This article was written by Morehead State head coach Preston Spradlin.
Becoming a head coach in basketball, in many ways, can be an overwhelming experience. Many obligations are immediately thrown at you. You have prepared several of these throughout your career, but there are others that you may not have known even existed. Everyone that you encounter wants more and more of your time. The first two or three weeks are incredibly challenging. There will be more on your to-do list than anyone could ever imagine getting accomplished.
More so than any other time in your basketball coaching career, your priorities are tested. It is crucial to decide where you will put your focus, but you also must choose which tasks are not as important that you can pass along to other members of your staff. Do not spread yourself so thin that nothing gets accomplished to the high standards you are trying to establish as a new head basketball coach.
As a new head basketball coach, you need a plan. You cannot wait until you are hired to make decisions about priorities. Your mind will be going in a million different directions, and it will be impossible to get an accurate portrayal of what needs to get done most. Map it out.
The decisions of what you need to do, what your staff needs to accomplish, and in what time frame everything needs to be finished must be made ahead of the fact. Adjustments will have to be made on the fly as unanticipated scenarios arise. Your plan will not cover everything, but it will give you a set of appropriate priorities when times are hectic.
Focus on people and building relationships with them. There will be time later to worry about what schemes you plan to install and what renovations need to be done to the facilities. If the right people are not in and around your program, you will not be successful.
People must be your first priority. Starting with the most important individuals in your program, your players, all the way to your fan base and supporters, address their needs first. Build the foundation of your basketball program with the right people, and it will give you the ability to be successful in the future.
My first objective upon being named the head coach was engaging the current players. Our program is built to serve our players, and their well being is our top priority. It was imperative that I met with them individually and eased any concerns or answered any questions. We needed to discuss the future of our program and how they would fit into those plans. They deserved honest answers even if it may not have been the answer they were hoping for.
They needed to hear that they were wanted and essential to our team and our program and that I was dedicated to their dreams. The prior relationships I had built with them, whether they were players I had recruited or not, were instrumental in this process. How they saw me as an assistant coach would only be magnified as I stepped into the full-time role of head coach.
Additionally, I wanted to reach out to the families and other influential individuals in the returning players’ lives. It is a serious task to coach someone’s son, and we approach it with the utmost diligence. I needed to ensure each family that their son would be taken care of and looked out for.
We will push their sons to achieve their highest goals, but we’re going to love and respect them throughout the process. We are dedicated to creating a culture and an atmosphere that embraces family, so we want each of these individuals to feel they are a part of it.
Recruiting had to start immediately. It is the lifeblood of the program, and we were already behind. My first goal was to keep a commitment with a young man that was previously signed. He was precisely the kind of player we wanted to build our program with, and he and his family needed to know they were our top priority. Again, we were trying to secure our base before we moved outward.
Before we moved forward in recruiting, we needed to recognize the type of basketball players we wanted to build our program around. While you must be able to adjust your style of play to your personnel in your first couple of years, we needed to make difficult decisions about how we wanted to play and what kind of personnel we needed to do so. It is impossible to recruit effectively and efficiently if you do not have a clear concept of what you want.
We also needed to build a clear vision for our future. We wanted to develop consistency in our communication with recruits and their families so that they knew our plan to take Morehead State to a championship level. Everybody claims they will win championships, but we wanted to be deliberate in explaining how we are going to get there. We wanted to offer a complete picture of what recruits could expect from their experience here and demonstrate exactly why they fit our plans and how we intend to use their skill set. We had to outwork every basketball coaching staff in the country and turn over every stone in finding any and every available player. There was no excuse not to do the most meticulous, detailed, and persistent job possible.
Basketball Coaching Staff
One assistant basketball coach and a graduate assistant returned to my staff, but I needed to get the rest of the staff in place as quickly as possible. We wanted to move swiftly, but the focus was on making the correct hires. I had several guys in mind, so I had to quickly gauge their interest and speak with them about what they could bring to our basketball program. It was vital for me to rely on my past relationships to fill my staff with the right individuals.
While I did not know exactly who I was going to hire, the characteristics of who I was going to hire were always clear. Whoever was hired needed to possess high character, loyalty, a superior work ethic, and a persistent dedication to getting the job done. If we are going to look at parents in their eyes and tell them their son will be taken care of, we needed high-quality individuals to serve as mentors.
It was also vital to find well-rounded basketball coaches. I did not want somebody that could just recruit. While there is no denying the importance of recruiting, I wanted guys who could coach and mentor. At a school with a smaller basketball coaching staff like Morehead State, everyone on staff must have the mindset that no job is too small. I expect my assistants to be willing to mop the floor, clean the locker room, or fill the water coolers. Sometimes it is necessary for the efficiency of the program, but it also molds the culture and gives our players the right mindset.
There were many factors to consider when assembling my staff, including what experience they bring to the table, how they will work together, how their skills and knowledge will complement my coaching ability, and how they will thrive being a part of a close-knit community like Morehead. My staff needed to understand my love for the community and people at Morehead State.
I also wanted to be clear about the direction I intended to take the program. We were going to build this program the right way, and it may take some time to do so. Be sure that you give the people you want to hire a sufficient amount of time to make a thoughtful decision that will last so that they join your staff with the understanding of your timeline for success and how long you plan to be at your school.
