Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Briant Kelly, CMAA, associate superintendent of Community High School District #128, Libertyville, Illinois, and Barbara Dzuricsko, CAA, supervisor of athletics and activities, Hermitage (Pennsylvania) School District, regarding some of the difficult decisions that high school athletic directors face.
Question: One aspect of solving a difficult problem is to sort through the facts, analyze options and come up with the best possible decision. In your busy schedule, how do you find uninterrupted and sufficient time to work through this process?
Kelly: It is not easy for an athletic director to find uninterrupted and sufficient time in the day since things can get very hectic. When faced with a difficult problem, you may have to block out time on your calendar. Generally, the morning is the best time of the day because you tend to have more energy and a clear mind. Also, with impending activities after school, the afternoons can be chaotic.
Dzuricsko: Luckily, I have an athletic department secretary from 8 a.m. to noon each week day. If I need time to research or analyze information concerning a situation, I ask her to take all my calls and visits. I can then work behind closed doors without disruptions. When my secretary is not in the office, I sometimes put a sign on my door stating that I am in a meeting to show that I am busy and cannot be interrupted!
There have also been times when I have come in early before students arrive or return in the evening when the school is quiet to research state, district, region or school district rules. This information may be needed to help with making the decision.
Question: Some problems and the ensuing decision may be complicated. Do you ever consult with other professionals for advice? If so, who do you reach out to?
Kelly: When faced with a difficult problem and decision, it is important to consult with other people. It is important to have other athletic directors who you can contact to help, as they may have faced a similar problem. In your school, you could consult with your assistant athletic director, principal, assistant principal or superintendent. Talk with anyone with the background and expertise that would be helpful and appropriate in making an informed decision.
Dzuricsko: When confronted with a difficult decision, we always use a team approach. I first consult with our high school principal who oversees our juniors and seniors and he is our director of athletics for the school district. If needed and it is related, I would meet with our eighth-, ninth- and tenth-grade principal; our assistant principals; and, of course, run all our ideas or concerns through our superintendent.
In addition, I have floated ideas with our guidance counselors, school resource officer, activity advisors and our experienced head coaches. I have also, on occasion, called veteran athletic directors in our area who may have gone through similar situations.
Question: Have you ever had to reconsider a decision? If you have, what caused you to review, revise or change it?
Kelly: Yes, I have made decisions regarding student-athlete discipline that I have reversed. After having further discussions with the young person, I realized that the original decision was not in the best interest of the individual. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you have made a mistake and have reconsidered your original decision.
Dzuricsko: After personality and organizational concerns which arose over several years, we almost terminated an assistant coach. At the last minute, we realized that this coach was good with our athletes and we reconsidered the decision. Therefore, we sat down with this coach one more time and outlined what had to be done for this individual to stay in our system. Looking back, it was ultimately a good decision for our athletes, program and school district.
Question: Have you ever “slept” on a difficult decision or bought more time before rendering it so that you were absolutely certain that you had carefully considered all aspects?
Kelly: Absolutely! I think it is important to take as much time as necessary to arrive at the best possible decision. You may make rash or quick decisions if you don’t consider all aspects of the situation. By taking time or “sleeping” on a difficult decision, it allows you to remove yourself from some of your personal feelings that may be involved in making a decision.
Dzuricsko: Oh, yes! If I feel that I or our principal needed more time to research or discuss a situation, we will get back to a coach, parent or athlete as soon as we feel comfortable that we have checked all rules, regulations and sources pertaining to the issue. If the decision does not have to be made immediately due to safety concerns, we like the 24-hour rule.
Question: Regardless of how well thought-out your decision was, there is a good possibility that not everyone will agree with it. How do you reach out to these individuals, or handle the dissent or lack of support?
Kelly: Anytime that you make a difficult decision as an athletic director, there will be stakeholders who do not agree with your decision. The important part in making difficult decisions is to consider the steps that were taken in the process. You should definitely share with the involved stakeholders the steps that were taken and how you ultimately arrived at your decision. Helping these individuals understand the process that was taken is critical.
Dzuricsko: We always follow up with a phone call or email to the individuals and share the reasons for making our decision. Also, we note that we appreciated the opportunity to meet or discuss the situation, and we always attach the pertinent documents from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, District 10, or our school district policies that show the basis for our decision. All communications conclude with the provision that the individuals are welcome to contact us again if they feel the need to discuss the issue further.
Question: Without mentioning individual names or specifics, what was the most difficult decision that you ever had to make?
Kelly: The most difficult decision as an athletic director involves both the hiring and release of coaches. When you hire a coach, there may also be another candidate who did not get the offer. This quality individual also worked hard, prepared and the decision will disappoint or hurt. On the other end of the spectrum, you may have a situation in which you need to release a coach. This decision will also directly affect that person, and it is rarely pleasant news even if it is the correct assessment.
Dzuricsko: There was a coach who had winning seasons, but did not improve on many of the behind-the-scenes concerns that were brought up during evaluations for several years in a row. We did not renew this coach’s contract and that is never a pleasant task.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University,
is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 550 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. He is the author of a book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.