Texas schools scramble to find coaches who can also fill crucial teaching roles

·5 min read

To be a coach, you must be a teacher first, something Jacob Sharum said is closely related.

Sharum, an assistant football coach and psychology teacher at Arlington Martin High School, said having a relationship with other teachers, principals and athletic directors has kept him at the school for eight years.

“Teaching cover-two to a corner is not much different than teaching how the brain functions to a kid,” Sharum said, referring to a defensive coverage. “They’re pretty relatable things.”

Sharum teaches psychology to about 30 students in a classroom.

However, coaching openings around the state have left some schools looking for quality coaches who want to also be in the classroom. There are coaching shortages in almost every sport, said Joe Martin, executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association. Some of the biggest needs are for swimming and girls middle school, he said.

“Public education has been a hard world to live in the last couple of years because of COVID,” he said. “A lot of really, really good coaches are getting out of the business.”

As of June 22, the Kennedale school district still had three openings, according to Richard Barret, head football coach and director of athletics.

Brady Cagle runs drills during summer camp at Arlington Martin.
Brady Cagle runs drills during summer camp at Arlington Martin.

Barret said there were 99 high school coaching jobs posted on the THSCA job board as of June 28.

“People are getting out of the profession. People are retiring. They’re just doing different things,” Barret said. “Every school district is dealing with it in some way, shape or fashion.”

In the Fort Worth school district, there are four openings, according to the district’s instructional openings list.

To coach sports in the UIL, one must be a certified teacher and teach full time at the school, said Lisa Langston, director of athletics for the Fort Worth school district. This is one of the toughest obstacles.

“You might have a vacancy, and you need a math teacher. Well, you’re limited to finding someone who can coach and also teach math,” she said.

Districts use compensation plans to recruit and retain coaches. Some include a signing bonus, but Fort Worth hasn’t done that.

“It might be something for us to think about in the future. If we really start seeing that we’re in a real pickle, a real bind,” Langston said

Langston said if a school isn’t able to find coaches for a sport, canceling a school’s season is not something the district would do. Being in a large school district has advantages smaller districts don’t, she said.

“We would find someone that would take [a position], we wouldn’t drop a sport for the lack of not being able to find a new coach,” Langston said. “We would shuffle within our campuses.

“We wouldn’t do that to our kids because we’re going to try to give them opportunity, as many athletic opportunities as possible.”

Barret said almost everyone coach coaches more than one sport at Kennedale.

“The cutoff deadline is soon approaching. And so we’re scrambling,” Barret said. “We’re trying to find qualified coaches, teachers that can do what’s needed to be done for our kids, both in the classroom and on the field. And it’s just it’s just really hard.”

Once it is within 45 days of the first day of school, teachers or coaches cannot leave for another district in Texas.

“The ones that suffer most importantly are our athletes because they’re not getting the coaching, the teaching, the training, the instruction that they need to be successful in that particular sport, so we’re going to work to close that hole,” Barret said. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can to find people to fill these vacancies.”

Coaches are teachers first, Langston said. Being in the classroom is an important part of coaching at a school.

“It might not just be a shortage of coaches, but you also want quality. You’re not just going to hire someone. You want someone that’s going to be great for kids,” Langston said. “We’re looking for people who are going to be great for kids. The last thing you want is someone coaching who doesn’t like kids.”

Martin football coach Bob Wager, who also serves as director of athletics, said the school will be fully staffed for the fall, but said there are other schools that may not be close. He said schools need to reach out and make sure the position will be the best job coaches have ever had.

Coaching positions around the state have left some schools looking for quality coaches who want to be in the classroom.
Coaching positions around the state have left some schools looking for quality coaches who want to be in the classroom.

“I think the other thing is involvement in organizations like the Texas High School Coaches Association, and using that as an opportunity to expand your network because when you do have a position available you can reach out to, to help you fill those spots,” Wager said. “I know that there’s going to be a lot of schools in Texas that will open up the school year, and there’ll be short teacher coaches.”

Training and Retaining coaches

The ROCK program, which stands for rare, outstanding, compelled and knowledgeable, is a mentoring program created through a relationship with Texas A&M, the University of Texas and THSCA.

Texas A&M does the curriculum and UT is involved with surveying and evaluating the program. Martin said the two- year program mentors aspiring coaches and helps expand coaching networks.

“We want them to be rare. We want them to be truly the best young coach in that school district or in that high school,” Martin said. “They are very unique and they’re being selected, because whoever’s recommended them believe that they will be a head coach and a leader in this profession soon.”

Owen Rogers, a strength and conditioning coordinator, works with students during summer camp at Arlington Martin.
Owen Rogers, a strength and conditioning coordinator, works with students during summer camp at Arlington Martin.

The ROCK program has been a high priority, Martin said.

“This is very expensive. And we’re willing to pay for it. Because there’s nobody else out there mentoring coaches, not like this,” Martin said. “We believe in the coaching profession, and the reason for it, and we’re willing to spend a lot of money to try to get to it.”

To retain these coaches, school districts need to provide a good working environment where they have the ability to see where they can move up in the profession within the school district.

“Some school districts do a great job of that, and some don’t have the resources to do that,” Martin said. “And those that don’t have those resources are typically the ones looking for coaches all the time.”