By the Coach for the Coach: Happy Holidays…You’re Fired!

elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Each year the holiday season arrives, and with it, we see many of our friends and colleagues fired. This is the profession that we’ve chosen. As my father said to me, whenever you get a new job, be prepared to get fired and have to find a new one.

Often, coaches are fired for problems and issues outside of their control. In many cases, we see good coaches fired and replaced by assistants or former assistants. While it’s not fair, we all must be ready to be the fired or the hired. This is our reality, so we must ask ourselves, what do we do when we take over? To answer this question, I leaned on two friends of mine (as most of you know, I like to hear others’ voices and learn from them). These friends are Adam Davis from the University of Tulsa and Augie Maurelli from the University of Delaware.

TH: First off, tell us about your current job and how long you’ve been there.

My name is Adam Davis, and I’m currently the director of athletic performance at the University of Tulsa, a position I’ve been in since May 2012.

TH: How did you sell your athletes on your vision when you first arrived at Tulsa?

This is a big question, and it’s hard for me to decide where to begin. I suppose I’ll start with the interview process. During my interview with the head football coach, I made a conscious effort to outline a holistic performance plan. At the same time, I made it abundantly clear that I understood that this was his program and we would build around his philosophies. This was the first and biggest step in getting buy in. We tailored what we were doing with the athletes to what they were being asked to do in the rest of the program.

Our next step was to share our vision with the athletes. To do this, we simplified the base of our performance pyramid (basically a cheap rip-off of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success) to four foundational attributes: hard work, attention to detail, discipline, and enthusiasm. This is all we did our first summer, but we did it very well. What we were doing in our daily routines was secondary to making sure that we built this foundation. Basically, when the athletes came to work, they knew that they were expected to work hard, start, finish, and perform the exercises with proper alignment and execution, be prepared to be tested under pressure, be accountable for their actions (our definition of discipline), and be ready to work and make their teammates better. Once the foundation was understood, the rest of the building was pretty easy with the athletes.

TH: How did you sell the administration on your vision?

Our situation here at Tulsa has been a bit unique in this regard. In the nineteen or so months that we’ve been here, we’ve had three different university presidents as well as three different athletic directors. Through all this change, our approach has remained more or less the same: have a sound, comprehensive, long-term plan, put people first, and don’t make any excuses.

The other thing that has helped us is stability within our staff. Many of our sport coaches lamented the fact that in the three years prior to my arrival, they had as many as four different performance coaches train their team. By working together, expanding our staff, and making an effort to take care of each other, we have, to this point, been able to drastically reduce the turnover rate on our staff. Continuity and consistency have been big for us in building our program and department.

TH: What lessons have you learned about selling your vision?

For me, the biggest lesson has certainly been that no matter how clear your vision is and how well you sell it, there will always be people who aren’t looking to buy. It has been very important to us to identify the people who are most receptive of what we’re looking to do and keep them all on the same page. For those who are either indifferent or against what we’re doing, we’ve had to closely examine how we interact with them. Dr. Henry Cloud classifies people into three groups and outlines how to deal with each type. This information has been a great benefit to us and is readily available if you Google “Dr. Henry Cloud three types of employees.”

I posed the same questions to Augie Maurelli a man who I respect, even though he’s now a “suit.” If you’ve ever seen The Secret of My Success, you’ll know what I’m talking about. As strength coaches, we’re often like the guys in the mail room. We work and “know” that the “suits” don’t trust us and that we’re the only ones who work. Well, newsflash, this isn’t always true. Yes, we’re often the first to arrive at work, but we’re also able to train while “working.”

TH: First off, tell us about your current job and how long you’ve been there.

My name is Augie Maurelli. I’ve been in administration for about two years and roughly six months as the senior leader in the University of Delaware Athletic Department. Prior to this role, I was an assistant athletic director overseeing what we call our “performance” area, which included strength and conditioning, athletic training, sports medicine, and equipment. In that role, I was still pretty involved in the day-to-day operation of the weight room and had the occasional coaching session. Now, Brian Hess is the head strength and conditioning coach and I do my best to mentor and manage that area from a more strategic perspective.

