Interviewing for Your First Coaching Job?

Notice: This article was written by  Kevin Reilly and Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at

I had the pleasure of interviewing for a head coaching job. I thought I would share the experience with you and offer some suggestions. Perhaps I should not be giving advice as I did not get the job, but I did learn a lot. Maybe you will be more successful. The last part of the article shows my responses if you're interested. The interview was oral, so my responses here are made with 20-20 hindsight... more like this is what I wish I said!


  1. Men, dress nicely to show respect for the job and the people taking the time to interview you. Slacks, coat and tie should be appropriate. Ladies ... you know better than me.

  2. Speak clearly and personably. Look everyone in the eye and be conversational. If you're nervous, that's normal. Take your time. It will really help if you're prepared. Try to anticipate some questions that may be asked and have solid answers ready.

  3. Remember to put the kids first. Sure, you are interviewing for your job, but the whole point is to help students. If that is your motive, it will show through. If you are worried about money, your win/loss record, your history as a player... that will show through, too.

  4. Don't be afraid to deviate from the script if you sense an important issue. Perhaps they are looking for someone who is bold and willing to share opinions.

  5. Do not denigrate the other candidates or the previous coach. You will appear negative and mean. This is an important job that needs a positive person.

  6. Ask the chief interviewer what he/she is looking for in a successful candidate.

  7. If you don't get the job, don't doubt yourself. There may have been a wide range of characteristics that were considered. Maybe the things you're best at weren't the most important for this particular position. Maybe the other candidates are very good, too.

  8. If unsuccessful, be graceful. Don't bad mouth the new coach, the process or the administration. If you still want to be a part of the program, try to help in a different way.


Applicant's Name: Steve Jordan
Position: Head Boys Basketball Coach
Date: September 22, 2000

Interview Questions:

  1. Briefly describe your coaching experiences at various competitive levels with High School age athletes.

  2. Describe experiences that you have had supervising coaches. What criteria would you use to judge the merits of assistant coaches?

  3. Describe your coaching strategies with respect to practice and competition.

  4. What criteria would you use to select student athletes into team levels such as Varsity, Junior Varsity, and C Team? How will you communicate the criteria to students and parents before tryouts? How will you communicate the results to the students and parents, especially students that are cut from the tryouts?

  5. If you were selected as the Head Boys Basketball Coach, how would you arrange coaching/practice time between the various levels of student athletes?

  6. How often will you have parent/team meetings and will your practice sessions be open to them and others.

  7. How would you handle multiple coaching instructions from assistants, parents, and others, if they were different from you own?

  8. What additional team rules and expectations will you have beyond Anchorage School District rules and ASAA Rules? How will these rules be communicated to students and parents?

  9. Describe discipline matters that you have had to handle during your role as a coach.

  10. Describe how you will fund raise to support the Boys Basketball program? How will you include parents, booster club, and students?

  11. How would you handle criticism from parents, students, fans, community members?

  12. Student safety is of primary importance in all sports. What safety issues are you aware of with respect to this basketball and what do you believe your role will be in ensuring student safety?

  13. Why would you be the best candidate for this position?

  14. Will your schedule be flexible enough to maintain practices between 2:30pm until 8:OOpm?

  15. Will your schedule be flexible enough to be present for all practices and competitions for the entire season, including the Region and State Meets?

My Answers (Your answers will differ!)

  1. I am in my third year of coaching 9-10th graders as a volunteer coach for the High School C Team. I also assist with the Junior Varsity players. I am in my 12th year of coaching players (from 4th grade to 12th grade) in the YMCA and other youth leagues as a mean of preparing them to play in high school competition. I have also coached several high school aged baseball teams.

  2. I have 20 years of formal supervisory experience working in the petroleum industry. I have been trained to manage large projects, supervise adults teams in company operations and administer budgetary and personnel duties. Managing assistant coaches will be similar to my work experience with adults. I will measure assistant coaches on their ability to teach fundamental skills, promote good team morale, employ full participation of all players, foster good sportsmanship and developing team skills in which all members of the group work together to create and achieve something better than their individual potentials.

