Change is Coming

A changing of the guard is coming.  Each year about 10% of programs replace their head coach and all signs are pointing towards 2016 being a banner year.  The upcoming vacancies will give many coaches an opportunity to advance their career, but coaching changes, like a slow breaststroker on your medley relay, are a weak link that can make our programs vulnerable.

Kirk Ferentz - by Hawkeye Nerd, used under CC BY / Modified original

I got to thinking about this after reading about Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz.  Ferentz has turned down overtures from the NFL three times (though he might be rethinking that after this year’s Rose Bowl) all to stay at Iowa.  The piece commented:

“Ninety-nine percent of coaches are built to be upwardly mobile. Kirk Ferentz wants to be the head coach at Iowa, and I don’t think anything else interests him.”

That’s not how most of us are wired.  We’re competitive.  We want to be the best and naturally, we often seek out greener pastures.  This, however, can have devastating consequences for both the program and the coach.  Many times we’ve seen a scenario where a longtime coach retires only to be replaced by an energetic upstart.  The new coach, seeing this as their launching pad recruits his/her butt off, moves the team up a couple spots and then . . .

They’re gone.

Maybe it was part of their plan.  Maybe their perceived place in the department exceeded their actual contributions.  Whatever the case, they’ve left behind a shell of a team where the previous coach had once built a successful, connected, and sustainable program that added value beyond championship banners and NCAA cuts.  In their quest for immediate results, they’ve neglected things that add real value to an institution and a department.   At worst, they’ve made it easy for an athletic director to cut swimming in favor of another football assistant.

If you polled 100 football coaches and asked them to list their dream jobs, Iowa likely wouldn’t be in the top 25. Might not be in the top 40.

We are nearing a tipping point of turnover in our profession.  The past few years have seen names like Reitz, Jennings, Brown, Merner, Morton, and Paska leave our sport.  These guys (and regrettably, they are all guys, but that’s for another day) shepherded their programs through good times and bad.  When you consider that over sixty of our head coaches – including 20% in Division I – have been on the job for 25 or more years you realize that the turnover has just begun. 

Not all of those vacancies will be “destination” jobs.  Given the right person, with the right set of skills, however, they can prove successful over time.  Simple math tells us that not every team can win a championship.  Those championships, however, will ring hollow without viable competition.  If you are at the start of your career, look beyond the stopwatch and develop your CEO skills.  If you’re nearing the horizon, begin building your succession plan.  It is up to each of us to help secure this future.

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