Building a great coaching staff means treating each hire with special care. This athletic director constructs a rubric to add consistency and clarity to the process.
By Greg Caprara
Greg Caprara is Athletic Director for the Seneca Valley School District, located near Pittsburgh. He has coached at Syracuse University, Colgate University, and Florida State University, and served as the Director of Competition and Coaching Education for the West Virginia Special Olympics. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
You have found the perfect head coach to hire for your boys' baseball team. After reading through a lot of unimpressive resumes and sitting through several disappointing interviews, one candidate has finally emerged. He has great potential and you know he'll be a nice fit for the program.
But when you present your recommendation to the board of education, there is no rubber stamp. One board member wants to know why candidate X was not hired. Another questions your choice's lack of head coaching experience. And now your superintendent wants to see all the resumes and review the candidates. So much for having your new coach on board well in advance of the season's start.
Hiring coaches today comes under much more scrutiny than ever before. And this comes at a time when, in many areas, finding good coaches is a struggle. In addition, candidates now are often more diverse in their prior experiences, making it a challenge to sift through the choices.
To help deal with all these factors, one solution is to implement a rubric in your hiring process. A rubric is a tool that can be used to examine, assess, and rank anything that can be evaluated. In the case of hiring coaches, the rubric can provide:
> A tool to succinctly compare candidates
> A concise and consistent method of evaluation
> A visual presentation that quickly educates board members about the candidates.
A hiring rubric is essentially a score sheet that allows you to grade candidates based on the qualities you are looking for in a coach. You can give more weight to different qualities depending on the position. Then you add up the scores to see which candidates emerge as the most promising. It puts numbers and hard facts behind what you might call a "gut feeling" about hiring someone.
To make a rubric an effective tool, a critical first step is to identify the categories you intend to grade. Every program is different and has a variety of needs. You'll need to really think about what qualities you desire in your next coach.
The best place to start is your departmental philosophy. If your program is focused on being competitive, you should concentrate the rubric categories around that principle. If participation is most important, you should focus on qualities that meet that need.
For example, a competitive program could list the following areas as most important:
> High level of tactical knowledge
> High level of technical knowledge
> Strong leadership skills
> Proven ability to win
> Experience with college recruiting.
A program that focuses on participation could prioritize these areas:
> Large-group organizational skills
> Ability to generate interest
> Relationship-building skills
> Ability to work with local youth sports programs.
These are just a few examples of concepts to build the rubric around. Others could include: a demonstrated ability to teach good sportsmanship, success in working with parents, teacher in the school, or sport-specific coaching certification.
The next list of qualities should focus on what is important for this particular sport and program. For example, in our school, the demands placed on the head football coach are quite different from those placed on the head track and field coach. The football coach must be able to deal with the press, handle criticism, and promote athletes to the next level. Our head track coach is not plagued by the press or the constant pressure to win, but does need to have knowledge of every event and understand the complexities of providing leadership to both boys and girls.
The final set of criteria is based on what the particular team needs at that particular time. The successful candidate for a new sport may need different skill sets than a coach for an established program. Or problems with the previous coach may need to be rectified immediately with a new coach. For example, if the prior coach had parents up in arms, you may want to create a category that identifies communications skills as one of the top needs.
When compiling all this information, it's important to get input from others. On the departmental philosophy, you may wish to talk with your principal, superintendent, or possibly the booster club. For specific program needs, it can be helpful to talk to some of the athletes and their parents.
The more questions you ask and the more information you gather, the more meaningful your rubric will be. By asking people their opinions, you also make them feel included in the process and demonstrate that you are taking the candidate search very seriously.
With your criteria identified, you are ready to create a template. It should be composed of columns and rows to hold the information in a logical order. A spreadsheet software program can work well.
You can start constructing your rubric by thinking about what broad categories you want to include. Some examples are: coaching experience, administrative experience, certifications, and leadership skills. (See Sample Rubric.)
Next, you can list subcategories (specific needs) that will be assigned a numerical value. For example, under "coaching experience," you can list years of being a head coach at different levels and any achievements. Under "leadership skills," you can list areas such as communication and working with parents.
The way you set up your list of subcategories should strongly reflect the needs of the program. For example, if your football program has a proud history of having a potent offense, you may want to add "experience as an offensive coordinator" as a subcategory in "coaching experience."
There can be a lot of variations in the subcategories of "administrative experience." Maybe your wrestling program hosts a large, successful holiday tournament every year, which the head wrestling coach is responsible for planning. In this case, you may want to add a subcategory for "experience organizing tournaments."
Once you've created your categories and subcategories, it is time to determine a numerical value to go with each. The value assigned should reflect the importance of each need.
The next step is to weight each major category to assign importance using a numerical multiplier. (Weighted values appear highlighted in blue on the sample rubric.) In our example, coaching experience is weighted more heavily than administrative experience or coaching certifications. The multiplier of the coaching experience category is three, while the other categories are weighted at two and one, respectively. If certification is more important in your program, you can assign greater weight to that category.
