I began my coaching career when I was 16 years old. The local parish in Brooklyn, New York where I was born and raised put me in charge of the 7th grade boys basketball team. I had a blast. A couple of years later I became the head coach of the boys freshmen basketball team at Bishop Ford High School. Again, I had a blast. Our first year we didn’t win a single game.
While coaching high school basketball I was working full-time as an Ironworker making decent money. During basketball season I’d knock off work, hop on the train to school and change into my sweats. I was single, had my own place and didn’t have a care in the world.
It all changed on a cold, damp morning in January. I was sipping a cup of hot coffee right before 8AM; about to start another day of work when I realized I didn’t want to walk across steel beams 25 stories high any longer. I didn’t want to work outdoors when the temps were in the high teens. (A Jamaican Welder, Gerry Darlington, who happened to be a great guy asked me if I wanted to do this for 40 more winters) It was right there I was looking for a new career.
A decision was made. I fell in love with a wonderful woman who later became my wife and we moved to Michigan in 1996; I discovered my life’s calling…coaching basketball at the collegiate level.
Following the move from New York to Michigan, while attending Michigan State University as a non-traditional student, I was introduced to Tom Crean who at the time was an assistant coach under Tom Izzo. Crean and Izzo allowed me to observe practice that first year. The following year I signed on as a student-assistant coach.
I had a great time while learning so much about the craft. (My original goal was to get my degree and go back to coaching high school basketball) I thought I knew everything about basketball until I met the Michigan State coaching staff which included Brian Gregory (Dayton), Stan Heath (USF) and Mike Garland. I never imagined in my wildest dreams what hard work was until I saw these guys in action every single day. And I thought Ironworkers put in a hard day on the high iron!
After some academic and financial difficulties, I transferred to Central Michigan University. The work ethic I learned from MSU’s coaching staff helped me through the next two years of school which saw me travel 120 miles a day, three times per week for 5 straight semesters. In 2003, upon graduation from Central Michigan University with a B.A. in Sports Studies I began to apply for college assistant coaching positions. It was a tough stretch. I was turned down many times. My confidence was shaken. I had doubts whether I had made the right move, leaving New York for Michigan. Leaving a good paying job for this…
The following year I applied for a coaching position at Portland High School in Portland, Michigan. I was nervous going in, I promised myself I wasn’t going back to college high school. A week after the interview I was hired by a great athletic director Kevin Veale (he gave me an awesome opportunity) to coach the boys varsity basketball team. All the while I was conducting a lot of one-on-one and small group basketball training with boys and girls of all ages. During the summer I would travel around the country and work summer basketball camps. I loved the game…
One full season at Portland and then a move back to the East Coast alone (wife and daughter stayed in Michigan) at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey as an assistant coach under Bob Leckie (Leckie gave me my first opportunity at the D-1 level) and for the past four seasons head coach at Jackson Community College. It’s been a great ride. The one thing I am thankful for is the men who gave me my chance at each stop. (You need someone to take a chance on you)
Each morning I wake up I wonder where this profession will take me? I ask myself “where do I want to be in five years” ? Oftentimes I’m asked about the coaching profession from younger guys. I’m asked how to get in, how to move up and of course, why do I coach? The answers are not as simple as you think. There’s no secret to moving up the ladder. Sure we all aspire to be a head coach, some want to go to the highest level, some are content at the high school level. I will tell you this, there is a HUGE difference in being the guy in charge and the assistant coach.
Here are 5 areas necessary to coach at the collegiate level: (This is just 5, not the complete list)
Have a passion for teaching and recruiting: If you don’t like teaching, you will not be any good. No make that, if you don’t love teaching, you will not make it. You need to know how to teach a skill. If you don’t like hoping in your car, driving two hours, watching a kid play then driving back, this job is not for you.
Strong Work Ethic: You need to do everything that needs to be done for the program from A to Z. Working players out, recruiting, practice/game preparation, etc. There’s more to coaching than drawing up plays. Being organized each day helps. Do what others will not do. Look for things to do. Always be busy when you are at work.
Self-Esteem: You will not get many pats on the back. You will not be told how good of a job you are doing as much as you’d like. Learn to feel good about yourself throughout the journey.
Loyalty: Whomever you work for, be loyal. Never bad mouth them, no matter how much you disagree with them. Never be jealous nor be envious of others. Help staff members get things done. Don’t care who gets credit.
Build Relationships: 50% of coaching at the college level is relationships. It’s the most important way to have a chance of getting hired. It’s the way you get players when you recruit. It’s the way you get along with others within the program/school. Managers, office personnel, and of course school administration.
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