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"Do not give up on your passion!": Notes from the AFCA GA Forum

For the fifth year in a row, FootballScoop was embedded inside the AFCA's Graduate Assistant Forum, and for the fifth year in a row we came away with great insight into building a career in coaching.

This year's panel consisted of USC head coach Clay Helton, Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder, Memphis defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson, Chattanooga defensive coordinator and 2016 FootballScoop Division III Coordinator of the Year Brandon Staley and Colorado School of Mines offensive coordinator Nick Fulton, and moderated by SMU defensive coordinator Van Malone.

There's a lot to get to here, so let's dive right in.

On how to start a family while building your career
Fulton: I've been married for two years, and the most important thing for me -- I enjoy spending time with my wife. You need to invest in the relationship you build with the person you share your life with. When we're done (at the office), I make it a point to spend time with her. I will choose her over other things I like to prioritize.

Helton: I'm a coach's son. When I chose to be a GA I married my high school sweetheart and packed up the U-Haul, my dad said, "Son, if you go into this profession, you don't have hobbies." If you're going to be a great family man, once you break away there's nothing but your faith and your family. My dad took me and my brother (USC quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton) fishing every Friday when he was with the Bucs. When he had free time, he wanted to be with his boys. It wasn't about quantity time with him, but the quality of the time we spent together. If you want to get in this business and be a great family man, you don't have hobbies. You don't go improve your golf score or throw one back with your buddies.

Staley: The fuel for all of us is the people we're around. Choosing your life partner is the most important thing you can do. I knew what I was looking for: I wanted someone as competitive as I was, and I married a Division I volleyball player. It didn't hurt that her dad was 6'4". She's a coach's wife, but I look at it as I'm a teacher's husband. You couldn't ask for a better mate than a D-1 athlete that's an educator.

On how to stand out as a GA
Woodson: You can't be a GA when your coordinator gets in at 8 a.m. and you're just walking in at 7:45. That just won't work.

Wilder: I want to hire guys with a passion for football. I don't want to hire guys that like the idea of football, that want to be on TV and wear an Under Armour logo. I don't want to hire a GA that's somebody's nephew that knows somebody's uncle. I want to hire a guy that loves football.

Fulton: The most important thing for a GA is that there's no job too small. I believe that of the best coordinators as well. In Division II we don't have an equipment guy. It's on all of us to set up our headsets and make sure the busses are loaded.

On how to position yourself for a job
Helton: The best thing you can do is the reputation you have within your own organization. Is this a man of character? Is he loyal? Are you confident in your knowledge of the game? Are they willing to grow and learn?

Staley: Be where your feet are. When you get an opportunity, be different. We're in one of the most competitive industries in the world. To get to where you want to go, you have to be willing to do what others aren't. You have to go above and beyond to show people that you're different. Leave no doubt that you're different.

Malone: It's not what you know or who you know, it's who knows you. You can send resumes seven times a day, but if there's no on who's willing to stand on the table for you, you have no shot.

On how to become a great recruiter
Woodson: Attention to detail and being willing to listen. It's not how many schools you get in in one day, it's about the quality of the visit. Know who you're competing against. If you're competing against your rival, know who's recruiting him.

Wilder: The most important part is the relationship with the high school coach. So many times college coaches skip past the high school coach because the access is so much easier now. The high school coach knows him better than anybody.

On how to express your desire to move up to your next job while remaining loyal to your head coach
Staley: The biggest thing for all of us is communication. Being honest with where your heart is. When your coach believes in you, he's going to want what's best for you. Don't be afraid to tell your coach what your goals are. He'll want what's best for you.

Fulton: It's about how you approach that situation. There's no greater resource to bounce opportunities off of than your head coach. (Colorado Mines head coach) Gregg Brandon has us fill out a goal sheet every offseason that asks us to fill out where we want to be in the next five to 10 years.

On how head coaches look to fill a staff vacancy when they don't have an immediate replacement in mind
Helton: You go to your coordinators. Chemistry of a staff is so important. If I don't have someone in mind, my coordinators will give me names and I'll go on an investigation. I've worked with every guy on my staff (before became head coach at USC). When times get tough, I don't want question marks. The other thing I can say is don't burn bridges.

On the best way to build a head coaching resume

Wilder: I had a head coach tell me one time, "If you're going to be a head coach, you've got to have your Master's degree and coach on both sides of the ball." He was right.

On the importance of working 1-day camps

Woodson: Every chance you have, be visible and be involved. Any chance you have, be seen and show your skill set.

Helton: When I get to see you face-to-face, see what type of dude you are, that is so much more valuable than a sheet of paper.

Fulton: There's an element to it where if your'e doing everything to get get another job instead of doing the job they brought you there to do. Go to camps for whatever purpose you're invited for. Coaches are going to see through that you're just trying to meet every coach there.

