Prep sports: Another challenge for area athletic directors
Filling coaching vacancies must be done virtually, for better or rowse
WILLMAR — Renville County West is in search of a new head girls basketball coach.
BOLD is looking for a junior varsity dance coach.
The co-op of Morris Area and Benson has an opening for its girls hockey head coaching position as well.
The normal turnover of another athletic calendar continues on, but athletic directors and decision makers are faced with another element as the 2019-20 school year approaches a close.
Schools across the area have been closed since mid-March due the COVID-19 pandemic. But when it comes down to how the coronavirus has affected the process of hiring a new coach, it hasn’t had a dramatic impact.
The single largest change is how applicants have been interviewed. With Gov. Tim Walz extending the state’s stay-at-home order until May 18, athletic directors, like many, have had to resort to virtual interviews, which take away from valuable in-person communication.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get a good feel for people, whether you go through Google Meet or Zoom,” Litchfield activities and athletic director Justin Brown said. “You don’t get to see the person face-to-face.”
While different from in-person interviews, virtual meetings have not totally eliminated that element.
“There’s good information in seeing how someone reacts to a question,” Willmar athletic and activities director Ryan Blahosky said. “It’s important to have a little bit of a visual.
“There’s a lot of value in being able to read a person’s body language, see how they react to a question, things like that. You just get a sense of where there are and how they handle things.”
Blahosky adds virtual meetings have been beneficial in other areas.
Unless the hiring of a new coach also fills a teaching vacancy, the coaching job only is more of an auxiliary-type job, so it can be tough for someone to leave their daily job and find time for an interview.
The virtual meeting doesn’t require as much time.
“In this case, if you have a 20-minute lunch break somewhere, you should be able to get to the interview,” Blahosky said.
Willmar currently has openings for a head dance coach and an assistant girls swimming coach.
Litchfield currently looks to fill six positions at the high school level, including head coaches for gymnastics and dance. Filling all of those positions likely won’t come until after the school year has concluded.
“It’s a busy time of year as we are trying to wrap the school year,” Brown said. “We’re trying to get through our athletic awards and our commencement.
“Once we get through some of those things, we’ll really focus on our coaching positions. It’s a process.”
Both Blahosky and Brown say that the pandemic has not limited the pool of candidates applying for these positions. Generally speaking, there aren’t a ton of applicants looking to fill the voids, but the coronavirus hasn’t wiped away interest.
For Brown, that’s due in part to keeping the search local.
“We’re always very limited in the number of applicants that we get. Just to get a high number of applicants is difficult,” Brown said. “It’s hard to get people who want to coach anymore. For a school our size, we offer so many activities, we just don’t have the teaching positions available to hire all these coaching positions. ... We’re trying to groom our own, so (we have) people who have gone through our programs that value the programs that we have.”