While at Georgetown, I started as the head Olympic coach, progressed to director, and ultimately left as an assistant athletic director. As it pertains to this particular topic, I managed two transitions as a head strength and conditioning coach — the first when I got to Georgetown and again when I arrived at Delaware.

I also oversee all of the University of Delaware’s finances and business initiatives and went through a reorganization there as well.

TH: How did you sell your athletes on your vision when you first arrived at your current job? How did you sell your administration on your vision? What lessons have you learned about selling your vision?

The recurring theme in all these questions pertains to selling the mission/vision to constituents within the department, whether it be coaches, administration, or athletes. I think the bigger issue—if you want to get it right—is to make sure that the mission and vision:

  • Are lofty in nature so that you always have something to strive for
  • Align with the overall mission of the department and are all encompassing
  • Include some guiding principles

In my opinion, how you do the task is as important as why. If Enron had included some guiding principles in their mission and vision statements, maybe they wouldn’t have strayed so far from their shareholders’ interests. My mission/vision for Georgetown was pretty large: “to create the biggest, fastest, most explosive athletes in Division I athletics. We will accomplish this by using core values of discipline, dedication, honesty, integrity, and hard work.”

As I’ve progressed, my vision has shortened, but it still meets the three criteria of, “graduate champions with character.” It’s pretty simple, and the pathways are infinite. If you do that, though, you will accomplish many other things along the way. As we refocus on managing change and getting “buy in” regarding our vision, we need to start with understanding. In order to get that vision right, you have to spend some time on due diligence and really understand what was done well before you got there, what could use some improvement, and what simply won’t work based on the skills and opinions that you bring to the table.

When I got to Delaware, it was August and the room schedule and staff was pretty much set. In addition, the department was in its second year of transition with a new athletic director. I got the sense that everyone had been dealing with a significant amount of change. I made a conscious decision to simply look, listen, and learn for the first semester and keep things moving as they were with minor operational or programming changes when I thought it made sense or was necessary. I didn’t want to revamp a staff or turn a team’s training upside-down right out of the gate. Instead, I used that semester to really assess and formulate a strategy. I had the luxury of doing that at Delaware because there was a solid foundation that I had inherited from the previous head. When I was at Georgetown, the slate was completely clean, so I decided to create a new approach from scratch and put a three-year plan out to our coaches, athletes, and administration right from the beginning.

Regardless if you think Covey and his approach to writing a mission is applicable, I can attest to the fact that in my younger years, the vision was what kept me in line. At times, I would be so busy with so many aspects of the job, my focus was lost. I kept a copy of the mission/vision statement above my desk. In times of difficult decisions or critical consideration, that vision should always support the decision at hand.

So now that we have a vision and it makes sense to the department or task, the question that Professor Hamer asks is, how do you implement it?

  1. Communication: You would be amazed at how many departments or staff take the time to put something like a vision statement down on paper, but never share it with anyone. I put my vision statement on the top of every PowerPoint presentation that I gave to the administration, every packet I gave to a coach, and every card I printed for my athletes for the first year. You need to define who you are, and this is a great way to do it. It starts with sharing the message as often as you can.
  2. Demonstration: This may be even more applicable now, especially because this Millennial generation truly wants to know “why” with everything. However, it needs to be a foundation in your teachings. That’s right—the strength and conditioning coach is the biggest educator in the athletic department. Adversity, failure, accomplishment, discipline, trust, and critical thinking all happen under a good strength and conditioning program. As a result, your daily/weekly/monthly learning lessons need to revisit your vision from time to time and reiterate why and how what you’re doing plays a role in the goals and vision of that team.
  3. Integration: The vision should tie not only into your strength and conditioning department but also that team, department, and institution. At Delaware, we’re under a huge transformation as an institution, and our president talks about his “path to prominence.” I talk about that with our athletes and tie how our vision aligns with that of the entire university.
  4. Implementation: I think that this is absolutely critical. If you’ve ever read Good to Great by Jim Collins, one universal theme that occurs among companies that transition from good to great is an unwavering adherence to their strategic plan. In every role that I’ve ever held, I make sure to develop a one, three, and five-year plan with deliverable dates and success criteria. This is where I differ from my vision—on the strategic plan, I only put down things that I need to accomplish and can measure success. Otherwise, the value is intrinsic. I’m not saying that it isn’t valuable, but you can’t communicate the success if you can’t measure it. In my opinion, lofty goals or success by achievement don’t belong in a strategic plan. In order for me to sell my vision, I have to show them what the results will be if they buy in—in three years, we will be “x” much stronger, in five years, our staff will be “y” more productive/efficient/effective, in one year, our department will be “z” more profitable. Fundraising, community involvement, team building, staff development, fiscal management, facility improvements, training evolution, academic involvement, and, of course, performance—they all need to be part of the plan, communicated to the pertinent constituents, and tied back to the vision.