  3. Practice is the classroom; the game is the test. We learn what we need to improve from the games. Record keeping is essential. From the records - shot charts and videotapes - players will learn the value of their decisions on the floor. In practice, we will learn to perform necessary skills to win and develop the understanding behind our strategies so there is no confusion in purpose in competition. While practices are planned and structured well in advance, flexibility is important to make adjustments as the team develops.

  4. I would plan to retain 36 players in the program. There may be circumstances to consider an extra player (a 13th team member) in extenuating situations, but 12 per team is the ideal number to provide adequate playing time and have sufficient reserves for injury or sickness. The varsity is for the most experienced and talented players. In a talent rich environment like our high school, each year should have a new crop of seniors that have grown up through the program and are prepared for their year of leadership. Some juniors may be experienced and talented enough for varsity competition, but I adamantly oppose placing freshmen on the varsity team, and would only consider a sophomore in the most extraordinary cases. There is great value in allowing talented underclassmen grow up together, learning to work together, being successful together ... instead of sitting on the varsity bench for a couple years.

    It will be tough selling this approach to the talented kids and their parents, but in a school with championship potential, people need to accept the long term value of growing through the program. Expecting to be a varsity star for 4 years is small school mentality. Players should take great pride in being a member of the C team or JV team. If they cannot, then how can they learn the depth of sacrifice needed to create a championship program? Players cut from the program should be told where they fell short, encouraged to improve and try out again next year. Such players are welcome in the spring and fall youth leagues.

  5. C team members must practice right after school due to the difficulty in arranging transportation. JV players can go after school or evening. Varsity teams should have the evening slots as most of the kids can drive themselves. Consideration should be given to coaches working outside the school for evening practice times.

  6. Once the teams are selected, a meeting with all the parents is crucial. In that meeting, the head coach must describe many things: coaching philosophy, discipline, expectations of behavior and performance, schedules, trip plans, etc. In addition, parents must be recruited to assist with the many supportive activities needed for a viable basketball program: fundraising, statistics, videotaping, publicity, web presence, trip planning, chaperones, booster club, etc.

    At the end of the season, time and effort should be put into an awards/recognition banquet as well as a huge thank you to the parents.

    In between those two events, though, it would be wise to have one or two mid-season meetings, either on a program wide basis or at least on a per team basis, so that the coaches can review progress and answer questions from parents.

    Parents should be welcome to attend practices as spectators. There are no secrets to hide. Parents may get a better understanding of what the team objectives are. Such knowledge would make the games much more interesting. Further, the parents could better exercise their role of reinforcing the coaching direction rather than second guessing the coach at home. Further, I encourage parental input, even on game strategy. Sometimes, parents have wonderfully insightful things to say. Why miss out on that?

  7. While I like to build teams through consensus, once we establish direction, everyone needs to support that direction. I would build consensus for the program direction with my coaches, then expect their complete support. I would describe our direction to parents, listen to their concerns if any, then expect their complete support. Lastly, the players will be expected to learn the direction under the guidance of the coaches and the support of the parents. The idea is to have one team, one direction. The team includes players, coaches, parents and administration.

    Coaches are expected to have differing viewpoints. Discussion and debate should be encouraged. But once the consensus is established, everyone is 100% committed to making that direction succeed. Parents, players, or even coaches that cannot support the direction through their teaching and comments clearly do not want to be part of the team.

  8. Additional team rules should be minimal. I like "Respect yourself, your team and your opponents and do nothing to harm that respect". It is so much more encompassing than a laundry list of do this and don't do that. Its all about respect for one another.

  9. There is one thing that all players value. It can be the most effective motivator. That thing is playing time. Players who are disrespectful should lose playing time privileges. The amount of time should correspond with the degree of seriousness of the situation. When I have had disruptive players in practice, I excuse them. They can watch quietly, or go home. If the instance is bad enough, a player may sit out a game. If the player cannot conform after this level of discipline, the parents may be consulted. If the parents are "on the team", then they will help bring the player around. If they are not "on the team", they will side with the player. That's why it is so important to have the scope of the team enlarged to its bigger family. Discipline must be perceived as fair to all members. If "star" players receive preferential treatment, team morale will collapse and teamwork objectives will be severely compromised.

