Harrington Wears Many Hats In B-ball Role

Basketball head coaches are in full public view. Most everything they do can be observed and scrutinized. But they can't do their jobs properly without assistance from others on their staff. The Director Of Basketball Operations gets no credit for all he does, but his job is vital. Sean Harrington fills that role at Illinois, and for him it is a stepping stone to better things.

Sean Harrington's job at Illinois requires flexibility, patience and great attention to detail. He has a myriad functions that are essential to the program, and each day is different. One primary job is arranging all trips.

"It's so hard to describe my job because every single day is different," Harrington explains. "Of the things that stay the same, I'm in charge of all the travel. Getting the planes, getting the busses, hotels, meals on road trips. Getting the itineraries out. Making sure we have shootaround times and practice times on the road.

"If the trip goes smooth, it's good for the staff, it's good for the players. You don't want a hectic, helterskelter road trip and no one's ready to play or the staff isn't sure what's going on."

Harrington had to adjust the timing of the Michigan trip this year due to the threat of heavy snow. He must be ready for last-minute changes.

"Travel's always the big thing. It seems you give the coaches the itinerary, and then they always want to eat at this place instead or can't we leave at this time instead. Or why are we at that hotel? There's never been any major ones.

"If we win on the road, you can guarantee we're staying at that hotel again. If we lose a road game, sometimes we'll stick it out if we really like that hotel. But the coach may say, 'Hey, let's find a new one.' We're superstitious like that.

"Hotels always ask how was your stay. If we win, I'll say it was great. We'll be back again next year. If we lose, we'll say the stay was good and we'll contact you next year, but we may not stay there again."

Each season, unexpected problems crop up. Harrington must react quickly. He's used to it as he has held similar jobs at three schools.

"I think it was when I was at Northern Illinois, we had a commercial flight. We showed up and were supposed to practice at the school that night the day before the game, and three guys' bags didn't show up. They had their shoes, their practice gear, but three of them don't have anything.

"So we're scrambling. Someone's staying behind at the airport for those bags to show up. Another person ran out to get shoes. You can't prepare for that kind of stuff. You have to be flexible and adjust to the situation and make it okay.

"Another good one is when there are mechanical problems on the plane. You have no choice but to sit there and wait, unless we want to walk or make the 8-9 hour bus ride. Those are the things that fall on the Operations guy's shoulders. You can never expect what you're gonna get. You prepare for everything."

Another major Harrington job is film exchange so opponents will have access to tapes of previous Illini games and vice versa.

"I do a lot with the film exchange, getting films out. Obviously, scouting is huge for our coaches. Making sure they have the tapes they need, getting tapes out to the other schools. That and travel are two of the more important things that make the program run smooth on my end."

Film exchange is easier for Harrington at Illinois than when he worked at smaller programs.

"When we were in the MAC at Northern, and you play some of the smaller schools, there may be just one game a week on TV. You scramble to try to get tapes on teams.

"Some are local, so if you have friends in the Detroit area say, you ask them to tape that game for us and sent it out to us. Or you try to get them from other schools that have played them.

"In the Big 10, it's not that big a deal. You just have to be organized and make sure you have copies of the tapes so they're available to the coaches. But with the smaller schools, it's a scramble."

How many tapes are you required to provide?

"It differs from conference to conference. Some conferences say you have to give three tapes to a school if they request it. Some say two. Some conferences have an agreement that everything is shareable, just ask them to send out as many as you want."

Illini coaches travel to watch top prospects in person, so there is less need to obtain their tapes. But there are times when Harrington must also work with high school, junior college and AAU coaches to obtain film of recruitable prospects.

"We'll get some high school coaches to send us some film. Or some recruits will sometimes send film, and we'll get it to the coaches so they can take a look at it. But the main thing is just within the schools. In the Big 10, it's pretty easy once the season starts because everything's on TV."

There are numerous additional details left to the Director Of Operations.

"I do a lot of organizational things like getting the weekly schedules put together. Making sure the players know any important dates or schedules of things we have to attend. Making sure they're all going to class and helping them out with their schedules, making sure they know where they're supposed to be. Each day is a little different."

Like a long snapper in football, Harrington is anonymous unless problems arise.

"No one knows when things are going right, but it's pretty obvious when things are going wrong. Everybody has their part they need to help out with. Our staff is a team too. We need to help each other out."

Harrington wants to be a head coach, but that requires knowledge of the mundane as well as the exciting, the tedious as well as the fun.

"Absolutely. You have to do a lot of administrative stuff. A good head coach knows what's going on in his program. If you've never set up travel before, when you're a head coach you don't know exactly what you can and can't do, what's possible.

"Your everyday responsibilities, getting film exchange done. You have to have a good understanding of that when the time comes so you know what to expect from other assistants, other administrators on your staff.

"You do get to see a different side of it. I'm not doing a lot with the budget, but you do get to see what's happening with the budget. Maybe we're spending too much money here, maybe we're not spending enough money in this area. Those are the things a head coach has to do. I do see what's going on with it. That can only help you in the long run."

Harrington accepts his present situation and makes the best of it. But he doesn't get to coach on the floor, and he isn't able to go on the road to recruit. He can be forgiven for having one eye to the future.

"It's a good job. It's something I've done now at a couple different schools. I've grown up being around the game, and it keeps you around the game. It keeps you around the coaches. You get to learn from coaches while you're doing the job.

"It's something where I want to do more, I'm excited to do more. It's just looking for that next opportunity. I love being here, I love being with the staff and around the players. It's a great opportunity. But at the same time, I'm not satisfied with just being in this position. I'm excited to move forward and hopefully get back into an assistant position sometime in the future.

"The thing with the coaching profession, there's not a blueprint of how to become a head coach. When you look at the coaches I've worked for, some of them were high school coaches and then became a head coach.

"Some were assistants for 15-20 years and then became head coaches. Others have gone to the NBA and then came back and been head coaches. Some were GA's, some were Director Of Basketball Operations. There's not a clearcut path.

"It's frustrating at times because you're not sure what's the best move. How can I advance? But at the same time, it's a great opportunity to be in these situations. I don't think there's the absolute, perfect job. I enjoy it, but I'm not settled. It's not what I want to do in the long run."

In the final portion of this four-part series, Harrington describes the type of players he will recruit and team he will have when he is a head coach.

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