The Path to Coaching College Baseball
Over the years I have been asked many questions about getting into college coaching. I had asked myself that very question over a decade ago as I was looking to become a college coach. I have spent three years as an assistant coach and then the last five years as a head coach at the Division III level. Here is what I have learned in my journey to become a college baseball coach and what I tell people who are looking to get started.
In my experience it helps to have played at the college or professional level, but you can still get into coaching if you have not. The higher the level you have played at, the more doors will generally be open to you. For example, if you are a Division III player it is going to be more difficult to land a Division I job.
Experience in coaching is also a major factor, but obviously when you are starting out you generally don’t have much experience. So, to get that experience there are a couple of options. The first is to volunteer on a coaching staff, and is the way many coaches get their start in coaching. Often, once players are done playing they will be volunteer assistants at their current school.
The second way is to become a graduate assistant for a program. This is probably the more helpful of the two ways to get into coaching for a couple of reasons. Coaching positions at the college level mostly require a Master’s degree or willingness to work towards a Master’s degree. When Athletic Directors are looking at candidates, they look to see who has a Master’s, and use this to separate the candidates, although having a professional playing career can also be used as a screen this way. It is almost a must to have a Master’s degree in today’s environment.
There are many different types of graduate positions and programs and they are a great way to get your Master’s paid for. I applied to 50 different positions before landing a job. Often times these programs pay for a majority or all of your schooling costs and some offer stipends too. Being a graduate assistant is not a glamorous position, but is invaluable because you get not only coaching experience, but a Master’s degree also.
Even after completing your Master’s or being a volunteer, there is no guarantee that this will lead to a job. I worked as a graduate assistant for two years and then stayed on as an assistant for an additional year and the job market still looked bleak. I did not get much response or interest when applying for positions. What I have learned is that a lot of getting a job is about who you know. Getting out and networking is one of the most valuable things that can be done. For baseball, one way to do this is by attending the ABCA Coaching Convention, which is an annual gathering of thousands of coaches from around the country. (http://www.abca.org/)
Landing a Job
For me my break came when I got an interview with a program in which I had coached the athletic director’s son in Legion baseball and was friends with coaches within the college. It was all about luck and timing and not giving up, because especially as a Division III assistant, there is not much money involved.
Working Up to Being a Head Coach
At the Division III level, most positions are part time, and involve multiple different positions. My first head coaching position involved working a variety of different positions until it evolved into a full-time position. I worked as a security guard on campus, was an assistant coach for a sport I knew very little about, taught classes, and also drove the team bus for other teams. Obviously, this does not hold true for every school and is different at the different NCAA levels.
What Level to Coach at?
Deciding which level to try and coach is always an important question. Knowing what each level entails can help you decide.
- At the Division III level there is a maximum of 40 games that can be played, not including conference tournament games and NCAA tournament games. There is also a maximum of 19 weeks in which a coach at the Division III level can have contact with their players. So, on the coaching side there is more down time as a Division III coach and more time for other activities.
- At the Division II level, I believe, it is 56 allowable games. Coaches can have contact with their players all year round. After the fall season, coaches are allowed to work with players in small groups. There is a lot more time allowed to work with players and also more time consuming.
- Then at the Division 1 level there are also 56 allowable games, which has come down dramatically since the 1980’s and 1990’s, and again more time consuming.
For me coaching at the Division III level is enjoyable, because it allows me to have more time to spend with my family and have more of my summers off. Most contracts at the Division III level are 9-month contracts, so during the summer months (June-August) you can explore other opportunities while still getting paid.
Compensation usually is lower at the Division III level and will generally increase as you move up the NCAA levels. There is a wide range on the pay scale at the different levels and among the levels also. For me I started out making $16,000 a year in my first head coaching position and then that turned into a full time position at $32,000 a year. Then in my second head coaching position, the starting salary was closer to $50,000 a year. It just depends on the college or university you are at and also on your coaching experience.
Although this is just a brief overview, I hope that this information is helpful and informative. Here are some links to some useful sites that I have used over the years when I have been looking for jobs.