Don’t Let the Coaching Carousel Turn into a Roller Coaster Ride

Steve Addazio has left Temple University to become the head football coach at Boston College.  One of the most vocal supporters of Temple football, Addazio’s departure was sudden, unexpected, and left Temple football fans posting messages on Twitter like “if he doesn’t want to be here, then he should leave.”

Two years earlier Addazio replaced Al Golden, a man who brought Temple back to postseason bowl football and who looked for all the world like he would be around Temple’s North Philadelphia campus for a while.  But Golden is now running the Miami Hurricanes.

Father west Barry Alvarez, the athletic director at the University of Wisconsin, will coach the football team in the Rose Bowl matchup against Stanford. This move comes two days after coach Bret Bielema stepped down to take over the football coaching duties at Arkansas.  Farther west still we find Lane Kiffin running the show at USC after suddenly leaving the University of Tennessee.

“We think of these guys as people, when they don’t even think of themselves as people. They define themselves by the jobs they hold,” writes Michael Rosenberg in his Inside College Football blog on SI.com. “Do you know what football coaches are thinking about?” Rosenberg writes. “Two words: Next and more.  Next play, more points, next game, more wins, next recruiting class, more money.  Next job.”

As a former college coach, I know personally that this generalization does not apply across the board. However, the reality is that the coaching carousel continues unabated as expectations and ambitions prevail in generating significant turnover.  And this turnover has trickled down and affected all levels of college athletics with the student-athletes left to deal with the personal and emotional fallout without the freedom to transfer and play immediately for the coach that recruited them or attend another school of interest.

So what does this mean if you are a high school athlete with dreams of playing for a major program?  How should your mindset be adjusted when a coach who is recruiting you says he expects – in some cases they will say they demand – commitment, but is himself out the door before your eligibility year is completed? Is that request for commitment a one-way street?

The answer isn’t always clear. On the one hand, it is difficult to commit to an individual when the likelihood of that individual being gone is pretty high.

Certainly the coach is a primary part of the decision-making process.  Athletes will select schools because of the program, but their bond is with the coaching staff.

Still the environment today demands the athlete looks beyond who is holding the clipboard and examine the overall program and school. Start with your potential teammates.  What is their personality, their values?  How do they socialize? You are going to spend most of your time with these people, so being sure you feel as though you fit in is important.

What is the culture of the school’s program?  Are you comfortable with the values and priorities they proclaim?  Ask about the program’s culture while talking to the coach, talking to other teammates. Seek out alumni to ask this question, too.

Look up news stories about the school and about the athletic director.  What has been the A.D.’s track record in terms of hiring successful, positive coaches? Look at this not only for your sport, but other sports the school offers.

Just as anyone looking at college should do, ask yourself if you feel any connection to the school and its academic offerings and quality.  How would you feel attending the institution if you were a student who was not a part of the athletic department? This will help you sort out your feelings about the school – in today’s environment, you should almost assume that there will be coaching turnover.

Selecting a college for anyone is a key life decision.  That decision looms even larger when a major part of your college experience will be as a member of an athletic team. Step back from your emotions and relationships with the coaches and programs and do your own thorough due diligence before committing to a program. The resulting conclusions can make surviving the coaching carousel a lot less stressful and enable you to weather the associated emotional and career fallout.

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