There’s no easier coaching job than following a coach that the team–rightly or wrongly–didn’t like or respect. In that situation, everything you say is a breath of fresh air, the players hang on your every word, and the alumni give you hearty pats on the back when they meet you. It’s all good when you replace the unpopular coach.
Replacing the popular coach? That’s a whole different story. That’s the situation Sam Shweisky found himself in when he took over the coaching reigns of the men’s volleyball team at Princeton University. My first coaching job was actually with the man that Shweisky replaced and I’ve seen, first-hand, the devotion his current and former players lavish on him. There’s a saying that you don’t want to be the guy right after “The Guy”, but that you want to be the guy after the guy who replaced “The Guy”. Well, Shweisky’s the guy immediately after the retirement of “The Guy”…how did he navigate those waters?
4 ways to create a fresh team culture while honoring the past
- Take your time. Shweisky was in no hurry to step in on day one and change everything that the program had done in previous years. Unless you’re planning to leave your school quickly…what’s the rush? Sit back. See how things are done. Figure out what your priority list for change will look like and enact a plan rather than coming in, guns ablazing, changing everything in sight.
- Be good. Winning games goes a long way in terms of buying time with skeptical alumni and players. Shweisky had the good sense to experience success early and often. Greasing the wheels with some wins certainly makes whatever change you plan to enact a little easier for everyone to get behind.
- Meet with key alumni. The previous coach had amazing relationships with his alumni. He was connected to them in a very real way and the alums are all very passionate about their time and experience under that coach. So what did Shweisky do? He talked to them. He listened to them. He engaged them in meaningful conversations and assured them their old coach would not be forgotten.
- Connect with previous coach. In an incredibly smart move, Shweisky spoke with the previous coach. He was respectful of what he’d done to get the volleyball program to its present state and he’s made a concerted effort to continually reach out to him that is admirable.
I’m sure, like Shweisky, if you find yourself in this position and feel you need to tread lightly, these are great steps to take. Clearly, Shweisky had things he wanted to change about the program and he did it…on his own timeline. Slow and steady wins the race in coaching. We all aspire to be the kind of coach that our players will revere ten, twenty, thirty years after our time coaching them has passed. And we all would want our legacies to be respected by whomever we pass the baton on to.
Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches. I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!