Leadership: Table Talk

August 24, 2016

How do you prioritize your workload? Tackle difficult decisions? Hold coaches accountable? Find time for long-term strategies? Four athletic directors in one Indiana school district share their answers on these questions and more.

This article first appeared in the August/September 2016 issue of Athletic Management

By Eleanor Frankel


Eleanor Frankel is Editor-in-Chief at Athletic Management. She can be reached at: ef@MomentumMedia.com.



Just four months into being a high school athletic director, doing her best to figure out the countless and varied demands of the job, Marie Doan was approached by one of her coaches after a game. He handed her a resignation letter, turned over his keys, and walked out the door. A tough initiation into a tough profession.

Her colleague, Joe Toth, has been an athletic director for 17 years. But there are many aspects of the job that continue to challenge him. Finding time for long-term strategizing and being both a friend and boss to coaches keeps him scratching his head. And there are still moments he feels overwhelmed.

Whether a rookie or a veteran, being a high school athletic administrator is full of crazy days and delicate decision-making. Doan and Toth, Athletic Director at J.W. Riley High School and Clay High School, respectively, are administrators in the South Bend (Ind.) School Corporation. They joined with two other Athletic Directors in their district—Garland Hudson at Washington High School and William Groves at John Adams High School—to talk about how they tackle their jobs.



What do you feel is the most important aspect of being a successful high school athletic director?

Groves: Developing a vision for your athletic program and what experiences you desire to see for your student-athletes, then making it happen.

Doan: Being a strong leader, which means making decisions that may not be popular but are best for the student-athletes. It also includes always looking to improve your department and accept new ideas when suggested.

Toth: To be organized. If you are not organized, the athletic department will fall apart, and nothing else will really matter. It only takes one time for something to go wrong—the officials don’t show up or a team travels an hour to a cancelled game—for people to lose confidence in you.

Hudson: Having a great supporting cast. That includes coaches, administration, teachers, and parents, all the way to ticket takers, concession workers, and the chain gang. Having people from the community and in the school supporting what you’re doing will make an athletic director successful.


How do you manage your workload? What are the strategies you have put in place to get everything done?

Toth: I try to have a plan in place every day that helps me tackle both short and long term projects. In the morning, I work on the things that must be done first, since later in the day something unplanned can and usually does come up.

Hudson: First and foremost, I have an awesome wife who understands that my hours are never set in stone. Having that kind of support allows me to focus on my work. My secretary is also very important—I tell her all the time that she is more of an assistant athletic director than a secretary. In both of our offices, there are two giant dry erase boards, one with the current month’s schedule and the other showing upcoming months, which we call “The Matrix.” This allows us to prioritize day-to-day operations while still planning ahead.

I have also learned to not sit on e-mails—I try to reply immediately. I have come to the conclusion that my iPhone is probably the most important piece of equipment I have. I find myself making notes and scheduling on it all the time.

Groves: One thing that has helped me immensely is to clearly define who is responsible for what. Everyone must understand their job description for the workload to be manageable. Coaches generally are responsible for athletes’ registration paperwork, distributing and collecting uniforms and equipment, securing parent volunteers and student managers (if needed), nominating athletes for postseason awards, submitting paperwork, and attending conference meetings. I put this in writing through what I call my Head Coach’s Documentation Form, which is reviewed before the start of the season.

The Documentation Form also spells out the standards that the head coach must live up to as the leader of his or her program. This ensures there are no secrets or surprises coaches don’t know about. [For a link to this form, see note at end of article.]

Doan: Along with delegating certain assignments to my coaches and leaning on my secretary, I have student aides who work for me. They write articles for our Web site, deliver things to other offices, and help set up events. I have it set so that I must approve anything they write for the Web site before it goes live. Not all student workers are going to be great, but there are a few I am able to trust with many tasks.


What procedures have you put in place to make your athletic department run efficiently?

Toth: Every Monday morning, I contact all the teams we will play that week, as well as the officials for our home events. This does take time, but I learned very early in my career how important these checks are. In my first year as an athletic director, we were hosting a county volleyball tournament. The first match was ready to start and I had only one official. Unbeknownst to me, the other official had retired. I decided from that day forward I would always double check all events for the week, every week.

Doan: Following Joe’s advice, I also check everything for the week on Monday mornings—transportation, officials, entry fees—and confirm games and times with opposing schools. I use technology as much as possible, and I’ve found Google drive to be a big help, especially for student paperwork. This enables coaches to see in real time (and on their smart phones, while at practice) who has their forms completed and who does not.

Groves: I now do everything electronically. I hire all officials via Arbiter and use RefPay, so there is no sending of a paper contract, no postage to pay, and no check to write. Three times a year, I send a check to the RefPay bank and that is it. If there is a last-minute change, I can make the switch and still pay the official using my smart phone at the event.

