August 11, 2016 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Same job, different boss

How coaches can adapt under a new administrator


The longer we work in the sports industry, the likelier it becomes that we will experience a change in the leadership of our organization. Turnover is a common reality at any school, so learning to accept this is an important part of moving forward.

I am in my eighth year at Covenant College (Georgia) and have served under three different directors of athletics. While there are understandable reasons for the departure of each athletic director, when somebody new steps in there is often a level of trepidation among the troops. Instead of facing this situation with anxiety, we will explore how to adapt well under a new administrator.

Professional growth

Each athletic director I worked under came with strengths and weaknesses in their leadership styles. Having the privilege to work under a number of contrasting leadership styles provided me a front seat to learn what works well and what is ineffective. If I had worked under just one athletic director for the last eight years, it’s unlikely that I would have observed or be as open to employing different leadership techniques.

Learning to recognize the benefits of different leadership styles has also forced me to be well-rounded in my own approaches to both management and leadership of our staff. Consequently, I am now better prepared to fill the role of an athletic administrator in the future.

Additionally, each new leader has come with their own goals for the athletic department. Areas such as on-field success, administrative effectiveness, transparency and teamwork have been emphasized by different athletic directors at different times. Each of these things has been a tremendous help to my career as well. While there was an initial period of adjustment to these changes, it allowed me to grow in each of the different areas of emphasis, ultimately developing me into a more effective administrator.

Leadership change is also a chance to present your ideas that were potentially overlooked by the previous administration. For example, if you have a great fundraising idea or plan for how events can be run more effectively, this may be your break to pitch the idea. Even if your idea is not immediately embraced or implemented, the new administrator will appreciate your desire to improve things, especially in an area that is outside of your regular responsibilities. This can be a great way to show that you are concerned about the overall departmental success, not just your own area of oversight. If your idea is accepted, not only is it a good resume builder, it can also help get your relationship with your new boss off to a great start.

A fresh start

New leaders may be appointed from within your ranks or may arrive from another institution. In either scenario, you need to be prepared to adjust to a new boss. Change is not always easy, but if you can learn to embrace this development then you may be able to use this situation to lead to your own professional growth.

It goes without saying that this situation has an impact on one’s career, but that impact has the potential to be positive. No matter your relationship with your previously supervisor, you now have the opportunity to use this situation to your advantage.

This is even true if one of your coworkers becomes the new athletic director. While you may have already had some professional interaction with him or her, they have yet to evaluate you as your supervisor. In contrast, a person coming in from outside your organization also provides a fresh start for you as they will not be privy to the past, positive or negative.

In my experience, a new athletic director has taken one of two approaches. Either they come in and make no changes to the current structure that is in place or, in one case, I was a part of a reorganization of the athletic department. This restructuring afforded me the opportunity to move from my role as assistant director of athletics into a new role as associate director of athletics. It is important to identify which approach your new boss plans to take and determine your approach as a result.

Asking the right questions

As a new leader steps into his or her position, you should request to have a meeting with them during their first few weeks on campus. Treat it as a job interview and be prepared to talk about your past success. Also, be sure you are engaged and taking notes during this time.

There are athletic directors who like to hire their “own” people; this is your chance to become one of them by selling your value. You can also learn more about your new boss and gain some insight into how they plan to move forward in their role, whether engaging in a reorganizational effort or keeping the status quo.

If the new athletic director was an internal hire, you should already have some idea of what you are getting into. As you reflect on this, be sure to think through the best ways you can interact with and support this person in their new role. Should the hire be an external one, you can still arrive prepared to your first meeting. If you were not a part of the search committee, you can begin by consulting with those who were in attendance to gain additional insight into this individual. Talking with your other contacts who may have worked with your incoming athletic director are great resources as well.

As you consider what topics to cover with your new boss, here is a list of questions to guide your preparation for this transition.

  • How can we work best together?
  • How do you prefer me to communicate with you?
  • What level of detail do you want concerning my department?
  • What would constitute “early wins” for you?
  • What outcomes do I need to avoid?
  • What am I expected to accomplish and in what time frame?
  • Do you have any areas of concern for me?

The last thing to consider is your own professional advancement. Do you have the goal of moving from an assistant coach to the head job? Perhaps you prefer a head coach to assistant athletic director role, or even becoming an administrator in the future.

When a new leader steps in, don’t be afraid to share your career ambitions. You should even consider asking for advice on reaching those goals. This shows that you are motivated to improve and advance. It may also position you for advancement should there be any type of reorganization in your department.

Moving forward

Now that you have an understanding of your new boss, keep them updated on your accomplishments. This reinforces your value and shows that you are engaged in your work and perhaps worthy of a promotion. Also, try to identify a problem that you can solve for your new leader. Something as little as helping organizing game contracts or team travel is easy for your and continues to place you in a positive light. Through all of this, strive to be agreeable early on while picking your battles.

Remember that you both want this relationship to go well. However, if any changes are made to policies that affect you or adjustments are made to your job, don’t take it personal. Your new supervisor is trying to do what he or she believes is best for the overall success of the organization, not looking to make things unnecessarily difficult for you.

It’s important to realize that despite your best efforts, you may struggle with your relationship with your new boss. It’s important that you are indeed putting forth your best effort to make the relationship work. If you are truly invested in that, you may have done enough to grow your résumé at the same time. In the end, you may need to keep that résumé updated if you decide to leave your organization. Nevertheless, you will have learned what is important to you in a leader and hopefully identified your own skills that need improvement.

Ultimately, you can move forward at your current organization or move on. The choice is yours.

Tim Sceggel is the associate director of athletics for compliance and operations at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

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