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So you want to be a division I-A head football coach?

Check the scorecard and see what kind of a chance you have!

The position of head football coach at a Division I-A institution is considered to be the zenith of college coaching jobs and is, naturally, a highly sought-after position.

The number of potential vacancies is decidedly finite. There are presently 112 such positions; and since the prestige, salary potential, and working conditions are celestial, every job opening is going to draw an army of applicants.

Almost every football coach is ambitious and competitive, and it is not uncommon for middle school, high school, junior college, and Division II and Division III coaches to keep a close watch on the job market and on the team brochures and resumes of the Division I-A schools.

("Hey, Coach Ross Shawn was an assistant at a junior college at my stage in football coaching!" ... "Am I moving up the ladder fast enough to make Division I-A by the time I'm 40?" ... "As a high school coach, can I realistically go after a Division I-A coaching job?")

The lower-level coach is always looking at such factors as professional-playing experience, levels of education, graduate-assistant experience, etc., and wondering whether a vocational adjustment might bring him closer to his dream of a Division I-A job.

In an effort to shed statistical light on the realities of major college head coaching, the authors polled every NCAA Division I football coach in 1997 on their careers and attitudes toward various aspects of coaching.

Nearly half of the 112 coaches (50) responded to the questionnaire, enabling us to gather the following information.


Ranged from 34 to 70, with an average of 47.96.

Average age when hired for their present position, 42.78.

Average age when hired for their first head-coaching job, 37.80.


All of the coaches had a bachelor's degree. Though the most common degree was Physical Education, by no means could they be considered stereotypical "dumb jocks."

Other undergraduate degrees included Mechanical Engineering, Business, Marketing, Accounting, Spanish, Math, English, Literature, and Zoology.

Two-thirds (66%) of them had a Master's Degree in such fields as Education, Counseling, Administration, History, Sports Science, Physiology, Math, and Management.

Only two of the coaches had a Doctorate.

Even though the coaches generally achieved high levels of education, only 12% said that they did in fact teach classes.


All of the coaches played high school football, and all but one played college football. 20% played in the pros.


Judging by the returns, anyone aspiring to a major college football job had better be willing to start as a graduate assistant. GA's are generally required to work long hours, seven days a week, while attending graduate school - enduring this for two years with very low pay (as mandated by the NCAA up until 1998 - usually about $500-$5,000 a year).
Experience Background


Graduate Assistant 38 100
Jr. H.S. Assistant 2 4
Jr. H.S. Head Coach 1 2
H.S. Assistant 18 36
H.S. Head Coach 11 22
J.C. Assistant 0 0
J.C. Head Coach 1 2
NAIA Assistant 5 10
NAIA Head Coach 1 2
NCAA Div. III Asst. 2 4
NCAA Div. III Head C 1 2
NCAA Div. II Asst. 6 12
NCAA Div. II Head C. 4 8
NCAA Div. I-AA Asst. 8 16
NCAA Div. I-AA Head C. 9 18
NCAA Div. I-A Asst. 49 98
NCAA Div. I-A Head C. 50 100
Professional Asst. 9 18
Professional Head C. 4 8

Since only two GA positions per school were allowed by the NCAA, there were only 224 Division I-A entry level football coaching jobs (GA's) in the world.

Every year the major colleges receive dozens of resumes for those two spots, and more than three-quarters (76%) of the 1997 head football coaches polled had worked as GA's. This was by far the largest work-experience background of the polled coaches.

In many, probably most, professions, the hiring is usually about "Who do you know?"

Coaching is no different.

38 coaches (75%) said that a personal contact did play a role in their hiring for their current head-coaching job.

The next best way to land that dream job is by being a coordinator. Half of all the responding head coaches had been either offensive or defensive coordinators when they were hired.

* 38% had never coached at any level below Division I-A.

* In professional football, 18 % had been assistants and 8% had been head coaches in their previous job.

Head-coaching in Division I-A is a tremendously prestigious position that pays top dollar and has all kinds of perks. But it isn't all a bed of roses. You work hard and the hours are long and the pressure is enormous. You have to win to keep a lot of people happy. And when you don't win, the job becomes very precarious.

Following is the gist of the coaches' answers to a series of job-satisfaction questions that we posed to them.

Most of the respondents (62%) listed speaking/fundraising as a major outside duty.

Another group declared that recruiting is one of the biggest negatives about major-college coaching. In the February 23, 1998 issue of NCAA News, Roy Williams, the basketball coach at Kansas, could have spoken for the entire profession when he said: "If it wasn't for recruiting, I'd work for the minimum wage and be the happiest guy in the world."

Chuck Curtis, who has coached both high school and college football, says in Dave Campbell's Texas Football, 1998, that he prefers coaching high-school football because of all the hassles and recruiting scandals (that you can read about in the papers almost every day).

Only 20% of the college coaches polled had overall records below .500.


If being a big-time head coach is your objective, become a GA, then a coordinator, and have some good connections.

Aim to make it at age 38, but be ready to accept recruiting and fundraising as part of the job. On the bright side: You will probably not have to teach classes.

If you are coaching in high school, you may not make much money, but when the season is over, you at least won't be somewhere on the road on Christmas.

Jason Barker, an M.ED., is the head football coach and athletic director at Trinity High School (TX); and Michael Moulton, an E.D., is a professor of Sports Administration at Northwestern State U.
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Author:Moulton, Michael
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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