Here is an aside. When I was at Georgetown, the tennis program complained that they couldn’t come in to train whenever they wanted. They also complained that many times an intern trained them instead of a full-time strength and conditioning coach. I heard things like “there are only eight of us,” “we have class,” and “she doesn’t understand male athletes.” So I called a team meeting with the head coach and all the athletes from the men’s and women’s teams. I put a ten-slide PowerPoint presentation together and showed them how we set the weight room schedule (due to team size, energy system requirements, in-season versus out-of season, contact sport versus non-contact sport, overall adherence to the strength and conditioning department, requested times, and staffing levels).

I had them rank their team in order of importance on each of those criteria and evaluate how well they reciprocated when strength and conditioning asked them to show up on time, work hard, and so on. I took it one step further and showed them my budget, what I had for new equipment, how I funded my interns, and how alumni involvement funded much of the department and explained why being an athlete is a lifetime commitment, not just a four-year commitment. I also shared with them what would happen if they modified their behavior. I shared my strategic plan and reiterated the vision of the department and their team. They had no idea that there was so much involved in setting a schedule and finding a coach. The next day, the team not only showed up, but they brought our intern lunch to show their appreciation and assigned workout captains to help hold the team accountable. Communication, demonstration, integration, and implementation—it happens more than you realize.

Professor Hamer, I apologize for rambling. I thought that this would be a simple response to three questions, but I feel that I could write ten more pages. Before everyone falls asleep from my rambling, I wanted to make a couple more points in regards to selling your vision.

There isn’t any environment—and I worked for Goldman Sachs for two years, so I’m very confident in this statement—where the ability to detect fraud is more prevalent than in college athletics. The mission, vision, and plan, if the athletes, coaches, and administration don’t see hard work, are fish crap. I thought that this would change when I made the step into administration, but even at this level, nothing gets more credibility or respect among coaches and athletes than hark work. Period. I have made more mistakes than anyone, but I think that most people I’ve worked with agree that the intentions were sound, the mistakes were honest, and they wouldn’t happen twice. If you really want to sell your vision, do it face to face at 5:00 a.m. in the morning or 8:30 p.m. on a Friday night. You do it when your athletic director is in between meetings walking down the hall, after film with a head coach on a Sunday night, with an athlete in the locker room two hours after a loss, or with a co-worker who should’ve left three hours earlier but felt bad because 9 to 5 is a half day.

I was going to edit down Augie’s response, but it was great to see how emailing others can get you a great deal of information with just a few questions, so I left in his ramblings at the end. With all this information, I implore you, as a new strength coach (or as someone like me who’s been at the same job for a while), to go out and sell your vision. But, as you can see from these responses, know what you’re selling first.

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By the Coach for the Coach: Perceptions

By the Coach for the Coach: Rules for Being a Strength Coach

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About the Author

Todd Hamer is the head strength and conditioning coach at Robert Morris University. He received his bachelor’s of science degree in exercise science from The Pennsylvania State University in 1999 and his master’s of science degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, in August 2002. Todd is a competitive powerlifter and his best lifts are a 545-lb squat, a 430-lb bench, and a 540-lb deadlift. He can be contacted at or