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"If you're not willing to be a great recruiter, don't get into college football." Notes from the AFCA graduate assistant job forum

Dan Mullen SEC media days

For the fourth yearin a row, FootballScoop embedded itself among hundreds of hopeful job-seekers to attend the graduate assistant job forum at last week's AFCA convention. And once again, those who separated themselves from their beds early enough to grab a seat were treated to two hours of wisdom and counsel from an established panel of coaches.

This year's panel:

  • Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen (who, as evidenced by the attention he paid his phone between answers, may or may not have been conducting official business in his defensive coordinator search during the panel)
  • Hardin-Simmons head coach Jesse Burleson
  • Akron offensive coordinator A.J. Milwee
  • Defensive backs coach Maurice Linguist, most recently of Iowa State
  • Former Temple athletics director Bill Bradshaw
  • Former head of the D-IA Athletics Directors Association Dutch Baughman

Once again the panel was moderated by Cal quality control assistant Carlos Alvarado.

Let's dive right in, shall we?

On developing a mentor
Mullen: You want to keep a file of things that go well and things that go poorly. Go back to high school, your rec leagues. I had a lot of mentors. I was a GA for seven years before my first full-time job. The best thing you can do is take notes of the good and the bad, the things I would do differently. If you go work, people are going to help you out. Don't ever be afraid to ask questions on what's best for your future.

Milwee: Find people you want to emulate.

Burleson: You have to take initiative, you can't expect them to come to you. Ask multiple people the same question, you might get different answers.

Bradshaw: Don't ever be afraid to talk to the AD. And when you find someone that is willing to develop a relationship with you, make sure you write them a hand-written note.

Mullen: You're not looking for your next best friend. It may turn into that, but you're looking for someone that's strong where you're weak. Take initiative, 'How much can we talk? When can we talk?' Get their secretary's number and send questions ahead of time.

On qualities take make impressive GAs
Mullen: Guys that want to be great and want to understand the game. Do things above and beyond what's asked. You have an opportunity during recruiting season, how much did you prepare? Did you do what was asked, or did you go above and beyond? When you're studying, come up with ideas that we as a staff can discuss. If you have 50, 49 may not work but we may use one. With the way it's structured, analysts and interns make more money but GAs are more valuable because they can coach on the field.

Burleson: You've got to be around. I usually yell out my office door and whoever answers is the guy we pick on. You've got to be dependable.

On what prospective employers are looking for on the job hunt
Bradshaw: Integrity. That covers a whole line of things. Intelligence, in getting the school you are at and its values. Energy. Enthusiasm. Trust. If you're coming off a GA position, did you drop your coach off in the right terminal in the airport, did you know what he wanted in his coffee? Little things like that.

Baughman: Your coaching profile is recruiting and teaching and coaching. You need to learn every single thing necessary in those.

Milwee: When I was a GA, I treated myself every day like I was a quarterbacks coach.

Mullen: Loyalty is such a huge aspect in what a coach looks for. There's not a head coach out there that if you have a great opportunity, they're not going to be happy for you. If not, you're working for the wrong guy, anyway.

When I was a GA at Syracuse I had a full-time job offer at a small, Division I-AA school. I was talking about it with Kevin Rogers, who was our offensive coordinator at the time. He asked me, "What level do you want to coach at?" I told him I wanted to coach at the highest level. He said, "You're already coaching at the highest level." Then he asked me, "Do you have to take this job? Do you have a family you need to support where you can not afford to be a GA?" I always thought that was interesting advice. If you're loyal to a coach, he'll be loyal to you.

Bradshaw: One time I was in the market for a head coach, and I called a head coach and told him I was interested in speaking to a couple of his assistants. He told me, "Talk to us after the bowl game." This was in October. I said, "Would you tell them I'm interested in speaking with them?" He wouldn't. I called the AD. The AD called the coach. "These two young men should have an opportunity. You had that opportunity, and you should allow them to have the same one you had." The head coach changed his mind, one wasn't interested, one was, and I ended up hiring him.

Burleson: No coach likes to be blindsided. If you communicate, it's going to end up working out in your best interest.

Mullen: There are a lot more people trying to get in than opportunities available. If you get let go, be realistic. The more relationships you have, the more opportunities you'll have.

Bradshaw: I hired three coaches (Al Golden, Steve Addazio, Matt Rhule) in 10 years. Every time a coach would leave, I would tell his assistants, "You are working for Temple now." With every new hire I required him to interview the remaining staff, and I paid for their way to the convention. Sometimes we had two sets of coaches at the convention on Temple's dime.

Burleson: If you're young and single, don't be afraid to make a connection and go after big jobs. YOu never know what may happen.

Milwee: Be patient. That dream job may not come the first, second, third time it comes open. You're not going to get every job you go after.

