December 2, 2007

Coaching Change - How to Handle It!

I am surprised by the sheer number of college coaching positions available this early in the Hiring Season. It is my feeling, that this could be a new record for openings before the Final Four - definitely more than I can remember at any time.

This can be attributed to two things:

1) Athletic Directors no longer have control over the football and men's basketball teams. Football and men's basketball coaches are hired and fired by the Presidents and/or the Board of Regents, not the Athletic Director. In fact, the Athletic Director must keep these two programs happy and well funded, because many FB/MBB coaches have it in their contracts that they report to the President and have exempted themselves from the Athletic Department. The Athletic Directors just move down the ladder to manage what programs they can and one of them is Volleyball.

2) As volleyball makes a maddening slow march towards respectability (funding, marketing, contracts, etc) there is more administrative review of programs. Back in the good/bad old days, if a volleyball coach kept a low profile, did not break any rules, won enough games to keep from embarrassing the department, they could be employed for a long time. Now, with Volleyball (and all women's sports) gaining a higher profile, there is more accountability to run a successful program.

I was blessed as an athlete to have had the same head coach for my entire career in college volleyball. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this is not always the case for a surprising number of athletes. Changes in coaches happen for three reasons - a coach moves onto another position, a coach is terminated or a coach retires.

Since a change may happen, here is some advice for how to handle this as a player and parent.

1. If a player is on an athletic scholarship (DI is a full, DII is full to partial), this scholarship is a one year contract. Basically, unless you break the law or flunk out of school, you are guaranteed this scholarship and amount for one school year. So, don't stress during the year - nothing will happen to your scholarship.

2. The coach that recruited you is no longer there and you have to make a positive impression upon the new coach. However great you were last year does not matter. As a coach, I have seen positive and negative examples of such a situation - Athletes who played a lot and thought they were just the greatest thing, and athletes who realized that they had a great opportunity to 're-define' themselves as volleyball players. For some reason, the older players seem to be more interested in seizing the opportunity, than the younger players.

3. Be open to the changes that the new coach will bring to the program. No two head coaches are the same and each will have a different philosophy on just about everything. In a very broad sense, there is no right way or wrong way to coach - just be open to the new way.

4. You should have selected your school based more on the institution than the coach. If you are an upperclassmen, then you are pretty much locked into the new philosophy, good or bad, because you are close to graduating. If you are an underclassmen, you should take some time to determine if the new philosophy is going to allow you to continue in your desired situation as a student-athlete. Some coaches push the NCAA allowed envelope of practice time by having 'volunteer' training sessions and film break down - More time in volleyball is less time studying or just being a college kid.

5. If you are unhappy with the new philosophy brought by the new coach and desire to transfer, make sure you have taken time to honestly look at the situation to determine if and how you might gain satisfaction from the program. If after review, you just don't want to play volleyball for the new coach, you should immediately ask for Permission to Contact other schools.

6. Permission to Contact is ultimately granted by the Athletic Director, via the Director of Compliance. The Administrators will contact the Head Coach to get their opinion. Almost all the time, a Release or Permission to Contact will be granted, but with conditions - no transfer to anyone in the conference (you don't want this anyways because most conferences have a 1 year loss of eligibility to transfer even if Released), and possibly no transfers to any regional or top ranked opponents. Once you have the written Permission to Contact, you can proceed with starting the recruiting process all over again.

Transferring should be your last resort. Your first choice should be to take this opportunity to redefine yourself as a player. Think about this, you have a clean slate to portray yourself exactly how you might wish. Are you an opposite player who thinks you can pass and play left side - then show the new coach. Are you a Defensive Specialist who thinks you did not get the Libero slot because the old coach liked international players? Show the new coach!

I won't lie to you, a few players will not be around the next year after a coaching change - this happens at every school. This situation, combined with a new philosophy of running a program, can lead to a time of uncertainty that can be uncomfortable for many players and their families.

Focus on what is important - your education. If you are happy with your school and feel the change in coaches will not negatively impact this happiness, then find a way to excel in the new philosophy. Should the coaching change be very uncomfortable for you as a player and have a negative impact upon your studies, then you have a tough situation to work through.

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