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Advocates for Athletic Equity (AAE) just concluded its annual "Achieving Coaching Excellence" (ACE) Professional Development Program for basketball coaches June 6-9 at the NCAA Headquarters in Indianapolis.  Eleven of the brightest ethnic minority men and women's college basketball coaches participated in the program.


During the four-day intensive program, participants were able to meet with athletic directors, search firm representatives, current head coaches and athletic administrators to learn about the essential qualities of successful head coaches, and to discuss issues impacting head coaches in today's college athletics.


As a part of the opening day's Athletic Directors panel discussion, Greg Byrnes, athletic director at Arizona, stressed the importance of developing a strong relationship with your current AD to take on additional responsibilities like budgeting, scheduling, public speaking and community involvement to assist you in preparing to becoming a head coach. Mark Alnutt, deputy athletics director at Memphis, stressed the importance of proactively meeting as many athletic directors as possible when attending events such as the NCAA Final Four, NACDA, other professional development programs, and conference road games.


"It's not about who you know; rather it's more important who knows you that ultimately will help you to become a head coach in this business," stated Alnutt.


The first day concluded with the men's coaches participating in a fireside chat with Tubby Smith, the new head coach at the University of Memphis. Coach Smith, known for developing programs, stressed the importance of establishing meaningful relationships with your athletic administration when taking over a program.


"As a new head coach, more than likely you are not taking over a winning program. It's vital for you as a new head coach to establish relationships internally to create support during those rebuilding years when it's really tough on you and your staff," echoed Smith.  


The women's coaches were fortunate to hear from Zenarae Antoine, head women's basketball coach at Texas State University, who spoke about the importance of having a philosophy of how you want to play.  She encouraged participants to not be afraid of making adjustments to their coaching style based upon the skill set of their team during that first year.


"In the beginning you will have good days and bad days.  You will not be able to handle it all. Delegate to your staff and don't be afraid to ask for help which is a sign of inclusiveness, not weakness," shared Coach Antoine.


Notre Dame Head Women's Basketball Coach, Muffet McGraw, Auburn Men's Basketball Head Coach, Bruce Pearl, and Reggie Howard, associate head coach for Cal State University San Bernardino, were all part of Day Three's morning session addressing the keys to dealing with the challenges of a first year head coach. Tom Crean, Indiana University head men's basketball coach, began the morning sharing with ACE participants how vital it is to a head coach's success to hire the right staff to help build his or her program.


"You must assemble the right amount of experience, passion, energy and teachers of the game that you trust to help you build your program. You will have some bumps in the road, but your staff must support one another during the tough days to weather the storm and believe in what you're building. That's most important to you as a head coach," stressed Coach Crean.


Later that afternoon the ACE program featured a panel discussion with search firm personnel. Participants were able to hear first-hand about the role search firms play in the hiring process as well as about current trends in hiring coaches in today's intercollegiate athletic environment. The exchange of questions and information was pertinent to clearing up some of the perceptions participants had about search firms, agents and the hiring process. The day was capped with a networking reception where participating coaches had the opportunity to network with athletic directors, search firm personnel and past ACE alumni, establish relationships and share their personal stories and aspirations for career advancement opportunities.


"The ACE program was much more than I had envisioned, and the opportunity to listen and interact with head coaches and athletic administrators was invaluable over these last few days. Now it's up to me to follow up with ADs and search firm personnel to assist me in my aspirations of becoming a head coach," stated Justin Hutson, men's assistant basketball coach at San Diego State University.


"The opportunity to interact and learn from head coaches, athletic directors and other participants during the ACE program will definitely help me to improve as a coach and leader of young women on and off the court," shared Latasha Butts, women's assistant basketball coach at LSU. "I feel blessed to have been selected to participate in this professional development program."


The lack of ethnic minority head coaches across all divisions of intercollegiate athletics has long been noted.  AAE believes the ACE Professional Development Program and the partnerships developed to support the initiative are making a difference in establishing relationships that are important in the hiring process for qualified ethnic minority coaches.

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