Harrington Continues Learning Process At UI

Sean Harrington is building an expansive resume for becoming a head coach. Everywhere he's been, he has learned new things from outstanding coaches. Each step is preparing him to become a head coach someday. He expands on his experiences up to now in part two of this report.

Sean Harrington is back at his alma mater after working in three other college programs. In part one, he talked about his experiences with Bill Self at Kansas and Rick Majerus at St. Louis. He continues with former Illini Rob Judson at Northern Illinois and now Bruce Weber at Illinois.

"Coach Judson is a great guy. He recruited me here, so I've really got a good relationship with him, first during the recruiting process and then at Northern Illinois. It was a great experience for me because it was my first chance to be an assistant coach.

"I got to go out and do a little bit of recruiting, being on the floor, doing the X's and O's and scouting reports. It was a good experience because I really knew I enjoyed it, something I really loved doing. It's something I'm trying to get back to as well."

Judson followed a similar path to what Harrington is doing to become a head coach.

"He's another guy who played in college, coached in high school and then worked his way up as an assistant and then his head job years later. He's been through the system.

"I think he worked for 4-5 schools, and they were all in the state of Illinois. That's kind of rare. You don't see a lot of people that don't leave the state. The knowledge he has of Illinois basketball, and the relationships he's created is pretty impressive."

His one year as an assistant coach made him hunger for more despite problems with the program at the end of his time there.

"Being an assistant coach, I got a little bit more hands-on. That was good. You got to have a little bit more control of the program. That was a good situation. I was there for three years. We had two pretty good years, and one year wasn't so good at the end.

"You learn a lot sometimes when things don't go so well. It was a good experience for me to see how quick something can change. You can see why things went wrong.

"I know one thing that just killed us the last year was we had a bunch of injuries. Three of our five starters were out for 10-15 games each. With a midmajor, you can't lose three of your top five players and expect to keep competing.

"That's something you can't control, but there are other things maybe we could have done a little better. You learn from that. It was good it happened when I was young, and I was able to bounce back. I know there's a chance you can land back on your feet."

Indeed, he bounced back quickly. Illinois coach Bruce Weber hired Harrington to be Director of Basketball Operations, something he'd already experienced at St. Louis University and Northern Illinois. In his second year now, he is also learning a great deal from Weber.

"Coach Weber is obviously a great X's and O's coach as well. He really knows how to get the guys to play hard. He's always got his teams up at the top of the defensive statistics. Defense wins, I think he's proven that.

"Just seeing how hard he comes every day, seeing how hard it gets his players to work every day. I think defensively it's been something really good to see what he does with his guys to get them to play hard."

His current job has drawbacks as well.

"I can be down on the floor, taking stats, observing. Watching what the coaches are doing. I do miss working with the guys. I enjoy doing that."

He is also unable to go on the road to recruit.

"I really miss the recruiting part, going out and seeing the kids. Building relationships with the prospects, their parents and coaches. When they get here, I can build the relationship. But I only see them on TV or tape before they come. I can't go out and recruit them.

"You don't feel like you know them quite as well when they get here. You want to do more. If the team is struggling a little bit, you just feel like you can't do everything you want to do because of the limitations of the job."

Still, he has benefitted from the different approaches and styles of his various mentors. He has learned a great deal about how to interact with different types of players.

"Absolutely. Everybody's different. Players react differently to different situations. Some guys get screamed at, and they come and play great. Some guys get screamed at and go and play worse. Some guys need that arm around the shoulder, 'Hey, it's okay. Keep your head up and make the next play.'

"It's good to observe that and see how some guys react. But just because you see one thing work doesn't mean it's gonna work the next situation if it's a different player involved. It is good to see the coaches interact with the players. You put it in your memory bank when he did that. Or, that didn't work so well, maybe we shouldn't do that next time. It's getting to know the players and getting to know how they react.

"Some players can watch game film, and they know exactly what they did wrong and won't do it again. Some guys watch game film, and next game you're telling them the exact same thing. Everyone learns differently. Some players see the film and know what the other team is gonna do, and some players need to see it drawn up. Some people need to physically go out and walk through the plays to understand it.

"You want to learn how each player learns so you can reach them, so you can coach them. So you can get them to respond the way you want them to."

Each coach tries to mold his team based on his general philosophy for playing the game. Different approaches require different types of recruits.

"Each coach is looking for a different thing. Certain teams always play a certain way. One player might be great for one system but not be good for another system. Some schools shoot a lot of threes. They don't need a 6'-10" bruiser inside banging and doing that kind of stuff. It's a great player, but he might not be great for your system.

"Another team might be a grind-it-out, defense, pound it inside team. You don't need a ton of shooters on that team. So you need to find what fits your system, fits your philosophy. That doesn't mean that just because someone's a great player, he's a right fit for your program."

The myriad variables must all be absorbed and understood to become a good coach. It is then necessary to find the right combination for your personality.

"There are characteristics that every successful coach has. But if there was one formula to follow, there would be a lot more successful coaches. There'd be a lot of teams winning games all the time. One thing doesn't work for everyone."

In part three, Harrington talks specifics of his job at Illinois.


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