This year marked my sixth trip to the AFCA Convention. It also marked my sixth time inside the AFCA’s Graduate Assistant Career Forum.
This year’s panelists were Penn State head coach James Franklin, Howard head coach Mike London, Tulane head coach Willie Fritz and Houston outside linebackers coach Dan Carrel; the panel was moderated by Morgan State head coach Fred T. Farrier.
There’s a lot here, so let’s dive right in.
What’s the best way to build your network?
Franklin: Your résumé means nothing. I’ve never looked at a résumé, ever. Your references mean nothing. I’m not calling your references, I’m calling the people that I know. I’m not working with someone 16-to-17 hours a day if I don’t know them or someone that I trust knows them.
Fritz: Sometimes guys focus on climbing the ladder and not the task at hand. You got into this profession because you love football and mentoring student-athletes, don’t ever forget that.
What’s the most effective path to getting a good GA job?
London: Your biggest résumé to me is to watch you coach and interact, like at a camp. It’s important to see your temperament. Brand yourself not by pieces of paper but by what happens on the field. Like what Coach Franklin said, make sure you’re impressing the guys around you.
How do you move from being a GA to a full-time job?
Carrel: The biggest thing you can do is write down the initials of every full-time coach on your staff. If he got a head job tomorrow, write a check mark or an X if he’d hire you, then ask why. When I was a defensive GA (at Houston), I sat my ass in the film room with Major Applewhite, so I would build a relationship with the coordinator on the other side of the ball. You’re networking within your building.
London: If you’re a running backs coach, you’ve got go sit in the linebackers coach meeting. Self-assessment is critical. If I ask you what your strengths are, I want to find out about your character. I’ll ask guys what they need to work on in interviews. If you want to step up to another opportunity, immerse yourself in the things those guys have expertise in.
What are your thoughts on hiring former players?
Franklin: It has to be a win-win. Me hiring you at Penn State can’t just be good for you, it has to be good for Penn State.
What traits do you look for when hiring a GA?
Fritz: Number one is they have to be a good person. I’ve very rarely hired someone blindly. I want to make sure I know the person or someone I know very well knows the person.
Franklin: Be authentic. Be true to who you are. I love people who are comfortable in their own skin, people who own who they are. My DFO is a complete weirdo, but he owns it. He’s constantly challenging me by sliding business and leadership articles under my door. I’m a complete psychopath. I have to own that. David Shaw is a great friend of mine; I can’t be stoic like David Shaw, I have to be a psychopath. If you’re a South Florida guy, a Northeast guy, own that. What’s going to make you special is what God intended you to be in the first place.
Carrel: You want your staff to have confidence in your competence. The only way to do that is to run to the work, not away from it. If the head coach says we need something done and you look around, you’re wrong.
How do you weigh the opportunity to be an FBS position coach against being a lower-division coordinator?
Fritz: It depends on what your goals are. If you want to be an FBS coordinator, it’s probably better to be at that level.
Franklin: There is value on staff in guys that don’t want to be head coaches. One of the reasons we hired our d-line coach at Vanderbilt is because he said, ‘I don’t want to be a head coach, I don’t want to be a coordinator, I want to be the best d-line coach in the country.’ My offensive coordinator doesn’t want to be a head coach. He told me, ‘I see you being pulled out of your office 40 percent of the day dealing with drama. I just want to coach ball.’
What’s the best way to interview?
Franklin: We have an interview this afternoon and I want the GAs on our staff in on it. What a great opportunity for them to experience. I’m not putting my name on anybody because I’ve worked way too hard to build my name and reputation. If I recommend a guy, that’s me on that staff. I’m going to see Coach Fritz at the convention next year, and if I’m not extremely confident that he’s going to tell me, ‘Coach, this guy’s going to be a future star,’ I’m not recommending you. If your references aren’t going to pound the table for you, don’t put them on there.
Carrel: I don’t know where my résumé is. My résumé is every day. The guys in your building are going to be the guys who hire you. You interview with them every day. I’ve never interviewed for a job.
London: Being skilled at the ability to present information is critical. If you’re going to interview somewhere, do your homework. Know who the president is. Is it a teaching or research school? Don’t just know the football program. It’s important we talk eyeball to eyeball. Is there anything in your past I need to know about? Is there any adversity you’ve overcome? I don’t want any surprises, so it’s important you’re transparent. An interview is your time to show who you are, flaws and all.
Fritz: If you’re going to interview at a place, be fairly certain you’re going to take the job. The one thing I dislike is when I interview someone and they tell me it’s too far away. Was your hint when you got on the plane?
