5 Tips for Creating a Culture in Which Assistants Can Challenge the Head Coach

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor

Unlike in college football, high school head coaches rarely hire an entirely new staff when they start with a new program. For that reason, one of the hardest tasks they face is earning the trust of assistants who worked under the previous head coach.

Josh Lucas took over as the Chelsea High (Mich.) head coach in May, marking the first time in 23 years that newly promoted athletic director Brad Bush would not be on the sidelines. Lucas left the remainder of the staff in place, although he recognized the challenge of serving as the boss to a handful of coaches who were twice his age.

With that very dynamic in mind, Bush brought in Lucas because he felt the young head coach could navigate his way through that challenge.

“It’s always a challenge when coaches have been on the staff for 20 years,” Bush said. “Josh did a great job of managing those personalities and bringing in the things he felt were important.”

Lucas took Chelsea to the Michigan Division 4 final in his first season as head coach. He shared five tips for a new head coach looking to gain the trust of his assistants.

1. Don’t criticize the way things were done in the past.

“The worst thing I could have done was completely change everything for a team that made the playoffs 22 of the last 23 years. There were not a lot of culture things to change.”

2. Borrow ideas from the previous head coach.

“I met individually with each member of the offensive staff, and found out what they liked from before I got here. I tried to put my stamp on it without completely changing the offense. I fit their playbook to my style of spread, no-huddle. I talked about what they did well and fit it to my offense.”

3. Keep the terminology the same.

“I figured it’s a lot easier if I learn new terminology rather than make all of my assistants and players learn something new. I wanted to make it as simple as possible for the kids. I think that helped us. We kept it similar to what they had before and I adapted to the way things were called.”

4. Have a weekly game plan meeting with the entire staff.

“I want everybody to contribute and have a voice. We’ll go through each coach’s thoughts during our Sunday meetings. What do they like? What don’t they like? I always have final say on the game plan, but their voices are heard.”

5. Value their time.

“I fully trust my defensive staff, so I don’t interfere with their operation. I keep our meetings short. We’re in and out in two hours. If I came in and changed things up by asking for more of their time, I would have gotten a negative reaction from the players and coaches. Keeping the culture the same was a huge plus for me.”


What did Lucas change?

A new head coach needs to run his program the best way he sees fit, so Lucas knew he couldn’t keep everything the same as the previous head coach.

He ushered in more technology – with iPads on the sidelines and video cameras filming each practice.

“A lot of trust had to be gained,” Lucas said. “Once they felt like the trust was there, they were open to my ideas. We excelled at filming practices and breaking down the film after each practice. I asked them, ‘Why don’t we correct mistakes right after practice rather than wait until the next day?’ That was received well.”

Lucas also changed the way practices were run by moving away from the practice of scripting plays. He understood many of his assistants were accustomed to getting a play script before practice, so he continued to draft scripts but reserved the right to change on the fly.