REPRESENTATION: BETTER TOO EARLY THAN TOO LATE
By Aaron Swerdlow (Kauffman Sports Management Group)
Coaches that I speak with frequently lament that they lacked representation earlier in their careers, especially as representation has become commonplace and necessary. For head coaches, this is often because they are bound to contracts in which they are underpaid and provided insufficient resources for winning. For assistant coaches, frequent complaints are salaries below market rates, difficulty moving up the coaching hierarchy and hindrances to marketing themselves to decision-makers. Because of this, rising assistant coaches and head coaches on their first contract would find it prudent to procure representation earlier in their careers. Representation opens doors to promising new opportunities, provides legal protections, facilitates long-term relationships with search firms and frequently results in more lucrative coaching contracts. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, it is better to be three years too early than one year too late.
Opening Doors Early
As in most types of businesses, building genuine and mutually beneficial relationships is invaluable for college basketball coaches. Representation early in a career can increase earnings and help ensure that a coach has the best opportunities available. Given how busy coaches are, it can be difficult to network and pursue opportunities to move up the coaching ranks while also focusing on winning, recruiting and developing student-athletes. Representation can help ensure that coaches identify and secure the best opportunity to advance their careers and increase their earning potential. Without adequate representation, young coaches often experience lower earnings and missed opportunities since they are competing for jobs with other coaches who, with the help of representation, possess more resources necessary to succeed. For example, assistant coaches at Power 5 schools increasingly receive lucrative contracts with two or three years of guaranteed compensation. Representation can help up-and-coming assistant coaches at lower-tier programs have the opportunity to pursue such lucrative coaching opportunities.
A recent Sports Illustrated study found that the average assistant coach turnover rate for ACC, Pac-12 and SEC programs is over three assistant coach changes per a given four-year period. As assistant coaches change positions more frequently, knowledge of opportunities and salary trends, advocacy, increased compensation and networking provided by representation can be valuable for assistants to move up the coaching ranks. For assistants to be considered for head coaching positions, search firms and athletic directors frequently view candidates as having a window in which they are qualified to be a head coach. In some instances, it can take years of advocating behind the scenes to generate the buzz and name-recognition through storytelling necessary for assistants to become head coaches. Because of this, assistants should have representation early so they can begin to generate grassroots campaigns to raise awareness about their qualifications and accomplishments before their window closes.
Insufficient Legal Protection
As in most professions, it is important to have an expert review employment agreements to ensure that you have sufficient legal protections and the resources to succeed. Unrepresented coaches lack the negotiation experience, information about industry standards for compensation and the contractual expertise that can help coaches get more resources to succeed over the long-term. Mistakes made by head coaches without representation include not negotiating guaranteed money, sufficient assistant coach salary pools, recruiting budgets and performance bonuses as well as protection from termination for cause in their contracts, etc. When a pipe bursts in a home, you call a plumber; so too should a coach secure the assistance of a expert in contracts when negotiating their employment contract, especially since the terms of the employment have a direct impact on how a coach’s family lives, where a coach works and future career opportunities.
If a coach negotiates without representation, they are in an adversarial position with their athletic director, administration and university counsel, all of whom have information, experience and leverage. Representation helps to level this playing field. Furthermore, when it is time to negotiate a head coach contract extension, a coach with pre-existing representation isn’t suddenly acting as if they are big time. Instead, if a first time head coach had representation prior to his tenure with the school, his representative very often has a pre-existing relationship with the athletic director and knows how to best navigate the unique dynamics of extension negotiations. Finally, as the role of coaches becomes more prominent and coaching salaries increase, legal issues including real estate, charitable endeavors, tax planning and family law are of increasing importance. It is prudent to have a trustworthy representative with whom a coach has a longstanding relationship with when the time comes to address these more complicated legal and financial issues.
Build Trust and a Partnership
As I have previously written about on HoopDirt.com, trust and mutual respect are essential to a productive partnership with a representative. In some ways, finding a representative early is for the future, not just the present. A representative who begins to work with a coach early in their career believed in their ability before it may have been common knowledge and began helping a coach well before prominence and money were involved. With the increased use and importance of social media and constant sports coverage, it is especially important for young coaches to have guidance and a sounding board before making claims or public statements that can be detrimental to their career and reputation.
Also, if a coach asks for career advice, they are susceptible to receiving biased answers. Close friends, family, whether they mean to or not, can have their career recommendations tainted by personal opinions. An ethical representative will have their loyalties to a coach’s long-term career goals and provide guidance based on facts, previously negotiated and similar contracts as well as industry expertise. This helps prevent coaches from neglecting to move to a better opportunity or being underpaid based on their market value. A representative that you have a long-standing relationship with is likely to be honest without being self-serving and will consistently maintain their clients best interests as paramount.
Without a coach knowing, many of their peers with whom they are competing with lucrative jobs already have representation. These days, it is common, important and necessary for coaches to have representation. Athletic administrators understand that most coaches have representation and are willing to work with representatives. If an up-and-coming assistant or first-time head coach lacks the resources of representation, they are competing with coaches who have superior opportunities, a better network and more lucrative employment contracts. Four hundred years after being written by Shakespeare, his words ring true for representation— it is far better to be slightly early in procuring the benefits of representation than be too late.
For additional information about the benefits of representation generally and Kauffman Sports, please visit KauffmanSports.com.