On finding a mentor

Staley: You've got to align yourself with people like you. You have to know who you are, where you want to go and who you want to do it with. You've got to be purposeful. That's something not a lot of people do. You may invest in a relationship for 15 years before it pays off.

On including your family in your career
Wilder: Every Sunday night we have family dinner. All assistant coaches, GAs, trainers, academic staff, and their families come. Wives and kids come to practice. You've got let your family be a part of what you do. Don't give up. If you want to be a ball coach, be a ball coach. Do not give up on your passion. Every day show up and give great effort. I have a Master's from Boston College. My mom said, "You've got your Master's from BC, why are you unemployed? You can be anything with a Master's from BC." I said, "I want to be a ball coach."

Helton: It is imperative to have meals together. Players, wives, everybody. If you want to build a special relationship with your players, bring them to dinner. When I was 12 years old I had dinner at home with Jim Kelly, Vinny Tesatverde and Bernie Kosar. I said, "This is what I want to do." When they see your family on the plane, at the 50-yard line, your family becomes their family. You watch, that kid plays his butt off for you.

Woodson: My wife and son are at practice every day. It's the same with Coach (Mike) Norvell. My wife is at dinner on every official visit. I ask myself, "Is he someone I can trust at my home with my wife and son if I'm not there?" They see me kissing my wife after practice. I think that's important.

Helton: Every day after practice I go sit down with three or four kids and ask them, "How's your Mom? How's Dad?" You have to do that stuff.

Woodson: Every day I have a kid I work with after practice. The most important part is when we walk back after practice. We don't talk about football. We talk about his personal life, my personal life.

On how to present yourself in an interview
Helton: Every interview is different. Every guy is different. Lane Kiffin pulled up a Memphis-Tennessee game when I was at Memphis and he was at Tennessee and said, "I'm a freshman quarterback. Coach me." Always leave something with a coach. Always show your passion for that job. I've never gone to an interview where there was a question in my mind, "Do I want this job?"

Staley: Something I think is really important, when I went to Tennessee-Chattanooga I got to see my head coach conduct 15 interviews. That's something that was helpful for me. It can be something as small as showing up to the interview in a navy blue suit with a gold tie if that's their school colors. The best way to light up an interview is where they don't have to ask any questions because you've answered all of them. You've be surprised how many people don't love the job they're interviewing for. Compatibility is in a lot of sense more important than capability.

On how to build respect as a position coach
Helton: Remember, we're the closest thing there is to the military. My Daddy told me, "If your brother gets hurt, I'm not coming after him, I'm coming after you." If you make it about one fail, all fail, they'll make it easier for you as a position coach. "How in the world did you let your younger brother not go to class?"

Malone: When I was at Texas A&M I had a player that showed up late to everything. Late to class, late to meetings. He'd schedule tutors and not show up. I told him, "You meet me outside this building at 4:30 tomorrow morning." 4:30 comes and it's raining. "Hey Coach, I'm outside (the Texas A&M football complex). Where are you?" I'm in bed. "My bad." I told him, "This is what it feels like when you treat people like their time isn't valuable."

Wilder: When I was 25 years old I yelled at a player so loud that the offensive coordinator in the next office could hear, because that's what I thought you did. I called him after he graduated and apologized. The next time you have to discipline a player, bring them in, hug them, and tell them how much you love them.

Helton: When you're brutally honest, they'll respect you more because that know you care.

On building a reputation as a recruiter
: The biggest thing is being able to say no to somebody. There are a lot of people that can play for you, but not a lot of people that can fit you. You want to go into the jungle -- Atlanta, Miami, Texas -- and pull somebody out, but that's not what it's about.

Woodson: The most important thing is being able to recruit where you're at. I've worked in Division III and FCS, and each time I recruited for the program I was at at that time.

On how to interview
Fulton: I am constantly getting to the bottom of who somebody is. I understand there's a presentation to interviews, but there's a lot of recycled philosophy. I'm trying to figure out who you actually are.

Wilder: Here's the No. 1 question you're going to get from me, "Tell me about your family." I'm looking for passion. Are you passionate? If your answer is, "I don't spend time with them, I spend time at my job and I'm looking to help you win a national championship," the interview will be over shortly.

Staley: If you're a young coach, you don't need to say a whole lot. You need to do a whole lot and you need to earn it.

Wilder: I had a meeting with our staff that I told them I want them to advance their careers. Who am I as a guy that collected unemployment and am now making $500,000 a year to stop them from advancing their careers? The only rule I give them is: Don't let me know about it when the head coach calls me to ask about you. You better get that other job because that's the highest form of disloyalty for a head coach.