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Public Presence

In some sports more than others, coaches are in the spotlight during games. Basketball and volleyball coaches certainly are, while baseball coaches can often be hidden in a dugout.

Regardless, all coaches are in the public eye through their work with athletes. Community members expect coaches to say and do the right thing, whether on the field or not. How should coaches think about their public presence?

University of Michigan Head Men’s Basketball Coach John Beilein says his formula is simple: Always do what you think is right. “I don’t propose to be saintly in any way,” he says. “I just try to do the right thing as I see it. Sometimes it doesn’t always turn out to be right, but that’s what I try to do.

“When it comes to rules, coaches should ask themselves, ‘What is the spirit of the rule, and why is it here?’—not ‘What is a way around the rule?’” Beilein continues. “If you’re always trying to push the envelope to the edge, sometimes that edge is closer than you think, and you can compromise your integrity.”

That attitude is a key start to being respected, and then admired. But when you are not at the highest level of the sport, you have to work a little harder at your public presence. For some, it means taking a step back. “When I started coaching, I did not think about how I came across,” says Jim Boone, Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Delta State University, whose first stint as a head coach was at California University of Pennsylvania, where he compiled a 228-71 record over 10 years and took the Vulcans to two NCAA Division II Final Fours. “I was extremely ambitious, but at age 27, I was not ready to be a head coach. I was very guarded, very protective of myself, and I was probably considered to be arrogant.

“When I entered into my coaching career, I’m certain that I did not sit down and say, ‘This is the perception I want to give, this is the presence I want to portray publicly,’” he continues.

But by finally opening up to others’ suggestions and realizing older coaches could be great mentors, he began to understand the importance of his public presence. “I want to win as much as anybody else, but I came to understand that coaching is about a lot more,” says Boone, who has made stops at Tusculum College, Robert Morris University, and Eastern Michigan University and notched his 500th victory during the 2015-16 season.

Scott Fitch, Head Boys’ Basketball Coach at Fairport (N.Y.) High School, is another veteran who learned to pay attention to his place in the spotlight. And he points out that there’s more than your personal image at stake—very often, how you are seen affects how your team and even your fans act. “You often hear that a team takes on the personality of the coach, and I think that’s true,” he says. “I also think that parents and the crowd take on the personality of the coach. For example, if you see a fiery coach, that team tends to have fiery crowds.”

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