call guy. I know then I can't trust him. I will give any coach all the help he needs from the end of the season to March 1. If a guy interviews after March 1, he'd better get the job because he's not about to have one with me."
On managing down time in the office...
Linguist: "If a guy walks into your office, are you on FootballScoop every other minute or are you doing your job?"
Brown: "You've got to work on your circles. It sounds like a little thing, but it's huge. Not everything is done on paper or the computer. Sometimes you have to go draw something up on the white board."
On managing career and family....
Berry: "It's managing your career versus managing happiness. What does my family need at this point in time? It's difficult. There's a special place in heaven for all coaches wives, because it can be hell on Earth."
Brown: "If I'm offering $30,000 to a guy with four kids I'm like, 'Come on man, why?' If your your wife has a job that can support you not making much money for a while, that's great. For me, I wanted to coach ball, so I got married at 35. I'm 40 now with three kids, so we started pretty quick."
Brown: "If you're a d-line guy, stay in the room for 7-on-7 film. If you're a DB guy, know your run fits."
Linguist: "Two or three quality relationships are better than 20 or 30 acquaintances."
Thomsen: "The investment you make in people is the most important thing."
Berry: "Don't think we don't take notes. Somebody's always looking."