Coaching Profession Advice, Harris Adler

One of the best inside-looks into the coaching profession. Coach Adler has now moved on to coach at Auburn Universityas an Assistant Coach.


Fifteen years ago, I was a fourth-year pharmacy student at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.  As I sat in class one day, with graduation and the start of daily practice as a pharmacist looming, I could not help but think that sports, basketball, and coaching were my real passion and that I was about to embark on a life in the wrong field. I finished my coursework and earned my degree in pharmacy.  In the meantime, though, I volunteered as an assistant coach at Salem Community College.  In the summertime, I worked numerous basketball camps so that I could network and meet people and in the hope that I might get lucky and advance my career in coaching.  As I prepared to return as a volunteer assistant at Salem CC and start my masters in sports administration at Temple University, I received a phone call that changed the course of everything.  Joe Cassidy, Head Basketball Coach at Rowan University, left me a message right after my first class at Temple.  He told me that his graduate assistant had left to take a Division 2 coaching job, and that Rowan needed a new assistant coach at the last minute.  At Coach Cassidy’s suggestion, I applied, interviewed, and a week later was coaching basketball and taking graduate classes at Rowan.

For the next two years, I learned a ton about the game of basketball, as Rowan reached an NCAA Division 3 Sweet 16.  I also earned my Master’s Degree in Higher Education Administration.  With this additional experience and through more connections, I sought out and was hired for to serve as an assistant basketball coach at Centenary College, a Division 1 Program, where I was part of a team that accomplished its first winning season in 20 years.  Thereafter, I again as a result of both more time in the coaching universe and some fortuitous circumstances, Coach Fran Dunphy hired me to become an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania.  In my two years at Penn, I acquired a ton of basketball knowledge, coached in the NCAA tournament, and continued to progress in the profession I loved.

After my valuable stop at Penn, I joined the Coach John Giannini’s staff at La Salle University.  Now, after nine years at La Salle, young coaches frequently ask me about coming up in the coaching profession and how they can advance their careers.  Thinking back, the following are some recommendations I share with these young, aspiring coaches:

1. Make sacrifices, even financial ones. I made a total of $15,000 in my first six years of coaching.  In those years, I worked odd hours as a pharmacist to pay bills and used all my savings from childhood, but I made it work. If you really want to do what you love to do, you must make sacrifices.

2. Make Connections. Work as many camps as possible. I met the majority of my connections by working the Hoop Group camps (Pocono and Elite camps) The more people you meet, the better chance you will have to get a job at some point. Networking at camps, clinics, and at recruiting events is key to making friends within the college coaching business.

3. Be Patient. When going after jobs as an assistant coach, patience can definitely be a virtue. For the five schools that have honored me with coaching opportunities, I have been rejected by hundreds of schools. It is not always about being the most qualified or competent for the job.  More often than not, it is about luck, right time and place, and who you know.

4. Lose the Sense of Entitlement. In this day and age, everyone wants to just be a coach at the Division One level.  What makes you so special?  Be willing to make sacrifices, put in long hours, and work your way up within the profession. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s often about what you make of the job, what you learn at the school where you are, and who you meet. Be willing to listen and soak up tons of knowledge.

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