Assistant TO the head coach.
In somewhat appropriate timing, Dana O’Neil released a piece yesterday about the life of a college basketball assistant coach. Apparently it’s not, or at least shouldn’t be, all about recruiting anymore. The myth used to go that assistants would butter their bread on the road, hitting up every gym in the country where talented basketball players might be found, and doing their best to sway them to go to Wherever U. I remember Josh Pastner of Memphis being this kind of guy when Cal was there; always on his phone, talking to coaches, family members, players, really anyone who would be willing to be on the other end of the line, just to sell his program and his school to those kids. There is zero wrong with that. And as it turns out, that mentality helped Pastner earn the head coaching spot once it opened up. In fact, he didn’t just earn it, it was almost borderline forced upon him by his former mentor.
But that recruiting savvy isn’t all it takes to be a successful NCAA assistant. These folks aren’t just talent scouts, giving reports to the HC and fowarding scholarship offers. There’s real ability there beyond just signing players, and most of it is figuring out what to do with players once they’ve signed.
“You have to be able to recruit, there’s no question,’’ [Iowa assistant Andrew Francis] said. “But you don’t want to be known as just a recruiting guy anymore. There’s almost a negative to it. People want to know that you can get good players, but you also have to know what to do with them. You have to know how to run a program and represent a university.’’
The last line rings especially true for Kentucky, as we had a head coach only a little over three years ago who didn’t know how to represent the university. And it showed, in a bad way. While it was most obvious considering he was the head honcho, the same thing applies to assistants as well. Though not faced with the visibility of the head coach, their actions directly reflect the school and the program.
And because they’re not afforded the visibility that head coaches are, it’s a lot harder to see when they’re doing things right. After a championship season, an abundance of the credit goes to the HC, and the players. And that’s fair. But it’s important not to forget that the assistants were there too, working just as much to make sure the team is successful. It’s unfortunate that an assistant’s best relationship with the public is to be ignored. All the good stuff he does is seen primarily by the coaching staff, but the bad stuff gets blown up and made into a big deal.
I think yesterday was a perfect example of that. Every college basketball website I visited had a headline referencing the Strickland arrest. I know Strickland isn’t precisely an “assistant coach,” but he is an assistant to that program in his duties, and fulfills the term in a functional, if not literal, sense. And we rarely see national stories about the great things he does for the program. Players love him, and he has a tremendous amount of basketball insight to provide to the team, particularly the point guards. So who knows what will be the result of the scenario yesterday; there’ll be plenty of opportunity to discuss if one party or another acted wrongly. As Francis explains, the assistant position becomes about so much more than getting players, or drawing up X’s and O’s; it becomes about being a representative of your university.
“Without question, [recruiting] is a huge part of my job,’’ Francis said. “There are a lot of great coaches out there, but if you can’t get great players, it doesn’t matter. You can’t win. Still I think the bigger issue is if you get those great players, what will you do with them? Will you make them better players and better men who represent your school well? If you can do all of that, then you’re ready to be a head coach.’’
It’s just too bad that nobody ever pays attention to those guys until it looks like something bad might have happened.