The annual AFCA convention is an event coaches around the country look forward to every year because it's an opportunity to talk ball and learn from fellow coaches, reconnect with old friends, build on (or expand) your network of coaches, and see some really exciting new products from some of the best exhibitors in football. It really is a one-of-a-kind event, full of coaches hungry for knowledge, at every level imaginable.
With a handful of conventions under my belt, from a variety of vantage points from a near-broke small college intern turned even more small college broke graduate assistant, to a high school coordinator, to my job with FootballScoop, I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of different coaches in a variety of different situations at the annual AFCA convention.
Reflecting on those unique experiences, I feel like I've found a fun avenue to share the 11 types of coaches you'll see down at the AFCA in Nashville this year, and in the years that follow at other conventions as well.
1 - "Mr. On the Job Hunt"
Coaching is a unique profession, in that a lot of guys rely on it to play a significant role to provide for their family, yet the job security is dependent on so many different variables that it can be less than an ideal situation for a lot of guys. That being said, a lot of guys hit the convention on the job hunt, whether that means looking for a better situation, a better position with more responsibility, better job security, an expanded role, or a step up the ladder career ladder in terms of level, pay, or any combination of all-of-thee-above.
Regardless of where you are when you head to this year's convention, understand that while the profession has it's challenges, you'll also be surrounded by a unique brotherhood unlike any other profession in the world. One full of guys willing to give opportunities to those willing to work hard and pay the price. One where many coaches have been in shoes similar to the ones that you stand in on the job hunt, and one where a simple impression, impact, and recommendation from a colleague can change someone's life so that you can go on to impact the lives of others forever.
2 - "The Newcomer"
For a lot of young coaches looking to network at their first convention, this is the way to go. It's how I approached my very first convention, essentially shadowing the offensive coordinator and other assistants I was working under at the time to stay in an effort to meet as many coaches as I possibly could in the hopes of landing a graduate assistant job.
So for young guys that don't necessarily have a network of coaching peers built up yet, don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone a bit at the AFCA. Instead of sitting in your room, get out and mingle, or ask one of the assistants on your staff if they'd be okay with you shadowing them for a few hours as they make their rounds. It's a great way to meet new coaches, and you never know what can come of those handshakes days, months, and years down the road. This goes for the assistant coaches too with a few conventions under their belt, take a young guy under your wing for a few hours, or a day, and help to show him the ropes and introduce him to some of your connections, and some of the great, selfless people that litter this profession.
3 - "Mr. GQ"
This is the coach that lives by the motto that "every day is a job interview," as my father would say growing up, and conventions are certainly one place that can definitely be the case. He'll be easy to spot as the guy with the suit and tie, and dress shoes complete with laptop bag and phone in his hand rapidly refreshing The Scoop for the latest job opportunities. Who knows, maybe Mr. GQ did just interview somewhere, or perhaps he's just hoping to make a great first impression. Either way, you'll see a handful of these guys around.
4 - "Mr. Family Man"
This one is for the guys who take the opportunity to bring their wife along, as well as the super brave ones that manage to bring their kids as well. Sometimes the wife does their own thing while in town, taking in the sights and experiences of the city, or shopping, while the husbands talk ball and see old friends during the day, while others prefer the route of connecting with old friends, and making new ones, through functions hosted by the American Football Coaches Wives Association. These are the guys that many are jealous of because, oftentimes they're typically more established in their career, and they also get to talk ball all day and then go have dinner and drinks with his wife before retiring for the night and getting a good night's rest before doing it all over again the next day.
5 - "Mr. Unrealistic Expectations"
The AFCA convention, like many conventions that attract football coaches, is great in that in attracts coaches at all levels to gather and talk ball. That dynamic also has a tendency to create some unrealistic expectations. As a young coach I remember meeting and exchanging cards with coaches at all different levels, and each time I did it filled me with a sense of hope, like "maybe this will lead to a job opportunity with them." For some guys those encounters do lead to an interview, and for a few, a new opportunity presents itself - and that's one of the wonderful things about this profession and conventions, but for the vast majority, that sense of hope and excitement is the highlight of the week that you can't wait to brag to friends and family about.
I'll admit that I'm guilty of it, and many reading this have done the same.
6 - "Mr. I Love Free Stuff"
This is that guy that's carrying a loaded backpack around the Exhibitor's area taking full advantage of the free samples being provided. Why spend money on breakfast or lunch when you've got protein bars, energy chews, and plenty of caffeine in his bag from various booths?
At the end of the day, you've gotta admire these guys because they're not afraid too proud to try out some of the best products out there for our game of football, and a lot of times that leads to business for those exhibitors because people end up falling in love with the product and want to share it with their staff/players. Hopefully they got free checked bags and don't go over the weight limit the airline allows on the way home though, or all that free stuff could catch up to them in fees.
7 - "Mr. Content"
This one is for the guys who go down to the convention almost strictly to meet up with old friends, talk some ball, enjoy some ice-cold, delicious adult beverages, and catch up and talk ball into the wee-hours of the morning. They're not looking for another job. They are very, very happy with where their career is and simply travel to the convention to maintain relationships, build a few new ones, and enjoy some time away from the office with friends.
8 - "The Veteran"
If you've ever had the opportunity to shadow someone that has been in the coaching profession for a while, and has built their network over the course of decades, you understand that the convention is like going to the local grocery store with your grandfather who never moved out of town. In both scenarios, you can't take more than five steps without running into someone they know in one way or another.
9 - "The Next Man Up"
There are thousands and thousands of coaches at the AFCA convention, repping hundreds and hundreds of schools with a polo emblazoned with their school's logo - which is wonderful...until you're talking to someone and you constantly get the feeling that they're looking directly past you for the next person they know. With so much going on, and so many vaguely familiar faces, and logos, passing by during each conversation, this habit is nearly impossible to avoid, even for the most veteran of coaches. Recommendation - Try not to do this. Be engaged in each conversation you have.
10 - "Mr. I'm Here to Have a Good Time"
This is the group of guys that make the trek to the AFCA annually to blow off some steam, meet up with old buddies, grab some drinks, and catch up into the early morning hours. The next morning is a reminder that they're not 21 again, but they normally find their bearings enough to do the same the next night and leave AFCA with some great memories with close friends and some new friends to boot.
11 - "Mr. Accomplished Head Coach"
These are the guys that have a different aura about them, and include FBS head coaches (and a few coordinators), and other accomplished coaches from around the FCS, Division II, III, NAIA, and even the Junior College ranks. These are normally the the guys that are so popular and recognizable, that they walk through the lobby and general areas saying their "hellos" to guys they know rather carefully, without attracting too much attention.
Almost every one of guys in this category consistently surprise people with how to down to earth, approachable, and conversational they are. That's one of the great things about the convention, is that it breaks down walls that may otherwise divide coaches. At the AFCA, everyone, at their core, is just a guy that coaches ball, wants to make an impact on the lives of kids for the better, and is driven to become the best coach they possibly can by sharing ideas, and listening to some of the best in the business to make this game even greater. This game connects us all, and the convention does a tremendous job of helping us all realize that.
This year, we had a number of coaches reach out to tell us to share that their school had recently decided to not help coaches pay their way to the convention this year, which is extremely disappointing to say the least. While this article was meant to be a fun approach to the convention, we also hope that it helps to show the value and opportunities that it brings to so many coaches that go back to their campus afterwards recharged with a renewed focus to impact the lives of the young people they touch.