Linguist: As a GA you do coach-like things sometimes but you're not involved in day-to-day discipline. Coaching is five percent X's and O's. It's about people. If you want to yell, cuss and scream, kids will see right through it. I got my first job at 24 years old at Valdosta State. I spent two hours a day cussing because that's what I thought coaching was. Years later I called those players to apologize, because that's not what it's about.

Be intentional. Last year I wrote 97 letters to coaches that I met at the convention. Not about a job, but to thank them for the 5-10 minutes they spent with me. That may turn into three or four relationships. I drive or fly every summer to see coaches and spend time with them when it's not time to find a job. Some people talk to me only when it's time to find a job.

Burleson: A great coach told me, "Always in all ways." You can always learn something. If you want to carve a niche, become an expert on special teams.

On the best way to prepare for an interview
Mullen: The first thing I tell former players, "I want to hire you after you've been somewhere else." I want them to see something else. Guys will come up to me and ask to help get them jobs. I'll call some guys and come back and say I got them a job at South Dakota State. They'll say, "I want a job at Mississippi State." "No, you don't want to coach."

If you're a young coach and you can't be prepared to be packed up in 30 minutes, you've got a problem. Send resumes out everywhere. Email the head coach, and if you can't find his email, email his secretary.

Another thing to remember, it's not about schemes. Are you a great recruiter, teacher, schemer? If you have all three you're going to be very successful in this business. Coaches want to start in the SEC. I was a GA at Wagner and coached a position and had my own recruiting area. When I was a GA at Syracuse, I arrived to a stack of video and a note, "Have it broken down when we get off the road."

Burleson: A lot of guys bring playbooks to an interview. I don't even look at it until after I've either hired you or not hired you. When we get on the board, if you can't teach me in the interview, you can't teach the kids.

Linguist: Scheme is what to do. You can teach a guy in the grocery store that. Can you teach the concept of man coverage? I wouldn't get caught up in scheme.

Every player should understand three things: What to do, how to do it and why to do it. If you ask a question and get five different answers, there's a break down in your teaching.

Bradshaw: When you write a letter, make sure the cover letter is personal. It's clean, it's grammatically correct. Don't say you're the offensive coordinator when you're not. Study the person who's going to interview you. Be prepared to say how important that job is to you.

How to be a good recruiter instead of an average one
Milwee: It's attention to detail. It's still about connecting with people -- the player, his parents, his high school coach. Getting a guy could come down to the difference between having Skittles instead of Starburst in his hotel room.

Linguist: All great recruiters have a passion for connecting with people. Be careful. How you present yourself is how a kid expects you to be on day one when he gets on campus. If you did unethical things to get him, how dare you talk about rules? If you have to convince a kid to be there, you're going to have to convince him twice as hard to get it done on game day.

Burleson: If you're not willing to be a great recruiter, don't get into college football. If you're a high school coach, you're a recruiter. Whether it's in the gym, in the hallway, re-recruiting, you're a recruiter.

On handling discipline
Mullen: Discipline is 90 percent anticipation. You want to stop problems before they start. As a position coach you want to stop problems before they get to my desk.

On how to manage a family while climbing the ladder
Mullen: This may not be the best answer, but I put my career first. I promised myself I'd get a full-time position before I thought about getting married. I don't know if that was the smartest or healthiest thing to do, but it worked out. Now I've got a six- and three-year-old, so we're a little behind in that respect.

Milwee: I was lucky. My wife worked in recruiting at Alabama when we met so she had a good idea what she was getting into.

Burleson: A coaches' wife can make you or break you. If she's got a problem with other wives on the staff, in the community, you're going to have problems. You can't help who you love, but you better be careful who you marry.

Mullen: If you want to be in coaching, it consumes your life. Make sure you and your family is prepared. It's 24/7/365. I don't know if that's the healthiest lifestyle, but if you want to be really successful, it's not a job, it's who you are.

Bradshaw: I had Dick Vermeil come speak to the team one time. He asked me if he could walk through the building and I said, "Sure." I started to take him around and he said, "Oh, no. I'd like to go by myself if that's okay." "Sure, that's fine." He comes back later and notices a cot in the head coach's office. He told me, "I had a cot in my office when I was coaching. It was the biggest mistake I made in my career. Don't let him repeat my mistake."

Parting wisdom
Burleson: A question I like to ask is, "Why should I hire you?" If he has to think about it, he's not the right guy for the job.

Linguist: Get clarity on yourself. When you know who you are, decisions start to become easy.

Burleson: This is the best profession there is. You affect more young men in a positive way than anything in life. You can't have a Plan B and be a great coach. If there is, you'll take it. Because it's easier.

Milwee: Be who you are. Develop yourself and grow. Have a goal, then have a goal within a goal.

Mullen: Be the best you can be every day. You're not going to be there today or tomorrow. Reach your potential every single day and one day you'll be there. Guys want to climb the ladder as fast as possible, but one of the keys to success as a coach is the journey.