Go to any clinic or convention and look around and you'll realize that you're surrounded by coaches, the vast majority of whom have the goal of landing one of just a large handful of head coaching openings every year.
Over the course of the last several months, and continuing to today and in the weeks that follow, countless assistant coaches, coordinators, and even head coaches have or will interview for other head coaching jobs.
But at the end of the day, while athletic directors and decision makers sort through a number of resumes, cover letters, make a number of phone calls, and spend hours interviewing interested candidates, only one person ultimately accepts the job.
In this piece, we'll break down the five reasons head coaches land that job.
1) A relationship with the decision maker(s)
So often, a head coach is selected because they have a relationship with the person, or people, making the decision. It doesn't have to be a direct connection - sometimes coaches get in the mix somewhere because the decision maker has had conversations with someone that they have the utmost trust and respect for about the individual being considered for the job. In a position like the head football coach at a college or high school, it is extremely important that as people on the front steps to the school that it is someone with integrity, that is trustworthy, that can connect with the community, and that is a great example for the kids that they will be tasked with leading. You can't find those things looking at a resume, decision makers have to find that stuff out directly, or from people that they trust implicitly.
This is one major reason why, if you truly aspire to be a head coach, you should never pass up an opportunity like attending clinics and conventions, and working camps and all-star games. All those present great opportunities to network with current, and future, decision makers and those that could have the ears of those decision makers.
2) The "rock the boat" factor
So many things go into hiring a new head coach, like; Is there a job open in the building? Are there internal candidates interested, and applying, for the job? ...plus so much more. If you're a coach and teacher from the outside, knowing if there is a job attached to the position is obviously really important. It's just as important to know the answers to both of things if you're a coach who is not a teacher that is interested in the job. While the exact involvement of teachers unions varies from district to district, and state to state, it is really, rare in most cases to see a non-teacher (coming from outside the program) beat out an interested internal candidate for the job. Doing so would effectively "rock the boat" and would more than likely cause some issues within the school, teacher union, school board, etc.
That's a long way of saying that, at least at the high school level, it's not always the most qualified coach, or even the best fit, that lands the job. Oftentimes, the decision is the one that rocks the boat the least.
3) Prior relationship with the program
Head coaches and administrators can come and go, but the people of a community rarely forget a quality coach and person when they have one. So if you were able to serve as an assistant with the program at one point, and were able to move on, and do it on good terms, and impress the right people along the way while having some success as well, your name has a a good possibility to resurfacing when that head coaching job at the school opens up. However, this only works if you treated people well and that includes everyone ranging from players, parents, teachers, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, etc. If you leave a positive mark on people, they'll organically advocate for your return when the time is right.
4) Previous success
Every aspiring head coach has the mission to build their resume as much as possible for the day that the right head coaching opportunity comes along. Being able to show your previous success - as an assistant, coordinator, or head coach - not only helps your resume, but it goes well beyond that as well. It also provides you with experience and perspective you can bring and impart on a new program.
Perhaps more importantly, it also proves that you're invested in "where your feet are" and not always looking for the next best thing. That's something that decision makers will place a high value on.
5) Program is ripe for change
I saved this one for last, because I firmly believe that it is the most rare. To put it simply, sometimes administration, parents, players, and / or the community just feel the need to take things in a new direction. Perhaps things have gotten a bit stale and the program is in need of some new ideas, a new voice, a new direction - or a combination of all of them. Even so, if change is needed, decision makers aren't pulling out random resumes that look good, it still comes down to checking a few of the boxes from 1-4.
As a young and aspiring high school head coach that was not a teacher, I experienced a lot of these lessons firsthand interviewing for head coaching opportunities the past decade or so before landing my current job as the head coach at Ravenna HS (MI), and some of the others I've been able to pick up in conversations with other coaches around the country chasing their head coaching dreams since working with FootballScoop.
Lastly, I know there are so many guys out there hungry to land an opportunity to lead their own program, but let me share this lesson I've been able to put together from guys that were blindly chasing that dream and got burned in one way or another - Don't just take a head coaching job...take THE RIGHT head coaching job.
While you're working to check off these boxes for your next interview opportunity, make sure your packet is full of stuff that you firmly believe in (and can defend), that it looks visually appealing and can set you apart from the other candidates, and that you're able to print one off for every member of the interview committee. That, along with the 5 reasons we outlined, is a great start.