How schools have prepared for a 10th assistant coach — whenever it starts
Posted by: Chris Vannini on Friday April 07, 2017
One of the biggest changes to the college coaching profession is likely coming within a week — the addition of a 10th full-time assistant coach.
From April 13-14, the NCAA Division I Council will meet to vote on several big changes, including an early signing period, more satellite camp restrictions and individuals associated with a prospect. But the 10th assistant coach in FBS would greatly change how staffs function.
CoachingSearch spoke with more than a dozen coaches and an athletic director about the topic. Everybody involved expects the 10th assistant proposal to pass as part of a large rules package, but no one is quite sure whether an amendment to delay the implementation to January 2018 will pass or not.
“I think we’re going to get it,” Bret Bielema said this spring. “It’s just a matter of when.”
The idea of a 10th assistant in FBS has been around for years. The FCS level already has it. Nick Saban was one of the most outspoken coaches about it, as Alabama expanded the size of its support staff, adding out-of-work coaches as analysts instead, like Steve Sarkisian, Mike Locksley and more.
Last October, it officially became part of the legislative process in the Football Oversight Committee. AFCA executive director Todd Berry, the former UL-Monroe head coach, brought a much more proactive voice for coaches into the process. At the AFCA Convention in January, FBS head coaches expressed unanimous support. A week later, it was supported by the Division I Council.
The biggest argument for the addition was the coach-to-player ratio in football relative to other college sports. A head coach, nine full-time assistants and four graduate assistants are the only coaches allowed to work with 85 scholarship players on the field, plus all the walk-ons. (The number of GA’s doubled from two to four in 2012).
“Just based on the number of players we have, 115 on the spring when we start the school year. The biggest challenge as a head coach, when you’re the step-father, so to speak, of that many players is the daily one-on-one interaction,” Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder told CoachingSearch. “If you’re not talking to them every day, somebody else is, whether it’s social media, something that can pull them in negative direction. It’s hard for me to have daily interaction.”
The duties of coaches have greatly expanded over the last decade. Recruiting is now a 24/7 job. Kirby Smart once said most college coaches he knew were looking at the NFL, because of what recruiting had become. Add in camps, and that takes away from time with the players on the team.
“Having the 10th coach, that’s one more person that can be a positive influence, a positive role model in their lives,” Wilder said. “It’s one more father figure that can affect them on a daily basis. As hard as I try, I can’t get to every one of them every day.”
Indiana head coach Tom Allen - Photo credit: USA Today Sports Images
So what would teams do with the extra spot? That depends on whom you talk to.
For some, a standalone special teams coordinator is the plan. Notre Dame hired Brian Polian as a special teams coordinator and hired Tommy Rees as a GA, with a plan to move him to full-time quarterbacks coach when the proposal passes.
“Special teams and recruiting, I’m going to address those two areas,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen told CoachingSearch. “However that looks. He needs to be a great recruiter, and the special teams value is going to be huge.”
There are other options. Dabo Swinney has said he likes to have two defensive line coaches, but now only has one after Dan Brooks retired and Marion Hobby went to the NFL. Some teams might use a second defensive backs coach or a second offensive line coach.
“(Special teams coordinator) makes sense, but I think what a lot of people want to do is have two O-line coaches,” a Group of 5 graduate assistant told CoachingSearch. “I think that’s what a lot of people will want to do. I don’t know if it’ll end up happening. … The more realistic thing will be a standalone special teams coordinator or maybe two O-line coaches, since it’s half the offense on the field at one time.”
A standalone special teams coach could also be used as a mid-week recruiter during the season. It’s something many coaches have talked about. But it’s worth noting the number of evaluation days doesn’t change. So you're either taking them during the week or late in the week.
“I don’t see that structure changing for a lot of people,” a Group of 5 coach told CoachingSearch. “The number of people on the road and when for us will be the same.”
Still, it would allow coaches to get to more recruits outside of the season, and with the mid-December signing period expected to also pass, that’s even more important.
“More of an approach of a recruiting guy that has a larger scouting and recruiting role, out looking at prospects,” Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson said in a radio interview. “If we move the Signing Day, that speeds the clock up.”
For Wilder at Old Dominion, it depends on what his assistants want.
