Your Football Coaching Career Path
By FirstDown PlayBook on Nov 27, 2017

“Are you sure?”

It sounds like an asinine question and a ridiculous way to start a series on how to move up in the football coaching profession, but it needs to be established. Just like most things in life, you are going to have a better chance of reaching your goals if first you know what they are. Advancing in the football coaching profession is very difficult and almost impossible if you don’t have that one question answered beyond a shadow of a doubt first.

Also, what does advancing in this profession mean anyway? There are coaches who work to advance from an intern or GA to a position coach then to a coordinator and then maybe even a head coach. There are other coaches who coach a position their entire career but advance from high school to college and maybe then to the NFL. For the purpose of today’s article we focus on moving from one level to another, but we will come back in later articles and talk about some things that will help you advance your job title.

I want to start by saying that coaching football changed my life. There is no doubt that without it, my life would not be as full and my travels and experiences would have been far less extensive. I would not trade it for anything in the world. Having said that, there is a price tag on everything in life and coaching is no exception. For thirty some odd years where I worked, where I lived, and to some degree, who I spent my life with was dictated by where I could get a job coaching ball.

It may sound extreme and exaggerated but it is not because I had one goal. I was going to coach football and I was going to coach it at the highest possible level I could.  When I say “highest level” I am referring to the talent level of the players and by that I mean if I could make it to the National Football League that is what I was going to do at all costs. I was not going to let geography, pay, relationships and not even family stand in my way.

Looking back on it now, after having accomplished my goal, I can honestly say that without that approach I would have had no chance. That’s just me. Maybe another coach would have been able to land a job at some of the major college football schools or NFL organizations that I was fortunate enough to work at without doing it the way that I did it, but I can promise you that for me it was a necessary approach. So keep in mind that all advice comes from a perspective, and in the next few weeks I will give you mine. Here are a few things that I feel like I learned on my journey.

What Level of Football Do You Want To Coach? (and more importantly, why?)

So back to the original question. “Are you sure?” and if you are sure that you want to coach football for a living, what level do you aspire to coach? Once again, “level” is just used to describe the talent level of the players, not the talent level of the coaches. Some of the best football coaches in the country are walking the halls of a high school somewhere as this is being written and could coach at any “level” given different circumstances.

As a young coach, it is important to identify and set your goals according to if you aspire to be a high school coach, a college coach or an NFL coach. It’s not that you can always have the job you want, when you want it or where you want it on your career path just because it fits your goals, but it helps to keep your ultimate goal in mind as you are faced with decisions along the way. It’s also very possible that you will adjust your goals along the way but if you don’t start with a goal, you are not going to have anything to base your career decisions on as a young coach.

An example of how having your goals set early in your career can help you would be this:

You are about to get your degree from college and you have an opportunity to either stay on with that program the next year as part of the video crew or strength room staff.  My opinion would be that it would be a wise thing to do if your goal is to coach in college. Even though you are not coaching on the field you can gain a great head start by being in and around the coaches who can help you possibly move into a Graduate Assistant spot later.  If your goal is to coach in high school you might want to go ahead and look for an entry level position in high school.

Don’t Look To Get Paid

Once again, this is going to vary depending on the level of football you aspire to coach but if you are a high school coach and you are trying to get into college coaching, don’t let money even come into the equation. Odds are that with all of the rules and different positions that now exist in college football, you will be paid something for an entry level position because things have changed a lot from the days where you just had to find a way in the door and offer to work for free. However, to even be considering the pay amount or to let it come up in a conversation can be a red flag for some older coaches.

Your pay will be the football that you are going to learn while you are in the building and the network that you are going to begin to build as you work your tail off and slowly gain the trust and appreciation of the full time coaching staff. “But coach, how do I pay my bills?” Rule number one, if you are single, don’t have many bills and if you are married she and you may need to have a real long talk about what it’s going to take to reach some of your goals that you have set and how the financial reward may (or may not) be realized later down the line. It may not be a fun conversation, but it’s better to have it sooner than later.

Get In The Circle You Want To Be In

Coaches are pack-like creatures. They often times run with their own and that’s mostly because there is an appreciation for the similarities that they face in their day to day lives. Although a high school coach, a division II coach and an NFL coach all coach football there can be a world of difference when it comes to the challenges they face as they do their job.  You will often find that because of this, coaches can help one another when it comes to job opportunities within their circle or peer group more than they can outside of it. So it is logical that once you are in a certain circle you are going to have many more opportunities in that circle than outside of it.

One might think that it only works one way but I would argue that just like it is hard to get a position in the NFL from high school, it is equally as hard for a position coach in the NFL to land a premier head coaching job in the state of Texas. It works both ways. You are going to make your contacts and establish your reputation in the circle of coaches that you interact with daily. So, if at all possible, you want to get into the circle you want to be in as early as possible, regardless of some other reasons that might discourage you from doing so like pay or title.

So we will come back next Monday and continue to bounce this around more but for this week the three things we think you would be smart to remember are.

  1. Set your professional goals now. Change them later if you need to, but set your goals.
  2. Don’t let money be a factor. The money will come. You need knowledge and experience.
  3. Regardless of the any other factors, get into the level of football you aspire to as soon as you can.

Once again, we don’t pretend to have all or any of the answers because this is not an exact science. We only hope to pass along a few things that helped us during our thirty year coaching career. So by no means, should you take it as the only way to get where you want to get, but we hope it helps some and we hope to see you back here next Monday as we continue to expand on this a little more!

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