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How do you make the leap from GA to full-time assistant? Five GA's share their philosophy

The very nature of being a graduate assistant is that it's a temporary business. The pay makes sure of that. It's three years and out, to somewhere else in coaching, hopefully to somewhere else more permanent. For a group of coaches largely putting in CEO hours for janitor pay, most are too focused on the task at hand to fret about tomorrow, let alone three, five, 10 years from now..... but it's always there.

Some GA's try to plant as many seeds as possible. At Baylor, each graduate assistant has taken the opposite approach. They've planted one seed, but they cultivate that sucker every single day, banking that it will bear enough fruit to last a lifetime. 

Today's fourth (and final) installment of last week's conversation with the Baylor GA's covers all the stuff that isn't as much fun to talk about, but still nonetheless important. 

Part I: A first-person look at the Baylor coaching staff, through the eyes of the people who work for them. "I loved Coach Briles as a player, and I love him even more as a coach."

Part II: "Mind-melting" and the nuts-and-bolts of how Baylor builds a game plan. "We just want to go fast."

Part III: Recruiting and facilities. "We don't like yes men around here."

Once again, the principals:

Mike Anthony: seventh year in the program, second as quality control

Jordan Shoemaker: third year in the program, third as a graduate assistant

Kevin Park: sixth year in the program, first as a graduate assistant

Andrew Walsh: second year in the program, first as a graduate assistant

Dominique Zeigler: sixth year in the program, second as a graduate assistant

FS: Are there any other young coaches out there that you really admire?

Anthony: The first one I would say is Sterlin Gilbert. You know Babers’ OC at Bowling Green. He GA’d for Coach at Bowling Green and he’s come up in this system and understands it. He thinks like us. If he was here it’d be a seamless transition. He’d fit right in.

FS: How do you know him?

Anthony: He stayed in touch. He was the OC at Temple (High School) before he took the OC job for Babers when Babers left, but he’s super close with all these guys. He’s really close with Coach Montgomery, Rafe Mata was the quality control coach that I told you kind of got me my in, and he’s really another one I would say. He’s the offensive coordinator at Kilgore High School. (Gilbert) kind of thinks like these guys, he came up with these guys. Just kind of knowing these guys is how I got to know him, him staying in touch.

Shoemaker: I know Justin Johnson, I don’t know where he went now but he was quality control with A&M, I believe, that got let go. He does a really good job with the players, builds relationships and stuff. Cody Alexander was a GA here, he’s super smart. He went to high school in Frisco, but he knows the game really well. He’s a guy that could come in and do something in the college level.

Zeigler: (motions across the room to Anthony) He’s good, Mike. He’ll be a coordinator somewhere, I think. I think he’s a really intelligent guy. For somebody that hasn’t been playing the game but understands the game like he’s been playing after high school. Some people stop playing after high school and they get into the game but they don’t really understand the game. For him, to not continually play the game, six years hasn’t played but knows the game better than when he was playing, that says a lot about him and his work ethic.

FS: What about other GA's, maybe on this staff or elswhere?

Anthony: Reid Heim was the defensive GA when we got here. He was another guy we could have talked about. He’s super smart. He’s the defensive coordinator at Hendrix College. Other than that, I don’t know that we’ve had enough time.

Shoemaker: Adrian Haywood, he was the defensive GA, worked with the D-tackles. He’s at Navarro (Junior College) now coaching D-line out there.

Anthony: Other than that, most guys are still here. Tate Wallace was the offensive GA after Lebby moved up and he’s now a quality control coach but he stayed here.

Shoemaker: Cody’s the only other one that left. He’s a high school guy in Frisco. But really, offensively

Anthony: It’s kind of felt like everybody stuck. Cal was an offensive GA, now he’s special teams quality control.

Park: I think anybody that comes through here – I don’t think we’ve had a bad coach. Just personally, I’ve learned something from every single one of them and I think every single one of them is going to be extremely successful, in my opinion. I think that shows in the growth of Baylor. There’s never been a rotten seed. This staff sticks together, we’re extremely loyal, we’re family based. I think every single one of us brings our own unique benefit to the mix.

FS: Did you know you wanted to be coaches early in life?

Anthony: With me, I did. I knew I wanted to do it in middle school.

Shoemaker: I was pretty much high school.

Anthony: I knew I wasn’t talented enough to play legitimate college ball but if this was something I wanted to do I knew I had to stay connected and stay involved with it. That’s when I called Rafe and said, “Hey, I’m about to go to school there. Is there anything I can do, any internship or something like that?”

Shoemaker: I think if you have anything in your head saying, “I want to coach,” whenever you’re done playing it’s going to kick in. You’re going to stay a part of the game if that’s your mindset.

FS: What's your strategy for networking at a place like the AFCA Convention? There's a lot of opportunity there, but there's so much that it's almost overwhelming.

Shoemaker: You want to network but, I’ve been the past two years now and there’s so many GAs out there saying that. “I’ve got to give my resume to everybody and I’ve got to find this job.” That’s so hard to get a job by going out there.

Park: I had business cards. I had a portfolio. I had resumes. I had a cover letter. I had all that. The biggest thing, and I think it helps with my business background, the worst they can say is no. If you see schools, give them a business card, go up and tell them who you are, what you’ve done in a quick 30 seconds, they give you a card back, right their name down and follow up with them. Some of them will email you back and say, “Sorry, we don’t have anything.” Some of them won’t email you back. Some of them will tell you right on the spot. If you hand out 30 and get one call back, you only need one yes. You don’t need a bunch. So I would go up there and introduce myself to as many people as I could. I would kind of tag on to all the coaches here so that when they’re talking they could introduce me because in the coaching world it’s really, who’s going to vouch for you? There’s thousands and thousands and thousands of coaches. What makes you different? Who’s putting their name on your name? Especially as a young guy.