With each hire, you can adjust the weighting of the categories to fit your needs. Let's say you are looking for a special fit, such as a head basketball coach and assistant athletic director. You can put more emphasis on the administrative category by using a higher multiplier.
Once all categories are filled in, it's important to analyze how the numbers work together. Use of the rubric is based on multiplying the total points in a category (white highlight) by the multiplier (blue highlight) and placing the product in the yellow box. Add the values of all yellow boxes to determine the candidate's total score.
To review your work, put sample candidates in place and see how their numbers add up. I often do a dry run using candidates from previous job searches.
You may try three or four different versions of a rubric before you have the right tool for the job. Always keep in mind that the tool is flexible and should change to meet the needs you are trying to fill.
PLUGGING IN PEOPLE
How does this rubric work in the hands-on world of hiring? Early in my career I was faced with the need to fill a coaching position for an Olympic sport. As a first-year athletic director, I had no real idea of the program's needs. Without this background, I began to construct a rubric to help me sort out applicants.
The first step in the process was to review the philosophy of the department. The anchors of that philosophy were:
> Providing athletes with outstanding teachers as coaches
> Building competitive teams
> Providing strong examples of positive behavior to the athletes.
Next, I developed a list of questions to research the history and needs of this particular team. After interviewing the assistant coaches, athletes, principals, and a few parents, I learned the following:
> The team was organized at a very basic level.
> The program had enjoyed great success in the past but in recent years was not competitive with the best teams in our section.
> Athletes had very little training in the tactical aspects of the sport.
> Everyone loved the old coach.
> Many people wanted his volunteer assistant to be the next head coach.
From this information I began to construct my rubric. The first section focused on education. Values were assigned much like what you see in the sample rubric. One glaring issue was that previous participants had never been taught much beyond giving 100 percent every time they competed. I knew that I needed to hire someone with strong instructional skills. I assigned a value of five points if the candidate held a teaching certificate.
In realizing this team was not reaching its potential, I also put subcategories in my rubric that focused on prior success as a coach in this sport. I gave a high number of points to candidates who had won championships and who had coached at the collegiate level.
Because the old coach was so well-liked, I knew our next one would need to have strong people skills. In the leadership category, I added subcategories on being a good communicator and working with parents.
As resumes came in, I scored each candidate on the rubric. If an applicant looked like a viable choice, I called him or her to get any information needed for the rubric that wasn't apparent from the resume. The call consisted of a greeting and congratulatory remark concerning their advancement in the process. I then explained that I was using a rubric to score the applicants and needed some additional information to complete the process. In most cases the conversation went very smoothly and I was able to get an initial impression of their communication skills.
The completed rubrics were reviewed with the principal in order to determine the number of candidates we would interview. Three candidates were selected. The top two candidates had had successful athletic careers and were also very involved in our community. One candidate was a teacher and the other was the volunteer assistant coach who was highly favored by the community and the parents.
The teacher had nearly 10 years of experience as a head coach at the high school level and had won several division championships during that time. Because my particular rubric placed strong emphasis on head coaching experience and the ability to teach, the teacher had a much better score on the rubric than the volunteer assistant coach.
In interviewing these three candidates, I used a procedure dictated by our human resources department that asked me to rate candidates' answers to specific questions. However, it could work well to create a second rubric for the interview process. This rubric could focus more on communication skills, leadership, and philosophies, and follow the same pattern of using categories and multipliers.
During the interviews, the top two candidates answered questions in much the same way. The primary difference was that the teacher spoke consistently about how he taught strategy and skill as well as how he motivated the kids. It was clear to me that the teacher would make a better head coach for this particular team.
When the school board asked me to justify my recommendation for the new coach, I discussed the focus that the candidate placed on teaching strategy and skill as well as motivation. Following my explanation, I provided board members with a copy of all three candidates' rubrics.
I was asked about the rubric's construction and gave board member my notes about it. From there, the board told me it was satisfied with my efforts to conduct a fair hiring process and agreed to accept my recommendation. It was that easy.
While the most compelling reason to use a rubric is that it allows you to justify your recommendations in a way administrators and board members can quickly understand, there are other plusses to the process. The first is that it forces you to think about your hiring objectives each time you put out a call for a new coach. Hiring is one of the most important things we do as athletic directors, and taking the time to consider the process will make the outcomes better.
Using a rubric also shows parents and community members that there are no biases in your hiring process. In this day of litigation and complaints, demonstrating a fair and impartial procedure for candidate advancement is increasingly important.
Finally, it demonstrates to everyone who has an interest in the athletic program that you are a leader who does his or her homework and works hard to make the program better. You can gain a lot of trust and support when you implement a process that is progressive and transparent.
You probably have one lingering question on the rubric: How does it work in the long run? Well, I can tell you this about that first coach I hired in the example above--three years after he was hired, the team earned the runner up trophy in the state championship.