If Sean Harrington Were A Head Coach

You are working your way up the college basketball coaching ranks, trying to enhance your resume and get noticed by the administrators who may wish to hire you someday. Without any head coaching experience, you must sell yourself and your approach to the game. Illini assistant Sean Harrington tells the type of team he would want as a head coach.

Illinois Director Of Basketball Operations Sean Harrington wants to be a head coach. What things would he look for in a prospective recruit if he were in charge of a program?

"I think that toughness is huge. It's not only physical toughness, it's mental toughness. When you go on the road, especially in conferences like the Big 10, it's hostile environments. The records of the team don't matter, it's gonna be tough on the road.

"It can be tough at home too. You want to get that tough player, mentally and physically, that's gonna push through obstacles and not gonna get down on himself when things are hard. There's no team that goes through a perfect season and has no issues. There's always gonna be obstacles.

"I think the biggest thing is toughness. You've got to get guys who are gonna work hard. Wanting to work hard, wanting to get better. Wanting to have the attitude to be the best."

Along with toughness comes a focus on defense in Harrington's mind.

"You like to have strong, athletic guys, and if they play defense that's better, a guy that really gets it on defense, he's smart, he's always in the right position. They may not be as quick, but they really understand the game. You always know where they're supposed to be on the floor.

"You can do a lot of coaching with a kid like that. He understands this game we're gonna trap ball screens, the next game we're not gonna trap ball screens. When you get players that can adjust game to game, you're gonna be successful because you can prepare for the other team.

"Every successful team plays defense. You want to score, that's what is exciting for the game. Everyone wants to see you score. But I think it's toughness and defense that ends up winning you championships.

"There's gonna be days you don't make shots. The best offensive teams have days when they struggle. At every level, when it comes down to championship tournament time, the teams that defend always win. The teams that just go and outscore you always seem to get beat. There's a reason for it.

"You want it all. You want to have scorers, you want to have defense, you want to have toughness. But if you can't have it all, I would definitely look for toughness and defense to start a team."

Every college coach wants to recruit superstars to fit their personality and scheme. Since that is impossible in most cases, you must try to come as close as you can and hope for the best. The variables are numerous.

"There's a lot of great schools out there and a lot of great players. If you knew exactly the players to recruit, if you knew four years from now this kid is gonna be an unbelieveable player, of course you would get him.

"It's a chance. When you recruit a player, you don't recruit him because you think he's bad. You think he's good, you've seen good things in him. Unfortunately, you're dealing with high school kids who aren't fully grown, aren't fully mature. They're gonna change dramatically in the four years you're gonna have them.

"Some may get a lot better, some may stay the same. It's chance. You can look at a lot of great players who were not very good freshman, sophomore years, and they end up being NBA players.

"One I can relate to is Dwyane Wade. He was from the Chicago area near where I was from. I played against him in some summer leagues. I thought he was a good player, but I never thought he would be an NBA All-Star, top 5 player in the NBA. I thought he was a good high school player who would have a good college career. You just don't know.

"There's some players you say, 'Wow, if we could only get him.' But there's a lot of schools that want him too. If a guy doesn't improve, he may be a great player in high school but he's not gonna be a great player his junior and senior years of college."

Becoming a head coach requires good luck as well as experience and skill.

"The dream is to be a head coach. Most everybody in this profession would say the same thing. You've got to work hard, you've got to learn a lot along the way. It doesn't come overnight. You've got to work at it. It's a hard profession, a hard job. But there's a reason the top coaches make the big bucks.

"You've got to be lucky. You've got to be in the right place at the right time. You may be the best coach in the country, but they're not gonna fire someone who's doing a great job to bring you in. You may be the best player in Illinois, but if we have no scholarships we can't recruit him. It's all about timing."

While Harrington waits for opportunity to knock, he is enjoying what he is doing and embracing the moment. Each step along the way has value.

"An assistant coach never gets blamed for a loss or credited for a win. It all ends up being on the head coach's shoulders. I'm enjoying the ride. I've been out now for seven years, and I really have enjoyed it. I'm enjoying my time here. I want to keep advancing, but I'm enjoying it while I'm here. You have to appreciate what you have in front of you."


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