Deserving of Each Other

Last evening, it was made public that West Liberty University Associate Head Coach, Kyle Cooper, was elevated to the position of Head Coach.

I have known Coach Cooper for several years now since he has been an assistant coach in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference turned Mountain East Conference when I was a head coach at Penn State – Beaver and an assistant at Clarion University.

From my interaction with Kyle, he has always been the consummate professional as women’s college basketball coach. Whether it was staying for the late AAU game at tournaments when he was trying to land the big recruit, breaking down just a little more film, or working with female student-athletes on the court, Kyle was always willing to do whatever it took to be a great assistant.

Put simply, he always tried to do what great assistants do: make the head coach’s life easier and always put the team before his ego.

Kyle made a somewhat controverisal move in 2013 when he left Wheeling Jesuit University for cross-town rival West Liberty University. By making the jump across town, he not only got to work with legendary coach Lynn Ullom, but he had the opportunity to observe and be mentored how to run an elite NCAA Division II program, make quality contacts with some of the best in the business and take the lead role in recruiting, game planning and many other facets of program planning. It was only an 11 mile move, but it made all the difference.

For an assistant (and head coach for that matter), to work in an environment that allows room to grow while continuing to be able pursuit ones professional goals and dreams IS EVERYTHING.

Unfortunately, not every coach has great mentors, support from their administration or even the personal resolve to allow them to persevere until a situation arises which allows for a vertical move. Sometimes assistants get antsy and jump at any chance to become a head coach, even if it is a subpar situation. This is all in an effort not to get labeled as an “assistant” forever. Other coaches may get out of the game completely because the assistant coaching salary, especially at the DII or DIII levels, may not be enough to support themselves or their families. When you weigh the time requirements along with the modest financial compensation at most institutions, these factors can really be the deciding reasons for assistant coaches looking for an opportunity to be a head coach to make a tough decision about their vocation and leave the professional altogether.

Since head coaching jobs are so far and few between, coaches should celebrate West Liberty’s decision to promote Coach Cooper for the following reasons.

First, the administration didn’t open the position to a lengthy national search. Instead, they looked at Coach Cooper’s entire body of work since he has been at West Liberty and made a value judgment on his ability to lead the women’s basketball program. Kyle’s approach to his position over the past four seasons proved he was worthy of the title “head coach”. By not opening a search, yes it may not have given others the ability to interview and show their competence, but it also didn’t waste potential applicants time or money by putting on a “dog and pony show” when they knew who their hire was going to be. We all know that the hiring process is brutal, filled with emotional rollercoaster moments throughout, so to spare this anxiety for everyone involved, especially the Cooper family, is tremendous.

In addition, the decision to promote Coach Cooper keeps the program running seamlessly and will most likely not make for a wave of transfers, something plaguing college basketball at all levels, because Coach Cooper not only recruited all of them but he has a personal relationship with them as well. I am sure that most if not all of the student-athletes are excited about continuing to have Coach Cooper as their coach and leader.

Moreover, the process was not some “political move” or “inside job” made by administration to satisfy an alum base or booster. It was not some new administration or current administrator putting “their guy/girl” in the job who was not qualified but rather a figurehead or personal friend. It was not the administration opening the job up to find a an ex-professional player or alum to make a “splash” hire. It was not the administration hiring a “big name” who has coached basketball but never (maybe) women’s basketball before, or worse yet, never been a coach at all. The hire was also not an administrator hiring someone to fill a quota.

No the hire of Coach Cooper was none of that. Rather, West Liberty had no agenda. Instead they evaluated Coach Cooper’s four years on the Hill and took that four year job interview at face value. West Liberty rewarded Coach Cooper with a promotion because he EARNED THE POSITION. Period.

This hire has helped restore some of my faith in the hiring process in women’s basketball. Kudos to West Liberty University President Dr. Stephen Greiner and the athletic administration for how they handled this entire process. Coaches everywhere would be lucky to be treated with this type of loyalty and respect that Coach Cooper experienced.

Hopefully other administrations will look carefully at their upcoming open positions, and whether it is opening the position up for a national search or promoting from within, they must do the what is right from both the program and its current and future student-athletes. It must be noted that depending upon the situation, either option can be the right decision. It just has to be made with the student-athletes and the program in mind and nothing else. No agendas please.

With all of that in mind, most importantly, a coach who has paid his dues now gets an opportunity to play out his adulthood dream while his wife and son get to cheer him on from the stands.