FS: Did you sit in on meetings for the opposite side of the ball to try to gain an edge schematically?

Shoemaker: This past year when I went I sat in on O-line coaches just to learn.

Anthony: That’s been important. I like to hear what guys are saying.

Walsh: This year I was looking a little bit more at defense but that is something that I’ve kept in mind and had recommended by others. You can learn a lot that way. I think that’s something I’d like to do coming up.

Park: I was looking for a job so I didn’t get to sit in on a lot meetings. I was more trying to network and pass out business cards, but when I have been able to sit in on meetings I really enjoy hearing offensive line talk and hearing what they’re telling their guys so I know why they’re doing this. It kind of goes back to the why instead of just how. Why does a head up alignment make a difference between a shade. What are they saying? What’s their techniques? I learn a lot from that. I would go ask Coach Clem about what he thinks. What he sees, what he feels and he’ll help me out too.

FS: Head coaches often say that a GA is ready to become a full-time assistant when they trust they can give him his own room and he'll acquit himself well. With that in mind, how much time do you get to quote-unquote, run the room?

Park: I run the meetings, set up the drills, install, film, I run all that.

Shoemaker: For me, I mean (Mike) really can’t because of his position, personnel breakdown in there, I’ll do that each week. Mostly in the room Coach Clements has a controller. If I see something with a guy that he didn’t already point out, then yeah I’m going to tell them. On the field when we break up indy-wise, that’s kind of my time to get ahold of them because I’ve got the inside guys and he’ll take the tackles. In the room, it’s just he’s calling it out. If he doesn’t say something that I see then I’ll speak up.

FS: Do you think you'll take this offense with you when you eventually do move on?

Anthony: 100 percent

Shoemaker: Definitely

Anthony: I was talking to my dad about it the other day. I don’t look at offensive football like I used to. Through what I’ve learned here, that’s natural and that’s normal to me now. It’s weird to see people with regular splits. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Dang, they’re tight.’ It’s not. It’s normal.

FS: I'm sure you all have peers who've gone on to do well in life, buy new houses, stuff like that. You aren't in that position in life yet. Does any part of you feel a tinge of regret in that respect?

Shoemaker: Not at all. A linebacker I played with, he actually walked-on and got a scholarship his last two years, he’s a civil engineer now making a crazy amount of money but I’m happy for him. It doesn’t eat at me at all with his career path and my career path. But that’s just how I think.

Anthony: I’ve always kind of thought, for me, what my ultimate decision was if you did something like that it would be a deal where you’re working five days to live for two. Whereas if I got into football, something that I’m really passionate about, seven days of the week I’m doing what I love so if I don’t have as much money or if I don’t have this or that, it’s not in my mind. I don’t even really think like that, “I wish I could buy a two-story house.” It’s never crossed my mind since I’ve been doing this.

FS: At the AFCA Convention in January I heard Jake Spavital say that he GA'd at five places in five years because he wanted as wide a network as possible. You all have gone the opposite direction. Do you ever think you may need to leave Baylor and work somewhere else to move up on the coaching ladder?

Shoemaker: I don’t.

Anthony: I haven’t, either. I feel close enough with these guys, kind of what we were saying earlier, I think if I do my job now, do it the best I can and take in everything I can from this place, then everything will take care of itself. I understand that. That makes perfect sense.

Shoemaker: (Spavital) was actually a GA at Houston when I was there. He’s a smart guy. I respect how he handled the whole thing. I think it’s pretty intelligent how he worked all the different connections with all those people.

Park: The connections I built with (Baylor coaches) is far more important to me, in my eyes, that having 30 guys where I can only pick like 10, where I’m having 16, 20 guys and I can call anyone I want. I know them personally. They’ve watched me grow as a person, as a man, from an 18-year-old boy coming into college to a 23-year-old. I think that’s really important. It never really bothers me at all.

Walsh: I think people take different roads because they have different needs. For (Spavital) it worked out, going five different places in five years, that’s great. It worked out for him. If you’re going to do something like that you have to make certain in the short time you’re there you’re building deep connections. I do think connections are more vital than locations. Wherever you’re at, whether you’re there for six months or six years, you’ve got to make certain connections, they trust you, you trust them, you can go back to them any time.

FS: How much time do you spend thinking about the future? About your next job?

Shoemaker: I’m in the mindset of helping guys get better at Baylor. As my future, I’d like to be an offensive line coach somewhere.

You’ve got to think about that stuff. I’ve just got to do my job and see what hand I’m played.

Anthony: The biggest thing I’ve noticed is if you take care of what you’re doing now, it’ll take care of itself in the future. That’s kind of everybody’s mindset here, I think, not just in this room but in the whole collective staff.

Park: I try to build that relationship just so that they know that I’m not just somebody. I’m putting in here, I’m a coach, I’m working hard, giving the best effort for them, to grow as a person, just as a regular coach would. Just as a full-timer would.

FS: Where do you want to be 15 years from now?

Walsh: Coaching. Ultimately I want to be a head coach but 10 or 15 years from now, hopefully either a head coach or a DC, definitely a position coach at the collegiate level.

Park: I want to be a head coach, and be one of the best ever in college football.