Caught in the Middle
One of the most overlooked things in this profession is that of being kept on staff or kept as a head guy when there is a turnover in the sports coaching realm. We all talk about getting the next job, or what we should or are doing while we are in our current situation.
I recently had a conversation with an excellent strength coach who used to work for me. He was kept on the strength staff while all the others were let go. He had the double-whammy of a new head football coach and a new head strength coach all at once. I had the same thing happen to me earlier in my career, and it is quite nerve-racking, to say the least.
It is much easier if you and your staff are kept on and there is simply a change of the football staff, but having both change is a much more difficult challenge. Trying to impress everyone will, sooner or later, impress no one. Here are some things that I had to do to navigate my way through this minefield.
I understand we all want everyone to like us or respect us, but we have to understand we really have no control over how others feel about us. It takes a long time to break down misconceptions, no matter who you are. You could be the greatest thing since donut burgers or the worst strength coach since the invention of color TVs, and people’s misconceptions will be what they are regardless.
The first fact you have to understand in this situation is a good thing: they kept you for a reason. It doesn’t matter what that reason is you are still employed, and trust me, that is a blessing for sure. Now that it is established that you’ve kept your job, the most important thing is to sit down with your new boss and ask him where you stand and exactly what he wants from you. This is very important, so have him do most of the talking.
The first meeting will not be about what you know or what you can bring to the program. He knows something about you already (remember, strength coaches are at most three degrees of separation from each other) because you are still there, so find out what he needs. Tell him you are ready to go and ready to implement his program and that you are glad to have the ability to see his new way of doing things.
I remember talking to a hall of fame football coach who was extremely successful both on and off the field. We were talking about how he became so successful, and he looked at me and said, “It’s easy. Just give them what they want. If it is football, and they want to go to the NFL, then coach them like it. If they want motivation for their sales staff, give them the best that you got. Whatever it is, find out what the athlete or customer really wants and give it to them and you will always be successful.” Great advice, and that is what you need to do with this new hire.
Remember: in this double-whammy situation, the strength coach is your new boss. No matter how close you were to the last sports coach or staff, he does not care, so do not sit in the meeting telling him, “We used to do this” and “We used to do that.” The only time that should come up is if he specifically asks — if he does at all.
Be a resource for him. It will be a huge feather in your cap when he is trying to do something, and you know who can unlock the indoor gym, who is in charge of maintenance/grounds, or even the best place to get a sandwich.
All the relationships you have been building and all the time you have spent there will be very valuable assets for you. The next piece of advice is really simple. Do not try to gain favors by backstabbing the person that just left. Even if they do it, do not get involved. Even if you hated the person you worked for, it just shows bad character, and you should all have something better and more positive to do than that.
The third piece to this puzzle is even simpler: Work. Your. Ass. Off! Just go to work like it is your first day as an intern. Don’t assume everything; always ask. Get there before him, make your area of setup the best, run your station better than anyone else, and work your groups, no matter how good or bad they are, to the best of your ability. Do a great job!
Circling back to the second point about negative talk, do not get caught up in the athletes’ moaning and groaning about previous staff, either, especially if your new boss is implementing something they don’t like. Remember, athletes come and go every four to five years, and hopefully, coaches stay a lot longer or have other friends or colleagues that can help them along the way. I have never, in all my years of doing this, heard of a player getting a strength coach a job, but plenty of them have gotten them fired! Don’t get sucked in.
The final bit of advice that I can give is one I have said over and over in my articles: be yourself! Do not change who you are or your coaching style. Be true to you. If you are not a yeller and a screamer, don’t turn into one. Not only will the new boss see right through that, but the players will as well. There is nothing worse than when players or coaches sniff out a phony. Any credibility that you have will be gone in an instant, and I truly believe that there is no way to get it back.
In a nutshell, if you are ever faced with a double-whammy, be grateful you have a job and new contacts and references to work with, be honest, direct, and supportive to your new boss. Stay positive and don’t get sucked into the negativity from the void created, be true to yourself, and last but not least, have fun doing it. Life’s too short not to.