Building Relationships is One of the Most Important Parts of Collegiate Coaching

April 15, 2009

It's amazing what a little office chit-chat can accomplish. Back in late January-early February, Santa Clara Men's Basketball Director of Operations Jason Ludwig and Video Coordinator Jesse Pruitt were talking about the Final Four in Detroit and they agreed there were plenty of social gatherings for established coaches. But, there was almost nothing for young coaches breaking into the profession.

"We thought we should host our own social for young coaches, operations staff and video coordinators. Just a gathering of 20 or so young guys breaking into the profession to network with each other," said Ludwig. "We thought we'd keep it kind of small. Maybe just send an email out to a few friends and see what could happen."

The duo then contacted the Shades Lounge at the Greektown Casino Hotel to book a lounge in the hotel where they were staying. Then they put together a quick flyer for the FIRST ANNUAL YOUNG COACHES SOCIAL from 6-9 pm on the Thursday evening of the Final Four. Ludwig and Pruitt then put their own lists together and personally emailed each person on their list with an invitation.

They knew the event needed some star power too, so they called and invited Scott Garson (UCLA assistant coach) and Robert Eason (Maryland assistant coach) so they could come and share their own stories. They also contacted the Pump Brothers of Los Angeles to run the idea past them; and the twins, Dana and David Pump, founders of Double Pump, Inc., gave it a big thumbs up.

"Rob is the youngest assistant in the ACC and Scott was promoted from video coordinator to assistant coach at age 29. That is rare," said Ludwig. "We wanted to have a few people there who would make it more legitimate and draw people's interest. We were trying to bring people together to give them opportunities to share ideas and help each other out."

Little did they know that lone conversation and a few emails would turn into a networking evening at the Final Four for more than 120 coaches and staff, including a number of head coaches, and was termed the next day by The Citadel head coach Ed Conroy "as the talk of the town."

The First Annual Young Coaches Social drew coaches and staff from 24 conferences, in addition to Division II, Division III and NAIA programs. Also attending were Greg Anthony of ESPN and a number of recruiting websites. Head Coaches Bruce Pearl (Tennessee), Ben Howland (UCLA) and Ernie Ziegler (Central Michigan) also stopped by to visit with the young coaches and stayed.

"I walked away meeting more than 100 new professional contacts that I will continue to build relationships with," said Pruitt. "We all have the same common goals. This social allowed us all to meet new people so we can help each other out in the future."

Also in attendance were some of the top assistants in the country including Orlando Antigua, the then-Memphis assistant who recently moved to Kentucky with John Calpari; Russell Springmann and Rodney Terry, of the University of Texas, Kurtis Townsend from Kansas and Walter Roese of Nebraska.

"Friday night at the Adidas party I said hello to Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon and he said `Hey, sorry I didn't make it to the party last night, I just got in today.' I was shocked at first and then really honored," said Ludwig.

"It really exceeded our expectations and we are already talking about next year," said Pruitt.

It seems like a lot of young coaches and staff around the country are also talking about it as well.

"I met a bunch of great coaches that night. Everyone has their own experiences in college basketball. It was great to hear about what other basketball programs are about. Many conversations were about recruiting, and so the work never stops for young coaches trying to move up in this business," said Cody Fueger, the Director of Operations at Louisiana Tech. "I would say the event was a great success and I will definitely attend it next year. It was a good experience to meet people your age working through the same type of environment you are in."

Denver assistant coach AJ Kuhle said each person that attended had something to pass on to the other coaches and each coach personally welcomed the chance to create friendships, many of which may have been formed at the networking social.

"I was able to meet and speak with many of the young coaches from conferences outside of our own," said Kuhle. "Guys I see in the summer but not as much in season. I was able to connect with guys like Eric Jackson from Portland and Scott Garson from UCLA. There were many more that I look forward to keeping in touch with as well because of their willingness to share and grow as coaches."

Chris Croft, the Director of Basketball Operations at Nebraska echoed the others thoughts when he said, "it was a great opportunity to meet other assistant coaches and network."

"At the end of the day, this job is all about relationships," said Pruitt. "We wanted to create a forum to allow relationships to form. Without relationships, it will be hard for you to be successful in this profession."