Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Ryan Adams, CMAA, coordinator of athletics, physical education and driver education, for the School District of Osceola County in Kissimmee, Florida, and Penny Lane, athletic director of Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, Kansas, regarding the process of hiring coaches in education-based athletics.
Question: What requirements or qualifications do you list in your vacancy notices in order to make sure that you attract candidates who support the concept of education-based athletics?
Adams: As it currently stands in our district, vacancies are advertised in a generic fashion by using existing, standard vacancy notices that were produced and approved by the upper-level administrators. Each individual school tries to balance its teaching vacancies with coaching positions that need to be filled. However, as we continue to learn and develop qualifications, it is our goal to ensure that we are doing more to attract quality candidates in support of education-based athletics.
Lane: In our job description for head coaches, we include the following statements that guide our hiring efforts.
Question: In addition to vacancy notices, how would coaching candidates know that your program operates under the concept of education-based athletics? Do you mention and explain this philosophy in written documents such as your Coaches and Parent Handbooks, postings on your website or in interviews with the local media?
Adams: In accordance with our strategic plan as detailed in the section under governance, “recruitment and retention of quality employees,” we work within our district mission statement of going from Good to GREAT. This ensures the effort of securing the best quality candidates who will work to support the philosophy that has been established by our district leadership and is modeled throughout Osceola County. This concept is embedded in our five-year strategic plan that is distributed to all stakeholders.
Lane: There is a code of ethics for parents, players and coaches in our athletic handbook. In the list for coaches, for example, it states, “The emotional and physical well-being of my players is more important than winning.” Another part asserts, “I am a role model and as such, I will embody the attributes of sportsmanship and respect that I expect from my players and fans.”
In education-based athletics, a shared belief system based on these statements helps focus on what is really important. The primary purpose of the activity is for positive personal growth of the participants. Coaches are expected to help athletes develop lifelong values and qualities, and the excellent ones do that every day inside and outside of the classroom.
Question: Since the No. 1 objective of education-based athletics is the growth and development of student-athletes and not winning, what specific qualities and background are you looking for in your coaching candidates?
Adams: We are looking for coaching candidates who understand the true development of students, because when they are doing things correctly, wins and losses will take care of themselves. This means that we are looking for coaches who can change a culture at a school through the growth and development of the student-athlete which is based on the concept that these young peopleare more than simply athletes.
Coaches need to be versatile in their training and competencies, whether it is in the classroom or on the field. Both aspects are extensions of one another. We want individuals who embrace the concept of the student-athlete – not as separate entities. While win-loss records may ultimately determine the success of the coach in the public eye, true success for a coach is when a student walks across the stage at graduation knowing that he or she provided the student many lessons through athletics.
Lane: Our main goal in the hiring process is to find the best teaching candidate for the current openings that we have in our building. Because the majority of a coach’s time and the salary is for work done in the classroom, we feel that it is very important to begin our search with this focus. Also, we look for a candidate who will easily establish positive relationships with students, staff, parents and other stakeholders in the community. Their ability to communicate well, both orally and in writing, is a must.
Question: What are three or four interview questions that you think are extremely helpful that you use to identify the best individuals to fit into your education-based athletic program?
Generally, we use a committee comprised of the principal, a board of education member, the athletic director, a current staff member or two, a former parent who has had children in the program for which we are conducting a search, and often a student sits in on the interviews. The candidate also has a separate interview with a smaller team for the teaching position. Also, during the facility tour, we are able to discern a great deal about our applicants.
Question: Have you ever hired a coach who may not have had a winning record, but had most of the qualities that you think are important for coaches within an education-based athletic program? If you have, how do you explain this to your parents or the community?
Adams: This explanation to the community is always a tough conversation because the majority of them are only looking for winning records and fail to see anything beyond the wins. One example that comes to mind is we hired a coach within our county a few years ago who was new to the profession and had no proven track record. He has since created a culture that has empowered student-athletes to not only participate but to now also compete at a very high level.
Fortunately, our district leadership has embraced the idea of moving from good to great and they understand that it takes the support of the community to be successful. Part of the community outreach is the hiring of quality coaches who embrace the education-based athletic culture that is being created in Osceola County and modeling the expectations to help our students become successful individuals throughout their educational and life careers.
Lane: The majority of our hires for head coaching positions have demonstrated their ability to lead and build successful programs in previous positions. Within the past five years, we have also hired head coaches with no head coaching experience. However, in checking references and going through the interview process, we were confident that they had the necessary tools, including strong positive character and leadership skills to make the step into a head coaching position. Having a board member and a parent on the interview committee can help the confidence of the selection by the community.
Question: After interviewing and selecting a final candidate, do you have to explain the education-based concept to upper-level administrators who may have the final say in the hiring process? How do you successfully make the point to these individuals that winning is not the most important or ultimate measure of success in education-based athletics?
Adams: Through the interview process, it becomes necessary to create candidate profiles that emphasize a plethora of positive, educational experiences. Even though win-loss records may be included, it is important to present each potential candidate with a comprehensive snapshot of who they are, what they represent and what their vision for the future looks like.
When you have a complete picture and understanding of the strengths of prospective coaches, it helps ensure that the best person is hired for the position and this benefits the athletes, the program and the school. As a district, we strive to hire quality candidates who will embrace our district’s mission and vision that meets the needs of each individual school. We work collaboratively with upper-level administrators to ensure that the candidate who is hired shares the belief that a student-athlete’s worth is not defined in wins and losses, but rather in the values and qualities that were created through athletics.
Lane: Having the superintendent or a board member on the interview committee helps answer questions that the board of education may have when giving final approval for the hire. With this process, we are fairly confident, therefore, that we are hiring the best coaches for our program.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 550 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.