Congrats West Liberty University and Coach Cooper. All the best in the future.

You deserve each other.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo






Division I – Social Media Tip Sheet

Here is new legislation that NCAA Division I coaches and prospective student-athletes both need to know regarding social media.

An NCAA Proposal (2015-48) was passed by the NCAA’s legislative council this past spring and took effect Aug. 1. The proposal stated:

An athletics department staff member may take actions (e.g., “like,” “favorite,” republish, “tag,” etc.) on social media platforms that indicate approval of content on social media platforms that was generated by users of the platforms other than institutional staff members or representatives of an institution’s athletics interests

Here is a Social Media Tipsheet for your convenience.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

Lovie’s New Gig and the Rest of the Story

In the coaching world when one person gets a chance, another coach is getting their pink slip.

So was the case at the University of Illinois, who announced that Lovie Smith would be the next Head Football Coach for the Illini (see Shannon Ryan’s article in the Chicago Tribune).

Smith, a well respected NFL Head Coach and great person, himself was done dirty by the brass in Tampa Bay. After just his second year, Smith was surprisingly fired despite his team showing progress with a rookie QB at the helm.

With this in mind, I am ecstatic for Coach Smith to get this opportunity to run his own program again.

Nevertheless, every hire means a fire (or non-renewal). In this case, Bill Cubit was on the chopping block. Several programs within the athletic department were said to be in turmoil, including the football program before Cubit was the interim and then eventual head coach.

What stood out to me was a few things:

  1. A new athletic director and former Illini Tight End, Josh Whitman was hired in mid-February (was D3 AD at Washington University in St. Louis in his prior position).
  2. According to Ryan’s article: “Whitman worked at lightning speed to bring Smith to Champaign. Through a common friend and colleague, former Illini coach and Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner, Whitman connected with Smith shortly after Whitman was named AD in mid-February. The two met at Smith’s home in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, and each was impressed with the other. On his first official day on the job Saturday, Whitman fired coach Bill Cubit, who had been promoted from interim status at the end of last season with a two-year contract. Smith flew to Champaign on Sunday.”
  3. According to an AP article (see article): “I just came in and (Whitman) said, ‘I’m letting you go,'” Cubit told The Associated Press of the meeting on Saturday…The Illini finished 5-7, 2-6 in the Big Ten last season under Cubit, whose son Ryan was also fired as offensive coordinator. The elder Cubit said he wasn’t given a detailed reason for the firing. ‘Everybody told me I had (at least) this year,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of shock going on. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s a funny place.'”
  4. Also, current student-athletes in the football program learned of Cubit’s dismissal through social media.
  5. Whitman had obviously been negotiating talks with Smith while Cubit still had the position and before Whitman’s first official day.

It seems as though, despite a glamour hire by Whitman, Cubit was not the problem and he was not even given the courtesy by Whitman to talk to him, evaluate him and get to know what his culture and philosophy were about.

This hire pulls at me in both directions because Lovie was dismissal by Tampa Bay was just as shameful as Cubit’s by Illinois.

The bottom line is: Great for Lovie. Thoughts go out to Cubit and the former Illini Football staff. Shame on Whitman.

I do understand (see Brian Hamilton’s of Sports Illustrated’s take), but do not agree with Cubit’s abrupt firing, but no matter what Whitman’s decision, it was handled entirely unprofessionally.

Not to mention, why were the student-athletes not afforded the respect to be told before the media was notified? It has to be about the student-athletes. Period.

It begs the question that I always ask myself…”who is evaluating the evaluators?”

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo




The Case for…Chip Kelly – Melissa Jacobs

This recent Sports Illustrated article by Melissa Jacobs, makes a case for Chip Kelly being the right hire for the San Francisco 49ers. I think it is at least a logical argument for hiring a coach who seemed to not have the necessary personality to connect with his players during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Although having the necessary tactical skills are very important, nothing is as important as treating players with respect and getting to know them on a personal level, in my opinion. X’s and O’s can be learned, personality and caring can not.

Although the 49ers do need a whole system transformation in order to get the necessary production out of Colin Kaepernick, it will be interesting to see if Kelly can make the changes necessary or if the 49ers should have went with an “Unusual Hire” (see “Taking a (Calculated) Risk in Hiring”) to fill its head coaching vacancy

The Case for…Chip Kelly- Sports Illustrated – Jan. 25, 2016 – Melissa Jacobs

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo


Hoop Dirt Article: Game Planning for Mother Nature (2-10-14)

With the impending weather that the Northeast is expecting and the Mid-Atlantic has already experienced, here is an article entitled “Game Planning for Mother Nature” that I wrote for / in February of 2014.

