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One of the toughest hurdles a player will go through during their career is dealing with a coaching change, especially at the collegiate level.
Whether a coach retires, leaves for another school, decides to go coach a pro team or gets fired—emotions run high and the media and critics will pile on the negativity.
What’s important to know as a recruit is that when you sign a NLI (National Letter of Intent), you are signing with the university, not the coach. If the coach leaves, you are still bound by the NLI that was signed.
With traditional and social media being so instantaneous, one of the toughest aspects of a coaching change is the fact that players nowadays rarely hear about the change directly from the coach themselves. When players hear it from ESPN, Twitter or friends texting them, they’re naturally caught off guard and usually feel disrespected or shocked. Off the bat, they have a tendency to act out emotionally: lash out in the media, skip team meetings and workouts, stop going to class or threaten to go pro. This is normal and natural, people are trying to make decisions based on EMOTIONS.
It’s important to understand that the high rate of turnover in the coaching profession is the prime reason why it’s so important for players to feel comfortable at the SCHOOL and in the TOWN without the coach that recruited them there because there is a good chance that the coach may not be there for their entire career.
It’s hard for 18-21 year-olds to fully understand but when a coach decides to leave a program, the decision has nothing to do with the players. Coaches take and leave jobs for the pure reasons of #1- the betterment of their family (more money, closer to family and home, a promotion) or #2- a better opportunity to win (bigger budget, bigger fanbase, easier path to a championship). Those are the only two reasons; it is never personal with the players.
It’s natural and okay for you to be hurt and frustrated, understand that it is okay for you to take time away from the media, social media and speaking publicly on the matter until you have had enough time for it to sink in and for the university to hire a new coach, you will have time to evaluate the new hire and decide if you would like to keep firm on the commitment or re-open your recruitment.
Early in my career, a coaching change would have been shocking. One of the biggest things that could happen! After my 16 years in athletics, I now understand that it’s just part of the business and nearly every team will lose at least one coach every year. It’s just the way of life for coaches. Having worked for so many, it’d be safe to say that over 75% are looking for other jobs or being contacted for new positions each off-season, it’s just the way it is.
While fans and administration put a lot of their focus (and rightfully so) on the players, there’s a whole backbone of the program going through turmoil when there is a transition in head coaches—the assistant coaches, strength coaches, trainers, video coordinators and team operations staff. A head coach is basically responsible for the livelihood of 6-15 full-time staff members and each of their spouses and children. No matter the reason they are gone, nearly everyone else is left hanging and worrying about their job and family. In most cases, everyone lands on their feet but it’s a rough few weeks or months until everyone is able to secure a new job.
The outgoing coach may bring some staff with them and it’s understood that the incoming coach has 100% freedom to clean house from top to bottom and bring in their own network of trusted staff. Everyone is on their own during this time, these stretches can bring out the worst side of people and have a tendency to be really, really awkward.
Give yourself time to decide if you are still excited about your opportunities and the direction of the program, it’s perfectly normal for you to keep quiet on the matter and have ‘no comment’ to media and friends, especially if you are a major Division I prospect. Evaluate the opportunities, community and entire situation before making comments you may regret in a week or two!
Understand that in the end you will all be fine, just give the situation time to run its course!