How do you turn yourself into an effective recruiter?
Carrel: To me, recruiting is the experience you give somebody. Whether it’s a parent, a coach, how do they feel about you when you walk away? You have an opportunity to practice recruiting every time you talk to someone. If you’re in an Uber, what did you learn about that drive in that ten minutes?
Franklin: Recruiting isn’t work to me, it’s driving out to see buddies I’ve had for 25 years in this business. At the end of the day it’s about how you treat people. That’s true in football and in life. If you’re in this business you’re in it for the people. The schemes are great and fundamentals are important, but it’s about people.
Carrel: Do what you can to keep the high school coach in the game and the representative of the player. There’s too many other people saying they represent the best interest of the player, so do what you can to keep the high school coach involved.
What separates an average recruiter from a good one?
London: People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. We’re in an information age, become an expert at that. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, all that. I still type on my iPhone with one finger.
Fritz: If you’re a good person, you’re organized and you work hard, you’ve got a chance to be a great recruiter. It boils down to how you evaluate and how much information you can gather.
What’s the best way to motivate players?
Franklin: One thing I miss about being a position coach is my relationships with a room. I know the whole team now, but I miss knowing one position so well. Sometimes I don’t like that I don’t get personal time with them. As a head coach, I understand I set the tone when I walk in the door. If I’m in a good mood, the whole building’s in a good mood. If I’m in a bad mood, the whole building’s in a bad room. That’s why it’s important I’m consistent. We believe you can coach kids really hard if you love them hard. You can’t go crazy if they do something wrong and not do it when they do something right.
What’s the best way to instill discipline in your players as a new assistant coach?
Carrel: Do what you can to keep stuff of your coordinator’s desk, off the desk of your head coach.
Franklin: I want high production and low maintenance. I know how many infractions each room had, how many the quarterbacks had and how many the d-line had. That’s part of how I evaluate. Guys that are getting raises are the ones that had high production and the lowest amounts of missed classes. I want to empower our guys to be the head coach of their room.
Fritz: One thing I do differently now I didn’t do 20 years ago is 1-on-1 meetings in my office. Sometimes they don’t respond well if you get on them in front of their peers. You’ve got to be consistent, because they’re keeping score.
London: I expect our coaches to model the standards of behavior I want from our players. I’m a father of seven, four daughters. I’m big on treating people with dignity and respect. It’s important our players see our standards modeled by our GAs. You’re closest in age to the players. If a guy commits an infraction, he rolls the field. If you’ve never rolled a football field, it’s tough. We have trash cans in case you want to relieve yourself. The second time he commits an infraction, his position group rolls. The third time, the whole side of the ball rolls. At that point his peers let him know they don’t want to wake up at 5 a.m. to roll.
What’s something you can do in the slow times at the office to invest in your career?
Franklin: I think curiosity is one of the best traits you can possibly have in any line of work. One thing we try to do in the spring is the defense clinics the offense, and vice versa. If you have NFL scouts come, ask them what they look for an in o-lineman, what they look for in a corner. If you want to be a head coach, take your AD to lunch one day.
How do you find a wife and build a family while also building your coaching career?
London: Your identity isn’t in wins and losses. It’s as a husband, as a father. Because of that, I want our families to be around our guys so they can see us being fathers. You’re not just a coach, you’re other things to other people.
Carrel: I needed to marry someone that was going to invest in this career with me. I look at it as I have eight sons, and my wife does too. She knows when they have tests, when they broke up with their girlfriend.
Fritz: I don’t fish, I don’t hunt, I don’t golf. I’m doing something with my family or I’m doing something with football. When you’re selecting your wife, you need to make sure she’s all in.
Franklin: When I worked in the NFL, families weren’t allowed to the offices. I’ve worked at places where they said it was a family environment but it really wasn’t. My wife and kids are at the office almost every day. I’ll be honest with you, I have Coach Guilt. I don’t spend enough time with my wife. I don’t spend enough time with my kids. There isn’t balance. I do think my daughters gain something from this, being raised in an environment that values education, that gives them 125 role models.
Farrier: Don’t forget dates. Don’t forget to call her and tell her what she means to you. Keep them where they know they’re a priority for you.
Do you have any closing thoughts?
Fritz: You’re in the greatest profession of all time, so congratulations. Remember the big time is where you’re at.
Carrel: There’s a path for everyone. Listen to the right people and be realistic. I wanted to be a high school coach when I started. My goals have changed a number of times since I got into this.
Franklin: Stay broke as long as possible.
London: Sometimes you love your job but your job doesn’t love you back. The highs are tremendous, but the lowest are tough.