Want to be a high school head basketball coach?
Well, there’s a specialized training program for such individuals at almost every school in the country.
It’s called being an assistant coach, and rarely has someone got to the top position without spending some significant time as one of the subordinates on a staff somewhere.
Although head coaches call the shots, assistants can have important roles, too.
Scott Robinson, now in his second year as varsity assistant for the Clovis boys basketball team, calls two specific kinds of plays from the bench during Wildcats games.
During free throw situations, Clovis players will huddle and look over to Robinson for the particular kind of defense that they’ll go into next. On the offensive end, when the Cats get possession of the ball under their basket, it’s also Robinson who makes the call for the subsequent inbounds play.
Robinson, who played for CHS and graduated from the school in 1988, believes that Clovis coach J.D. Isler gives him more responsibility than many head coaches do for their assistants.
“There’s a lot of assistants who don’t get that opportunity,” Robinson said. “More (head) coaches than not call everything.
“Coach Isler has really shown a lot of confidence in me, giving me the opportunity to do that.”
In practice, Robinson’s duties include particular attention to the Clovis post players and providing specific instruction to individuals without disrupting the flow of the session.
“When someone’s struggling, having a hard time understanding something, I’ll spend a lot of time with them on the sideline, just making sure they understand what we want,” Robinson said.
On the Clovis girls squad, assistant Regina Downing made the transition from one head coach to another when Miles Watters retired at the end of last season and Jeff Reed took over.
Like Robinson, Downing said she would like to be a head coach at some point in the future. For those with the competitiveness needed to be a head coach someday, sometimes the toughest part of being an assistant is keeping complaints to oneself — especially those directed at referees.
Officials may give head coaches some leeway for physical movement and verbal criticism during games, but not many allow the same latitude for assistants.
“We played at the Rio Rancho tournament (in December) and there were some calls not going our way,” Downing said. “I kind of jumped up and said, ‘What?’ (The referee) said, ‘Hey coach, you better get your assistant and sit her down.’”
One local coach who made a sudden transition from assistant is Texico girls coach Ryan Autrey.
As an assistant for the Lady Wolverines, Autrey said he sometimes played the good guy.
“I always felt that my role as an assistant was to smooth things over between the head coach and some of the players,” said Autrey, who was the chief Texico assistant for most of the 2007-08 season. “Some of those players, once you get on them, some of them tend to hang their heads. I always felt that, as an assistant, I could step in and give more of the encouragement.”
Autrey was thrust into the head coach’s job for the biggest game of the year last season.
When coach Keith Durham — now the school’s principal and athletic director — drew two technical fouls in the semifinal round, he was ejected and automatically disqualified from being on the bench for the 2008 state championship game.
Autrey’s first head coaching experience on the prep level proved to be a good one when Texico beat Navajo Prep 55-45 last March for the Class 2A title. For Autrey, who then got the job when Durham moved up, it was a sudden crash-course in the realities of being a head coach as opposed to an assistant — particularly on dealing with elements like the media.
“Going back to the assistant’s job, you just kind of sit on the bench, give your advice, do this, do that and, when the game’s over, you can go hide out and no one even knows your name,” Autrey said. “You don’t have to take any of the heat, no matter which way the game goes.”