Hopefully these tips will help coaches navigate around delays, cancellations and other unexpected happenings when harsh winter weather strikes.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo


PBL’s Jamestown Jackals Use Thankful Approach in Their First Season of Play

Jamestown Jackals owner Kayla Crosby, who leads one of the newest franchises in the Premier Basketball League (PBL), shared this Michael Hyatt article with me on Thanksgiving Day.

Hyatt’s article “Why Giving Thanks Gives You An Edge“, describes why being thankful is important and can help parents, leaders, athletes, businesspeople, etc. in their daily lives.

What stuck with me was Hyatt’s notion that, “positive emotions like gratitude help us become more resilient. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met anyone who wins at very much for very long without resiliency.”

Resiliency is a must in every level of athletics and in life. I think most would agree with this sentiment. However, using positive emotion as the primary means to becoming more resilient can be disputed I suppose.

Nevertheless, Crosby, the 20-something owner of the non-profit Jackals, has already adopted a unique positive approach to build resiliency in her organization.

Her #IntegrityFirst motto is “Stop Surviving, Start Thriving”. This slogan is meant to be a way of professional conduct and life for the fledgling Jackals.

It is refreshing to see a young entrepreneur adopt such a positive approach in the competitive world of professional sports.

At the professional level especially, wins and losses can be the difference between players and coaches losing their jobs, franchises remaining afloat, and leagues being profitable. Undoubtedly, the Jackals will have quite a task ahead of them as the need for positive energy will be tested throughout their first season.

However, this resiliency will manifest not due to creative slogans but because of Crosby, her coaching staff, her support staff, the players the Jackals sign and the Jamestown (NY) community. It will truly be about the people in the organization and the community and their ability to be grateful, positive and enthusiastic no matter what the situation may be.

Hyatt notes, “we feel better, perform better, and respond to life’s ups and downs better when we’re grateful.”

Now to find people who can actually do it on a daily basis.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

Because He(lton) Can

On December 1st, I wrote a piece about Clay Helton, the newly appointed USC Head Football Coach, and how Pat Haden, USC Athletic Director, chose to retain the interim head coach. (See previous Blog post: “After Further Review…”)

Now less than 24 hours after USC’s embarrassing 41-22 loss to Stanford, it is reported by ESPN Staff Writer, Kyle Bonagura, that Helton has “fired defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, defensive line coach Chris Wilson, defensive backs coach Keith Heyward and offensive line coach Bob Connelly. They will not remain with the program in the lead up to the Holiday Bowl against Wisconsin on Dec. 30.”(See Bonagura article)

Although this is devastating news for the fired coaches and their families, this was the right move for Helton and for USC Football.

I say this was the right move for Helton because he did not merely “clean house”. Instead, Helton did it the right way by making value judgments based on who and what was best for his program.

As Helton makes the program his, one of his top priorities is to build a coaching staff that he feels will help USC get back to a championship level. Therefore, Helton retained four of the coaches from former head coach Steve Sarkisian’s staff and fired the four previously mentioned coaches as well.

One can only speculate, but the coaches that Helton fired most likely were Sarkisian loyalists and/or had philosophical conflicts with Helton and/or X’s and O’s differences so therefore Helton needed to act quickly make the change. Communication, listening and decisiveness are key leadership qualities that coaches going through this sort of chaos must exhibit.

As Helton noted, “You get the opportunity to be the coach at USC one time, and I’m going to bring in the coaches that I feel can help us toward a championship.”

Helton added, “This was entirely my decision and one thing I appreciate about Mr. Haden is he’s given me the right to run this football team exactly with the vision that I see, and I really appreciate that as a head coach. This is my decision as we move forward.”

Haden’s support is crucial to Helton’s success. All any coach can ask for is the support of his/her athletic director and to have the ability to build their program in the manner in which they see fit.

Anything less than full support will surely lead to a compromised execution of the head coach’s vision.

With full support of their administration, head coaches have a greater chance of long-term success and can truly build a program where trust, family values and accountability are core values instead of deception, gossip and cliques.

If Haden and USC truly believe in Helton, this was the only way to move forward with the football program: Do it Helton’s way.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo