I don’t pay attention to a lot of the stuff that’s written about what we do here or what people think, but someone came up to me the other day and told me someone had written about how this is one of the toughest jobs in sports. As it turns out, there have been several of these lists written over the last few years, and the head coaching position at Kentucky is always ranked one of the top three or four in all of sports.
That’s nice of everyone to say, but I think it’s a discredit to what college coaches and leaders across the country do on a daily basis. Anyone who is coaching college student-athletes and is tasked with leading someone else’s child has a very difficult job. On the outside of what we do there is fame, recognition and all those things that people think make coaching desirable, but every job in college – regardless of the sport, regardless of the school – is trying in its own right.
At UMass we had to start at the bottom and get people on our campus, in our community and in our state to care. It wasn’t just about competing nationally to begin with; we had to generate interest in our own backyard. Memphis was no easier. We were left out of leagues as the college landscape changed, we were in a city that is a melting pot of other schools and we were in a state that is 90 percent orange.
Whether you’re at Detroit, Gonzaga, Texas State or Texas, every one of these jobs has its barriers. To say one is harder than the other is not fair to every other coach out there.
Now, what makes this job so tough? Here are four things that make it difficult:
1.) You have a fan base that wants the program to be transparent and wants every bit of information it can find 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. There is no such thing as too much coverage or too much information for this fan base.
2.) Every game you play – at home or on the road – is someone else’s Super Bowl. It’s marked on their calendar before the season begins, so you must get your team ready emotionally, mentally and physically every time you walk out on that floor or you will lose. Every single game matters.
3.) To win, you have to recruit the best players in the country. Getting them is difficult enough because you’re going against the best programs in college basketball, but have you ever coached a McDonald’s All-American? Have you ever tried to get four or five of the top players in the country to share the ball, to think like a team and to sacrifice for each other? It’s one thing to have one or two good players and play through those two while everyone else sets screens, rebounds and defends; it’s another to try to get balanced scoring so everybody has their opportunities.
4.) The exposure can be daunting. Every single game we play is on national or regional television. The highlights are on SportsCenter. If we lose, we’re the story of the night. There’s no game you can take off, no place you can hide. You are also the white elephant for the media. When they write about Kentucky or its head coach, it gets eyeballs. If that means writing something negative or breaking a story to get readers, they are named the writer of the year by their brethren. It’s just how it is.
The flipside of all that is the things that make this job so difficult are also what make it the best job in the country and the most satisfying. It’s why this job is so desirable. The work and the reward go hand-in-hand.
Here are the four things that make this job so great:
1.) I was driving in the car with my son the other day and I say to him, “Brad, why do you think everyone says this is the hardest job?” He says, “Because you’re expected to win every game, and if you don’t, the fans are all over you.” I thought about it for a second and I said, “Well, should you win all of your games?” He said, “Yeah.” And then I said, “Aren’t the fans a big part of it,” and he says, “Yeah.” That’s the best part of this: The fans DO care, and they’re passionate about everything we do. They become your ally, an army that stands behind you.
2.) Who doesn’t want to play where every game is the biggest on the schedule? There are no exhibitions here. There are no breaks. You never play in front of empty seats. As a competitor, you want to play in the Super Bowl. It forces you to be at your best every single day.
3.) At Kentucky, you can not only recruit the very best players in the country, you can recruit the best students. We’ve had a 3.0 grade-point average in five of the last six semesters, including this past term. We’ve graduated 10 players over the last four years. You don’t get every top recruit, but you can be involved with every kid. There aren’t’t many programs that have that advantage. You also have the best facilities, the best assistant coaches and the best support for you of any school in the country. Whether you’re talking about our practice facility, Rupp Arena, our locker room or the way we travel, this is the gold standard.
4.) The exposure here gives you a platform like no other. I’m not sure there is any other job that can promote the players quite like we do, that can give them a better chance of reaching their dreams, or that can put them in a better position to either graduate and move on to a successful career and/or play professional basketball. The exposure our kids get here from social media and national coverage is unprecedented. Every game is like an NBA Game 7. The support we can give them academically prepares them for the rest of their lives. And the facilities, the coaching and the staff are all in place with one agenda in mind: to help them reach their dreams and get them to understand that if they come together as a team, anything is possible. Also, because of this platform and the exposure of this job, you have a chance to inspire a state, to move people in a positive way, to jump behind causes that are dear to your heart, and to stand up for what’s right knowing full well it may not be the most popular thing. This job is bigger than you, but it also gives you an opportunity to do good while you’re in this seat.
It took me 20 years to get to a position like this. If you want me to talk about the fact that I walked uphill with holes in my shoes to school I can, but the reality is we all have a story to tell. This was a 20-year journey for me that I’m very proud of and grateful for, but I’m not going to say my job is tougher than any other job because I know how hard they all are.
There are things at coaching jobs across our state and across the country that are just as tough as this one, but I will tell you there is no better position to be in if you want to touch the people around you, from the fans, to the staff, to the players, the community, program and university. We deal with a lot here at Kentucky, but they are all things that make this worthwhile and satisfying.
Bringing back the Helmet Dunk