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Champion Forum a pathway for minority coaches

Annual program prepares aspiring head football coaches

By Todd Goodale

Scottie Montgomery was the wide receivers coach at Duke University when he was selected to participate in the NCAA Champion Forum in 2013. Before attending, Montgomery knew he wanted to become a head football coach – but didn’t know how to achieve that goal.

Three years later, Montgomery is head football coach at East Carolina University. And in June, he was back at the Champion Forum, accepting an invitation from NCAA leadership development to speak to eight college football assistant and associate head coaches who, like him, aspire to become head coaches. The attendees were nominated by their head coaches or athletics directors to attend the annual training, which took place this year in Dallas.

 “I don’t think I can put it into words how much it helped me,” said Montgomery, who heard from keynote speaker David Shaw, the Stanford University football coach, during the forum three years ago. “I was so excited when I got the call to come to the Champion Forum in 2013. I was so excited, so I wanted to be prepared. That was the one thing – they gave us an opportunity to be prepared.”

Montgomery is one of 15 past forum participants who have gone on to obtain head coaching positions since the program began in 2006. The Champion Forum combines three days of in-person programming at the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics national convention, some preliminary work before the convention, and yearlong evaluations to provide minority football coaches the realistic preparation necessary to become a college head coach.

The learning allows coaches to clearly define their coaching philosophies, develop their coaching book and establish best practices for how to enhance the well-being of student-athletes.

The 2016 group featured eight coaches representing schools in the Atlantic Coast, American Athletic, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences.

“I think there's a ton of improvement that I need to get done,” said Jimmy Lake, co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at the University of Washington. "Obviously, at the same time, I think I've done some good things to get here. But even if I do become a head coach, and I'm hoping that happens, there's still going to be improvement.”

Besides Montgomery, other presenters at the 2016 forum included a college president, two athletics directors, the president and CEO of an executive search firm, the director of NCAA enforcement and a number of subject matter consultants.

Charley Casserly, former general manager of the NFL’s Washington Redskins and Houston Texans, is one of the forum consultants and provides candid feedback to the coaches based on his experience over 29 years in the NFL. Casserly engages the coaches in their coaching environment after an evaluation at the forum.

 “I’ll spend a day with them,” Casserly said. “I’ll critique them. I’ll sit in and watch them present. I’ll watch them in staff meetings. I’ll watch them on the field, and at the end of the day, I’ll sit down with them and let them know, ‘Here’s what I saw.’ While I’m there, I’ll talk to the head coach and athletics director, and we’ll come up with a plan of self-improvement in that offseason.”

Casserly shares real-world examples about what it takes to get a head coaching opportunity. One of his favorites is Lovie Smith, former head coach of the Chicago Bears and first-year head coach at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“When Lovie was the Buccaneers linebackers coach in Tampa, every week he would draw up a practice plan as if he was a coordinator. He would draw up a game plan as if he was a coordinator.”

Smith interviewed for the Rams defensive coordinator job. According to Casserly, the team asked, “Why do you think you can call a game? How do you even organize a practice?” Smith pulled out a book with each practice plan and each game plan as if he was the coordinator of the Buccaneers.

“Right away, he showed he was prepared, and he had a plan,” Casserly said.

Success stories like that one resonate at the forum. Lake said, “After going through these last three days and learning from all these great speakers and then going through all these exercises, it has reshaped the way I am going to use my off time.”

The programming at the Champion Forum includes a simulated job interview. The coaches are provided the assignment in advance to prepare for the interview. Once in the room, they are asked questions in front of their peers, and then receive feedback following each answer. Each participant also receives a video with his answer to each question and the critique of that answer to use as a resource in future development.

Montgomery compared the simulated interview at the forum to his interview at East Carolina.

“It was set up almost exactly the way that an interview would be set up,” he recalled. “The questions were identical. The panel was about the same size. Of course, there weren’t other coaches in the room with you, but you had to be prepared in the same manner.

“The things that we talked about, the advice that you got after a session – it was spot on,” Montgomery continued. “If you come down and do the work, there’s no way that you won’t be ready for your opportunity when it comes.”

The 2016 forum participants left Dallas energized to improve and learn from their current head coach and athletics department and university staff on campus. They said they plan to commit themselves to doing what it takes to be considered for a head coaching opportunity in the future.

“For me going forward, it's a big-picture view,” said Charlton Warren, defensive backs coach at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “It's more of, ‘What am I doing on a weekly, daily, yearly basis to become a better CEO and head football coach?’ Because you're not going to get there just doing the same things you've been doing.”