Dan Mullen explains his message to every graduate assistant

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Saturday July 29, 2017

Originally published 1/18/16

This is the time of year when graduate assistants are moving around or getting full-time jobs. Nearly everybody starts at the bottom in coaching. Dan Mullen’s advice to GA’s? Do more than you’re asked.

The GA forum at the AFCA Convention is one of the most informational sessions of the convention for young coaches. Last week in San Antonio, Mullen described what he wants in a GA.

“You have an opportunity during recruiting when coaches are on the road, how much research and study are you doing? When they come back, do you just have what they asked for? Or did you go out and do even more?” Mullen told the room.

I always tell guys, come in with ideas. When we come back and get into offseason study, have 50 different things you researched. As a staff, we might say we don’t need 49 of them, but maybe you created one we know is going to help us. By putting that together, you’re also developing something. You’re thinking, 'What can I do to innovate? What can I do to look at the game of football and help our team and coaches be better?' You’re making yourself better as a coach, because you’re studying different aspects of the game.”

Mullen emphasized how, as staffs expand with quality control coaches and analysts, GA’s still have the edge of being allowed to coach on the field. They need to take advantage of those chances and learn to become great teachers.

Organization and preparation are how Jody Wright moved up on Mullen’s staff. The current Alabama director of player personnel was a graduate assistant at Mississippi State when Mullen became head coach in 2009. Wright came into Mullen’s office with a plan.

“I got hired at Mississippi State, walked in the door, a grad assistant named Jody Wright came into my office and said, ‘Coach, I want you to know I prepared all this stuff for you. Here are the recruits. Here are some things we need to get done.’” Mullen recalled. “Boom, boom, boom. He was very organized and he said, ‘I know you might not have spots, but if you need anything, let me know. I said, ‘Great, you’ve just been hired as our director of operations. Go back to work.’”

Mullen doesn’t want to hire former players as GA’s as soon as their careers end. They should go experience what it’s like to work in other programs first. But more than anything, what makes a successful GA is a proactive approach.

“A lot of grad assistants are waiting, don’t want to step on people’s toes,” Mullen said. “Don’t be out of control with it, but people that impress me are people that are not afraid to go out there and work and teach in any way, shape or form.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.