By: Joseph Barca, @BarkyCat
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with former collegiate basketball player and coach, Khadija J. Head. Khadija now authors the blog, Head Coach Head that educates coaches on how to manage their career and make a difference in the lives of others. She was gracious enough to offer up her time and insight into what it was like transitioning from student athlete to professional, why reputation is so important and why branding is not only important for companies, but for individuals.
I was a Division-I women’s basketball player at Murray State University. I received my Bachelor’s degree in 2003 in Organizational Communication with a minor in Business Administration. I went on to become a Graduate Assistant at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. I graduated with my Master’s degree in Sport Management in 2004. Then I went into an internship with the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). After that, I went right into college coaching with my first job being at the University of Arkansas. I then went on to Middle Tennessee State University for three years, and my last coaching stop was at the University of Pittsburgh.
Was sports business always your point of interest and how did you break into the field?
I had no idea what I wanted to do or be going to college… I was a basketball player and like all young basketball players I had aspirations of becoming a professional athlete. It took me about a month into my college career to realize that was my last stop on my basketball as a player, and I needed to figure out what I wanted to do.
I love basketball… I’ve played basketball since I was a little kid. That summer after my freshman year of college, I got involved with a local club basketball team, the Georgia Metros, and became the Assistant Coach. They’re a Nike sponsored girls basketball program that focuses on mentoring and coaching young female athletes. I fell in love with the thought of coaching and being a part of the game from the X’s and O’s point of view. It just took off from there.
I would say the first opportunity where I got a paycheck was when I got to Slippery Rock. When I was with the Georgia Metros, we were all at dinner and one of the head coaches, Kathy Richey-Walton, asked everyone what their plans for the future were.
I had just heard that if you wanted to become a college basketball coach, you had to become a Graduate Assistant first. So I told her I wanted to be a Graduate Assistant. She told me that one of her former players, Laurel Heilman, was a Head Coach at a school in Pennsylvania and was looking for a Graduate Assistant. The next day I met with Coach Heilman and by the end of that day I was the newest Graduate Assistant at Slippery Rock. To be around a group of girls that listened to me and took my input was mind blowing. I knew that this was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.
Why did you start your Head Coach Head blog and tell me about your vision for the brand?
My Head Coach Head blog started as a passion project to communicate with my coaching peers. I’m currently in the process of building that brand into a fully functioning company focused on helping college coaches develop their coaching career. Everything is centered around aiding college coaches in taking their coaching career off of autopilot.
Taking an active role in your coaching career is paramount if you want to make a difference in the lives of others. I saw a void in this area for coaches at every stage of their coaching career when I was a coach. I had no real guidance on how to manage my career. I had no idea about the things that I should do in my current position to get me one step closer to the career I envision for myself.
That’s where my company will step in. It will be a lighthouse for career development for college coaches in every stage and every position in college coaching.
How did you get to where you are now?
It was all about making connections and building my brand and reputation. Every college coaching job I received throughout my career was because someone knew of me.
I was very fortunate that I never had to apply for a coaching job. They came to me because I branded myself as a great recruiter, a great coach, and a great mentor for young student-athletes. I was someone that head coaches wanted as a part of their program and staff. When I got hired at the University of Arkansas, I was hired as the Director of Operations. Within a month, one of the assistant coaches moved on to another school, and I was fortunate enough that the head coach gave me a chance to step into the assistant coach role.
With Middle Tennessee, there was an Assistant Coach on the staff, Allison Clark, that I had played against in college. She was a player at Tennessee Tech, and I was a player at Murray State. They had an opening and she called me and told me I’d be great. I was hired as an Assistant Coach and the following year I was promoted to recruiting coordinator.
Then with the University of Pittsburgh, my mentor, Agnus Berenato, actually had an opening on her staff. Coach Berenato was someone who knew me since I was fifteen years old. She asked me why I hadn’t applied for a job on her staff. Little did I know she was following my career since my time as a coach with the Georgia Metros. She gave me an opportunity to be an Assistant Coach with her. Within a month, I was promoted to Recruiting Coordinator with her too. Even though I stepped away from the coaching profession as a coach, I am still connected with the profession. I'm passionate about helping college coaches because they are offering assistance to others: to student-athletes, to their community, and athletic department. I want to be the person that gives these coaches a helping hand.
How important is branding?
I think it’s very important. I think that’s your base foundation. People want to know who they’re working with. Building a strong team is all about bringing in the right pieces and making sure it is the right fit. In college athletics as the head coach, your staff is the key to your overall success. You’re at the top of the pyramid, and your players will develop their style from actions of the staff. I think the same goes for the administration.
Important lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Your reputation always precedes you. You have direct control of your reputation if you actively participate. You can’t allow others to write your story. You have to be proactive in building your brand and standing for something and communicating that to others. Don’t let other people's’ perception of you be your reality. You can do that through social media, how you interact with others when networking, and how you treat people personally.
Words of wisdom?
Don’t be afraid to make a one-year decision that will help you twenty years from now. When you make short-term decisions make sure they align with your long-term goals. The worst thing you can do is make a short-term, opportunistic decision that doesn’t help you in the long run. Make sure you have an idea of where you want to go. Make every decision based on that.
We would like to thank Khadija for her time and insight and we wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors!