People email me all the time asking how they should go about getting into coaching, specifically Strength Coaching. I usually tell them that they should volunteer , be an intern, go to as many places as they can to get experience. I tell them that to get ready to be poor, but that it will be worth it, gaining that experience. I usually lose the people at that point, when I mention being poor. For some reason, they don't have to be that poor anymore when first starting off.
And then usually, the memories of my young coaching career come tumbling back….just a bald faced boy….
I started coaching in 1989 at Gardner- Webb University. I made no money the first year. Zero dollars. I delivered pizzas. I was the Assistant Defensive Line Coach, the Assistant Strength Coach and shared the responsibilities of painting the fields, cutting the fields and doing the wash. Also in charge of cleaning the toilets, vacuuming the field house, taking care of the headphones on game day, taking out the trash, picking up the head coach's trash, film exchange, spreading mulch, picking weeds….I could list some more for sure.
In 1990, same thing, same responsibilities, but I made 1,000 dollars for the year. Snuck in the cafeteria for one meal, then ate 4 hot dogs for a dollar from The Pantry. I would put slaw, chili, cheese, mustard on them.
In 1991, same thing, same responsibilities. Same pay , 1,000 dollars. Still 4 "slaw dogs " for a dollar.
In 1992, I was the Head Strength Coach for Football, in charge of the fields(game, practice fields) watering and cutting them, painting the fields and doing the wash. I was in charge, though. And we played for the National Championship. I believe that I made 2,000 dollars that year. My buddy Jimmy Anderson came to his senses that year and got a job teaching high school and got married. I guess he had enough of sleeping in the locker room on a bunk bed.
And so it went. I actually made 21,000 one year teaching high school and coaching in Florida in 1995. But I left to go back into coaching college.
I didn't make over 22,000 dollars until I had been coaching for 13 years. Yep, I was poor. Could have applied for government assistance at any time, and I would have received it for sure.
And to this day, I appreciate that coaching time at Gardner- Webb more than any other. Young, and broke.
I mean, broke. I remember writing in my diary to never, ever, forget the feeling of being so poor.
But you know what? I love coaching and teaching so much that I would have kept doing it for a long , long time for basically nothing, and delivered pizzas at night for those pricks on Main Street.
So one has to pay their dues. Most people I talk to now are not willing to be broke for that long. I bust their chops when I hear my staff ever mention how long they work or how many teams that they coach. What's funny is that they do work insane hours and they do have tons of teams to coach.They are the best, the absolute best staff around. And they can coach their butts off. But they ain't scrubbing toilets. They shouldn't be either, they are professionals. What were we? Crazy, I guess. I am sure that they get tired of hearing about the "tough old days". I love them dearly, but no way would they put up with the crap that myself and my fellow student/graduate assistants did just to coach.
No way would they ever want to do what we did. Can you imagine that conversation? Ok! So here is the deal- you will be working 80 hours a week and here are your responsibilities…and oh yeah, here is your pay. They would walk out, but fast. Anybody in their right mind would walk out. But none of us were in their right minds.
Once you do all that stuff, you realize that you must love coaching. Because we put up with all the crap just so we could step foot on the field and coach. That was it! All of it was worth it because I had 12 defensive linemen who I was in charge of, my boys. And GAME DAY? All game days are magic. You lived for those days.
Out of all the Student/Graduate Assistants that worked at Gardner - Webb with me, most have gone on to have pretty successful careers. One coached at Wake Forest, one is a Head Coach at a D2 School, Jimmy is a head strength coach at a big high school, one coached at Clemson and Alabama and I ended up at Penn. All of us had second jobs at the time also. Jimmy worked at Stouffer's, one guy worked in a yarn mill, I had the pizza gig, etc.
Working like we did brought us all close together. Jimmy and I remain best friends to this day and back then, when we got done mowing the fields, we all would pile in a truck, grab some Jack Daniels and go down to the One Lane Bridge together. I will leave out the guns and the fights and the police….heck we were just kids blowing off some steam.
Working like we did taught us that once you did all that "extra" just to coach that you really must love it and that no task given to you later on in your career was as bad as most tasks we had to perform way back when.
And I hate to say it, but by young coaches not having to struggle and work like we did, they are missing out on something. I reckon that it teaches you to appreciate what you do have when you get that first full time job. Simply put, you are so damn thankful that you can just coach, that your dues are pretty much paid in full.