  10. It takes a lot of committed people to raise funds. I propose a parent led committee that will stump for funds, organize fund raisers and supervise students who are performing fund raising services. The head coach should be involved, but not as the chair. The committee needs a responsible treasurer to record transactions. If the coach holds the check book, the monies will be suspect. Disputes over money have led to many coaches' downfall.

  11. Criticism comes with the job. However, if the coach is successful building consensus and enlisting parents as team members, there will be few to criticize. People don't criticize programs they are trying make successful. Further, with everyone working, this adage holds true: "You can't rock the boat if you're too busy rowing!" A coach that communicates with the parents will diffuse much criticism. If the parents have a chance to express concerns, chances are their needs will be met. Its when they do not understand what is happening or feel they have no voice that the criticisms get out of hand.

  12. Safety is major concern for any program. Players should be taught proper skills and techniques to avoid injury. Conditioning in practices should be not be overdone to the point where players are getting hurt. This is especially true early in the season when muscles are tight and sore. Conditioning is critical to a competitive program, but it can be destructive if overdone. The playing environment must be free of obstacles and clean of debris. The players can devote a few minutes each day to policing the area and sweeping the floor.

  13. Why am I the best candidate for this position? This answer should come from heart of every applicant and should be very personal and individually expressed. For me, my best attributes are drawing energy and ideas from people around me, committing fully to team goals and depending upon teaching sound fundamental skills and building character to achieve success. I believe that some players are more gifted than others, but if they are weak in character or are unskilled in the sport, then success will not be realized - only failed expectations. I like to help basketball players learn the sport from the ground up, understanding the purpose of their actions, learning to make advantageous decisions, accepting the consequences of calculated risks and accepting responsibility for their actions, favorable or not. I want to coach a team of respectful people, people who enjoy one another's company and who think positively about their school and community. I want people to look at our team and think - those kids have class - those kids have poise. Ultimately, I want people to wish their kids could be in our program more than any other. This is the kind of basketball program I want to work for. If I can't be the best candidate, then it is my hope these values will be promoted at this high school.

  14. Coaches who work regular jobs may have a tough time meeting a 2:30PM practice time. If this is a problem, speak up. Don't put yourself in a position where you are responsible for kids and you can't show up.

  15. Why coach if you can't attend tournaments or travel? A necessary question, I guess.

Making it to the Sidelines: Landing a Job in Coaching

contributed by Kevin Reilly

In a highly competitive job market, preparation, patience and a positive attitude all play a role in obtaining a coaching position at the high school or college level.

Nowadays, a college degree is a necessity for almost every line of work, and coaching is no different. So hit the books and get yourself a degree. In particular, majors such as physical education, secondary education or a minor in coaching preparation are a common ground for successful coaches.

A graduate degree is often necessary at the college level and won't hurt at the scholastic level. While in grad school, pursuing an opportunity to work in the athletic program as a graduate-assistant coach is one of the most effective things you can do in chasing your dream. While acquiring a master's degree at Springfield College I was fortunate to coach junior varsity basketball under Dr. Ed Bilik (who is now the rules interpreter for the NCAA).

Some other things that can help you in your pursuit of a coaching job is experience as a player, being a team manager of your college team, studying the x's and o's of your particular sport, and most importantly, summer camp work.

After college, I spent every summer traveling the northeastern United States and got the opportunity to learn from such coaches as PJ Carlesimo, Rick Pitino, Don Nelson, Jeff Van Gundy and even some lesser-known coaches as Brian Hammel (now head coach of Northern Illinois) and Gordon Chiesa (Assistant Coach, Utah Jazz).

You can learn from everyone, pick coaches brains and develop your style and philosophy. Networking and getting to meet people in the coaching profession can help you immensely. The old adage is often true "It's who you know not what you know that can help you."

Have confidence in your abilities and stick to your philosophy. Be prepared for different situations on and off the court or field. Some coaches have stated that they were "born" to coach. Don't let them fool you. It takes a lot of work.

I remember working a basketball camp with Jeff Van Gundy when he was a high school coach and less than 10 years later he was the head coach of the N.Y. Knicks, How did he get there? By networking, studying the game, and most importantly, working his tail off.

Who knows? Perhaps what happened to him can happen to you.