This article was written by Josh Schertz who is the head men's basketball coach at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. Coach Schertz joined the program in 2008 and has 75% winning percentage. Before joining the Railsplitters he also coached at High Point University, Queens University (NC), Lynn University, and Florida Atlantic University.
A hot topic for many organizations today is the ability to maximize resources. This has become even more of an issue over the last few years, as cutbacks due to economic difficulties have become more and more prevalent. For basketball programs at the small college level, the ability to maximize your resources and be efficient with your time can be the difference between success and failure.
I have a unique perspective as it relates to the allocation of resources, as I have spent most of my 16-year coaching career at the Division II level, with a five year stint as the associate head coach at High Point University, as well as one year as an assistant at Florida Atlantic University mixed in.
Having such varied experiences has certainly altered my paradigm on what is important and more importantly what isn't as important to running a successful small college program.
There are a myriad of differences that exist between high end Division I programs versus low major Division I programs in terms of resources, and those resources, or lack thereof, are magnified at the small college level. From fewer scholarships to recruit with, to less staff, to budgetary limitations, to limited facility access, etc.
We are confronted daily with challenges that most coaches at higher levels do not have to deal with. The one thing that does not change regardless of the level you coach are the areas that you need to excel in order to build a successful program.
Recruiting and Player Development
In my opinion the two most important things as it relates to success at the collegiate level are recruiting and player development. Less scholarships means a smaller margin for error, so limit risks in recruiting. Do not sign someone and try to change who they are, sign them because of who they are. Recruit guys who will work and are coachable.
If you are a small college coach you likely aren't coaching lottery picks, and the differential in talent between most teams is not as wide as the gap that exists at the Division I level. That means a lot of close games where intangibles are the difference between winning and losing.
Good teams all have the same trademarks: they are committed, play great defense, and are unselfish offensively. It takes high character guys to do those things, so never sacrifice character for talent when assembling a team.
Recruiting players who like to work and are coachable is also the key to player development, as without those two traits the player will never become what he is capable of regardless of how good the teaching is. That being said, make player development a hallmark of your program.
Unlike at higher levels there is no director of player development, so it is imperative that you work to become a better teacher and improve each off-season. From clinics, to DVD's, to websites like this one, to picking other coaches brains for ideas, be on a constant quest to improve your knowledge and ability to teach the game.
Since you may have only one assistant and no strength coach, study weight training and in particular basketball specific weight training . If you are stretched too thin to have a coach in the weight room with your team, you need to have the expertise to plan a workout and let your player captains lead the rest of the team through it.
With limited help, recruit volunteer assistants, student assistants, managers and even scout team walk-ons. Anybody and everybody that can pass, keep clock and help with the administration of the program is invaluable. With a short staff utilize just two baskets for all of your in-practice breakdown work. Be efficient in terms of practice relative to how you do drill work and even how you scrimmage. For example, when we intersquad scrimmage I coach both teams, my assistants officiate and we rotate scout team guys who keep clock as well as film.
Without an athletic academic advisor, constant communication with your players’ professors is paramount to academic success. Send the players out with detailed bi-weekly progress reports that must be turned in mid-week. Be proactive instead of reactive with academic discipline, and understand it is impossible to have a healthy or respected program without academic integrity.
Without significant academic support it is imperative that you take the initiative and bi-weekly progress reports are a good place to start. Utilize any and all tutoring services available and conduct staff-run study hall multiple times a week. For staff freshness rotate who runs the staff led study hall.
Budget limitations make fundraising a vital part of the small college experience. I hear so many coaches that raise significant amounts of money and use the funds to take a great trip or buy a piece of equipment. While that is a nice short-term benefit, I believe it is more important to use that money towards things that are sustainable and bring your program long-term benefits.
For example here at LMU we have raised $80,000 over the last few years for our program. We put $50,000 towards a locker room renovation, $20,000 towards a film room (university chipped in another $15,000) and we invested the other $10,000 towards upgrading the coaching offices.
All are things that help improve both the current player’s and basketball coaching staff’s quality of life while positively impacting our ability to attract high level people and players into our program.
At the end of the day any organization’s most valuable resource is people. It is about the people around you and how they come together, and how you have each other's back. You learn that one person does not really get anything done.
In any business, in any endeavor, the people around you have to be good people and work together. That is where the real joy is--when you share success with people you enjoy being around.