During the Final Four weekend, the Women's Basketball Coaching Association (WBCA) holds its annual convention and it's many things to many people.
For many coaches who have traversed the country during their coaching careers, the convention is a social event to reunite with associates, former employers, former assistants, and competitors. Coaches who compete against each other during the season often catch up and socialize during the convention. In addition to the social activity, head coaches run on-court coaching sessions.
Dayton University's Jim Jabir, Davidson College's Michele Savage, and Syracuse University's Quentin Hillsman were among the on-court presentations. Other coaches like Penn State University's Coquese Washington made lecture presentations called learning labs. Other head coaches, assistant coaches, and director of basketball operations have the opportunity to apply to and ultimately lead roundtable discussions on various topics, as attendees have the opportunity to partake in these discussions and informal lectures. There are vendors peddling their basketball-related products like uniforms, shooting systems, and scouting programs.
Most importantly for most attendees, however, is that the WBCA serves as a giant job market.
As one approaches the New Orleans Convention Center, there are dozens of college basketball coaches walking in and out of the convention center sporting their polo shirts and backpacks from their university or college. Inside the convention center's doors, next to the registration desk and the merchandise table, there are bulletin boards with job openings and resumes posted, each one a symbol of someone's future. Inside the main convention area, where the coaches lead their on-court demonstrations and vendors promote their products, coaches catch up with one another, most angling for a connection that will lead to the next opportunity.
Whereas a coach may be happy and content in his or her present position, coaching is an upwardly mobile profession, and coaches are looking at all times for the next opportunity, whether seeking to move from being a 3rd assistant to a 2nd assistant or an NCAA Division II program to a DI program.
In front of the main convention hall, while speakers like the Indiana Fever's Lin Dunn gave presentations, coaches like Jermaine Cooper of the Ohio Glory AAU team posted up. As a coach who is relatively new to the women's side of the game, Cooper was told by several coaches that the WBCA convention was the place to be to get a new or first job. He saved up to make the trip south, and he has managed to secure four interviews since his arrival. Cooper said that two of his interviews were arranged prior to his arrival, but two were arranged outside the convention hall: standing next to the resume board, Cooper said that he "started talking to coaches looking at other resumes and asked them what they were looking for."
As of Sunday afternoon, Cooper had yet to be hired, but four interviews for jobs at the D2, D3, and NAIA levels shows the worthiness of posting up by the boards and striking up conversations. As convention attendee and recent Long Island University graduate Krystal Wells said, "It's about having the confidence to talk to coaches, strike up a conversation, and sell yourself."
For those with a job already, one's boss is generally the best way to widen one's network and look for the next job. Mack Gardner, a graduate assistant at the University of Southern Mississippi, had been to events with his boss and met some potentially valuable connections. Otherwise, he has spent time with another more veteran assistant from the USM staff who has introduced him to others in the industry. He was meeting with a friend of the assistant's about a potential job, showing the importance of networking, and luck. The assistant's close friend was hired recently for a new job and needs an assistant, which gives him a direct connection to a coach with a job to offer. Those directions are the ways that coaches make it in the profession.
To underscore the importance of relationships, Cal's head coach Lindsay Gottlieb told the story of her introduction to her former boss and current University of Virginia head coach Joanne Boyle. Her childhood friend was Hilary Heieck, formerly Hilary Howard, who played in the 1999 Final Four with Duke University.
"Kind of a neat story," Gottlieb said. "She's the one who introduced me to Joanne Boyle, who was her assistant coach at Duke, who then hired me."
That is the way the coaching profession can work: a childhood friend introduces a friend to an assistant who ascends quickly (from Richmond to Cal) opening new opportunities for the young assistant who eventually replaces her former boss and takes the team to the Final Four. It rarely works out quite as well, but every successful coach has some story of a connection that coupled with some timing and luck led to some good fortune in their career progression.
Beyond the networking with current employers, former employers, associates, and friends, or posting up outside the convention center and striking up conversations, some lucky future coaches enroll in the WBCA's So You Want To Be a Coach program. The program requires a recent college graduate to apply and be accepted into a 3-day intensive program that includes seminars, clinics, mock interviews, and more. For 12 hours per day on the Friday through Sunday of the Final Four weekend, attendees met with administrators, listened to college coaches give presentations, and learned more about the coaching profession. As Wells said, "They want to make sure that you still want to be a coach."
For Wells, the most important part of the weekend was the networking. Whereas she described herself as outgoing, the program forced her to sell herself and "tell coaches what I have to offer. Just put my name out there and show who I am, show my enthusiasm," she said.
During the weekend, Wells managed to secure one interview on the spot from a D3 university. The networking and putting out her name to a number of coaches was even more important.
Brian McCormick is an experienced coach and player development expert whose basketball insights about everything from youth development to point guard play are valuable for any thoughtful basketball fan. He has previously contributed to Swish Appeal during the 2012 Final Four and with his thoughts on why developing coaching expertise at mid-majors is good for women's college basketball.