“The No. 1 thing I always start with is evaluate, where are my coordinators at?” he said. “Are they with me? The first thing, how does it affect their daily life, their ability to coach, their ability to recruit? Will they be a walk-around coordinator? Do they need a position? Who are my coordinators, and how does it affect them? That’s what I look at before I decide who I’m going to hire, what position they work with, and what’s their week going to be like?”
Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson - Photo credit: Associated Press
The other major question with a 10th assistant is who will fill the role? That’s where it gets complicated.
In mid-February, an amendment pushed by the MAC was added that could push the implementation of the rule from immediately to January 2018.
“An April effective date is in the middle of the budget year for the membership and is late in the hiring period for a football staff,” the amendment reads. “If the effective date is amended to occur to the conclusion of the 2017 football season, member institutions will have the opportunity to budget for the addition of a full-time countable coach and associated costs related to recruiting.”
The bottom line: Schools with more resources would like it right away. Those with less would rather it get delayed.
Schools like Notre Dame (with Rees), Michigan and others have no problem hiring a coach right away in April, but the Group of 5 schools with limited resources don’t. Several Group of 5 coaches told CoachingSearch they would likely just move a GA or a quality control coach into the role, with a salary much lower than the rest of the staff.
At least one G5 school has looked at curtailing support staff jobs in order to free the resources for another full-time coach, in case it is implemented right away.
“I know a lot of these positions aren’t going to be as well paid,” the Group of 5 GA told CoachingSearch. “You’re not going to be making $100,000 as the 10th assistant at most places. Probably 40-50, if you’re lucky. But do you want to coach or not? To be able to recruit and coach and those things as a young guy, it’s unbelievable.”
Some coaches think 75 to 80 percent of the 10th assistants will be promoted from within — either a young GA or an experienced analyst — or hiring a coach who is out of work. But there’s always the possibility of the bigger schools hiring from the smaller schools.
“I could lose a whole bunch of guys,” Anderson said in February. “If you look, most of these Power 5s have five, six, 10 analysts. At Alabama, the analyst became the OC for the national championship. It’s probably going to be, in most cases, just a guy that’s there that can move into that. I think that will fill the majority of those spots. There will be some guys that are grabbed and hired. If we lose a guy, I have to deal with it.
“I think it’s what's right for the game and the profession. It’s a hurdle we’ll have to cross. If I have a job open tomorrow, the list of people who would want the job would be a mile long.”
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby chairs the football oversight committee, and some coaches noted to CoachingSearch that his influence weighs heavy. Bowlsby wants it to happen immediately.
"(The committee has) talked about it at length. Tell me if you think it's less disruptive if it's Aug. 1, Dec. 1 or Jan. 15?" Bowlsby told The Associated Press. "There's going to be disruption no matter when it goes into effect."
Every school has a plan ready if it happens right away, but not everyone could hire ahead of time and store the coach in an off-field role for a season if it got delayed, like Notre Dame. Bielema is in that boat. He has a guy in mind, but he's waited.
“I think some people have jockeyed and put their guy on staff as an analyst,” he said. “The guy I’m pursuing, I’ve kept him out of our program. I’m really not going to move forward until I get an exact date of, ‘This is when it’s going to start,’ and then I’ll move forward.”
Ed Orgeron says LSU won’t have a special teams coordinator this fall, but former Saints special teams coach Greg McMahon is expected to oversee the special teams off the field. If the 10th assistant happens immediately, he could move to full-time.
Everyone believes the 10th assistant will pass. No one is sure if it will start immediately or be delayed, but over the past month, the feeling among coaches has slowly shifted to a belief it’ll likely be delayed.
“That’s going back and forth. I don’t know,” Orgeron said this spring. “We were hoping it was going to be in April. Now we’re hearing that it’s going to be back (to) December. We hope it gets approved.”
There will be 130 new coaching jobs in FBS. It’s just a matter of when and who will fill the spots. The amendment will be voted on before the final 10th assistant proposal.
If the rule passes immediately, there will be a flurry of moves, but expect a majority of the roles to be filled internally. If it gets pushed to 2018, expect a coaching carousel even wilder than normal next winter.
“It’s great for players, great for coaches, a real positive,” Allen said. “I think everybody agrees. They’re just trying to figure out when.”