I also tried to offer jobs respectfully and professionally. My new basketball coaching staff should have the ability to leave their former job on proper terms with their former boss.
“Before our team arrived on campus in July, we created a chart for our staff to call our returning players, newly signed players, and their families. Every player heard from a different coach nearly every day, and every coach talked to each player at least once per week.”
Once my staff was assembled, I needed to communicate a plan to help them build relationships with current players and continue recruiting our future athletes. We immediately discussed the importance of consistency in messaging and speaking the same language. We wanted a current player or recruit to talk to different members of our coaching staff and get the same message no matter who they were speaking with.
Consistency reinforces the ideas we want to convey. Our staff also needed to begin the process of “recruiting” our current players. They needed to build a relationship and a sense of trust with every one of them before they ever stepped onto the court together. Before our team arrived on campus in July, we created a chart for our staff to call our returning players, newly signed players, and their families. Every player heard from a different coach nearly every day, and every coach talked to each player at least once per week.
Support Staff, Department, and Campus Relationships
Many of the relationships with our support staff, within our athletic department, and on-campus already existed. Still, when I was promoted to head coach, it was essential to follow up with every one of them. We tried to start with those closest to the program. Within the first week, I met with our strength coach, athletic trainer, SID, and marketing department to discuss our working relationship.
They needed to know that they were an extremely valuable asset to our basketball program and that I was willing to do whatever I could to help them. We tried to do everything possible to empower them with our players and add to their credibility. We also needed to discuss my vision for our basketball program. The way we did things in my year as interim head coach may not necessarily be the way we wanted to do things moving forward.
I had to pick my battles and narrow my focus in my interim year, but now it was time to cement the correct culture throughout our basketball program. This outreach continued throughout the department as we made an effort to be a part of the team. We tried to be visible at as many events as possible and make as many connections with as many people as we could. I was humbled and honored to be the head basketball coach at Morehead State and wanted everyone I came in contact with to know so.
We wanted to establish a great relationship with the many people who work away from athletics at the university. Again, it was important to let them know how humbling it was to represent a great institution. We wanted our basketball program and our players to fit in the grand scheme of the school and not stand apart from it. We spoke with faculty about the expectations we would set forth for our student-athletes.
We talked to housing, student life, and dining services about getting our players back on campus and engaged with the general student body. Throughout these conversations, we maintained the stance that we wanted to help. The discussions did not begin with our staff asking for something; we approached every meeting with the mindset that we wanted to be of assistance to them. By doing so, we would all be a part of building a program that we would all be proud of.
In a small town like Morehead, external outreach begins with personal relationships. Upon accepting the position, I asked for a list of names and phone numbers of our athletic department’s biggest supporters and set time aside to call every one of them. I purposely called on my cell phone and made sure they had my number if they ever needed or wanted to get a hold of me for any reason.
I wanted to thank them for their continued support personally and share my vision for the future with them. They needed to know how proud we were to represent this university and town and that we were going to instill those values within our team. We were careful not to make any big promises. Instead, we made pledges that we could control, like working hard, coaching with respect, and recruiting character.
I tried to spend as much time in the community as possible. To this day, I try to stop somewhere on my way to the office four or five days a week. It goes a long way to meet with different individuals and check on them. Whether it’s the coffee shop or the bakery, we want people to know we care about them and how they are doing.
There is always somewhere else to be or something else to do, but spending time with people is the ultimate sign that you are invested in what they are doing. We need the support of the city of Morehead, but it would be unfair for us to ask for their continued support if we are unable or unwilling to support the city and its people.
“We were careful not to make any big promises. Instead, we made pledges that we could control like working hard, coaching with respect, and recruiting character.”
Former Basketball Players and Alumni
It was crucial that I reach out to as many former basketball players as possible and make sure that they had a direct line back to our program should they ever need anything at all. We want to create a fraternity among our basketball team that will last long after their playing careers are complete. I want that to extend this to all Morehead State players, current and former, no matter who their head coach was.
Our alumni must have a direct point of contact to the program that they helped build and know there are people here who are willing to assist them in their professional lives. We enjoy a lot of great resources here at Morehead State, and many of those are a direct result of the hard work and success of the student-athletes who came before my players. We want them to continue to be involved with the building of our program and share in our success every step along the way.
When you get a job in this business, many people have served as mentors, colleagues, or advocates on your behalf that deserve your utmost gratitude. During my press conference, there were only so many individuals that I could recognize publicly. Still, there were many others who I certainly owed a great deal to for their role in my development and basketball coaching career.
I kept a list while working on getting the job of all the people who would need a personal thank you and made sure to reach out to every one of them. Many would receive a handwritten note, while others got a phone call, text, or email. While it is hard to remember everyone, it is important to recognize all the people who believed in me and afforded me this opportunity to run my own program. Being diligent in responding to every call, text, email, Twitter message, and letter can be a never-ending task, but it was critical to demonstrate my thankfulness for this opportunity.
Many different responsibilities and tasks need your immediate attention when you become a head coach. It is essential to find balance in tending to them and keeping your program on track. For me, the only way to do this was to follow the advice of my mentor, John Calipari. He preached the importance of being a servant leader in all aspects of running a basketball program.
Making a continuous daily effort to work for others and help them takes the pressure and focus off yourself and your success. Our program at Morehead State is about putting our players first in everything that we do, and as the head coach, it is my job to live out that belief in everything that I do.