Behind every successful operation there is a group of people that do the work that may not be glamorous and visible to the general public. Often overworking themselves, they aren’t in it for the glory; they are in it for the experience and to gain the knowledge to climb the ladder.
In the college football world, Graduate Assistants are just those people. They are behind the scenes and seldom do you know their names. They are full-time students getting their Masters’ degree and working tirelessly helping coaches and staff do the work that needs to be done.
Often, Graduate Assistants are former players that are looking for a way into coaching and this is their opportunity to learn practical experience and increase their proficiency to move into a coaching role.
Each team has, usually, two Graduate Assistants that can do any sort of coaching– one on each side of the ball. (Teams may have multiple Graduate Assistants that do video, quality control, administrative, etc., but only two, according to the NCAA can coach.) Most Graduate Assistants, as noted earlier, are former players, however some are simply trying to take a stab at coaching. Those that secure top Graduate Assistant positions are more likely than not going to be players that played at higher performing schools, but it is also common to see non-former players start at a lower level school and then transfer to larger schools. It is not un-common to see, even former coaches at lower level schools, try to climb the ladder by giving up a full-time role to become a Graduate Assistant, like University of South Florida Graduate Assistant, Chris Chestnut, who was the running backs coach at Campbell University.
But what exactly does a Graduate Assistant do on a day-to-day basis?
Graduate Assistants are very high-level roles, even though the title may not exactly seem like it. Graduate Assistants can coach players or units and they can recruit (although, they cannot travel to recruit). They are responsible for the development of their unit, for making sure their unit is prepared, and for making sure opponents are broken down on video and know the opposing team just as well as the position coach they are working with.
On the scouting front, Graduate Assistants are responsible for breaking down video, tagging the video (tendencies, play breakdown, etc.), providing spreadsheets, and ultimately, making all pertinent information known to the coaching staff.
After the scouting has been done, Graduate Assistants are responsible for helping with the game plan. What tendencies can be taken advantage of? While the Head Coach, Coordinators, and position coaches will make most of the game plan; the Graduate Assistant is expected to provide valuable feedback in the development of the game plan. The game plan is very important because with only a limited amount of time to spend with the team each week (20 hours), the plan needs to be perfect for practice. (Teams usually practice the game plan Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.)
From that point, Graduate Assistants help with practice, working through the game plan that was developed all day on Sunday and Monday. Graduate Assistants are working with units closely and are relied on heavily to help the players understand what their role is.
After practice is over, Graduate Assistants are back watching video. Graduate Assistants are cutting tape from each practice – breaking it down for practice review – and providing all the necessary information for coaches and players.
Finally, Graduate Assistants travel with the team – out on Friday, back on Saturday night/Sunday morning. Most teams leave early Friday, so for 48 hours, six weeks a fall, graduate assistants are away from the school. (Graduate Assistants are back in the football offices Sunday morning.)
All the while, remember, these Graduate Assistants are students. Many of them are in two-year graduate school programs that require a heavy workload. Graduate Assistants are required to remain in good standing with the University and cannot afford to slack off on their studies, while trying to prove themselves in the football offices.
It can be easy to not notice these Graduate Assistants on the sideline, but they are just as important to the success of the team as many others in the football program. And, you never know when a position coach may leave a school and a Graduate Assistant becomes the new position coach, just ask former Graduate Assistant Bush Hamdan, who took over for wide receiver coach Aubrey Hill when he abruptly left in 2012.