For football games, I’ve developed a “Game Day Agenda,” which I email to our school administration, football coaches, cheer coach, marching band director, and school resource officer, along with the visiting athletic director, head football coach, and administrators. This document provides details such as the time gates open, when teams can take the field, and when the band will play. I have found it to be an extremely important procedure to make things go smoothly.


How have you developed ways to manage your day that work for you specifically? How do you mesh your personality and strengths with your operations?

Hudson: I’m neat by nature, so I try to use that to my advantage. As things come in, they immediately are put where they need to go. People come into my office and ask, “How do you keep it so clean in here?” To me, clean means organized, and organized means efficient.

I’m also a visual person, so I organize my office with checkpoints. It goes from right to left as I’m sitting at my desk: dry erase calendars, clock, “priority basket,” mail divider, desk calendar, computer one, note pad, phone, computer two, desk light. I know where every piece of information is without needing to think about it.

Toth: I like to have things well mapped out and be prepared for my upcoming events each day. But I’ve also learned to handle surprise situations that take me away from my daily plan. This was outside of my comfort zone at first, but I am now able to switch gears and handle issues as they develop during the school day.


What are your strategies for prioritizing your workload?

Hudson: I’d say that in our jobs, the priority is whatever you are working on—until the phone rings, someone steps into your office, or an e-mail alert goes off. I try to figure out what needs my attention first by using a few questions, and this helps me outline what to do 90 to 95 percent of the time:

• What is the deadline?

• Can my secretary handle it?

• What are today’s events?

• Have all parties been contacted and confirmed?

• What is on the calendar?

• What is in the “priority basket?”

Groves: At the top of my list is to break down event management and office tasks, but I also make it a priority to talk with each head coach frequently. This was advice given to me early in my career and it has served me well. It provides a time for coaches to tell me about any small issues, and then we can talk them through before they become problems. It also allows me to engage them on how to handle a host of situations in coaching.

Another important priority is communicating with stakeholders. Posting results and letting people know about changes to schedules are critical things to share with others. To help with this, I have developed and designated a person we call our sports information director, who is an outside contractor and paid using advertising revenue from our sports program. After their games, coaches report to this person, who then posts the results on our website and gives them to the local media.


Along with managing a large workload, athletic directors are often faced with making tough decisions. How do you switch gears, slow down, and solve the problem?

Doan: When I have to make a difficult decision, I usually focus on what is best for the student or students involved. We are here to help enhance their educational experience. My first year, I was lucky enough to have a mentor to run my decisions by, and I did that a lot.

Toth: In my 17 years as a high school athletic director, I have been through my share of crises. I have had the lights go out during varsity football games due to power outages. I have had scoreboards and PA systems shut down. I have had to clear all my outside venues due to thunderstorms. I was once painting lines on a football field when sirens went off for a tornado warning. No matter how organized you are, things are going to happen you cannot control. My strategy has been to accept it, stay calm, and make good, safe decisions. I have a plan in place for most emergency situations, and I make sure to communicate and then execute it.

Hudson: When it comes to disagreements, I find that patience and silence speak volumes. I always listen before I open my mouth. When I need to talk to people regarding a problem, they are upset, emotional, and impulsive, so I have to be the opposite. These are the rules I have for myself when dealing with difficult situations:

• Listen before speaking.

• Get the facts.

• Repeat what I hear.

• Make sure my yes means yes, and my no means no.

• Write it down and date it.

• Make sure there is closure.


What has been one of the toughest problems you’ve faced and how did you deal with it?

Hudson: This year our football team had a game suspended due to an altercation during a contest. Immediately after the incident, I talked with our coaches and staff. I then spoke with officials to get facts. The next three days were spent gathering information and speaking with our state association and my school staff. I felt my role in the situation was to support our team and come up with a plan so that something like that would never happen again.

Doan: I had a coach resign in the middle of a season. It came pretty much out of the blue. After a game, he told me he was resigning, handed me his letter and keys, informed his team, and left. Unfortunately, his assistant coach was not a viable candidate to take over the head coach position. I lined up another coach for the week—he was out of season but had coached the sport previously—while the school administration found someone qualified in our district to be the interim coach.

Groves: When I took over at John Adams, the athletic department was $24,000 dollars in the red. In my first weeks, I came across bills that were owed but we had no funds to pay them. The girls’ basketball coach had just ordered new uniforms that cost over $3,000 but only had $200 dollars in his account. I had to call and stop the order.

The first thing I did was to require coaches to clear all purchases through me. They had to fundraise if they wanted new uniforms and they were no longer allowed to make direct requests through the booster club. By putting in safeguards to control spending, establishing a bare bone budget, and cutting expenditures, we were out of debt within a year.


While taking care of the day-to-day duties of being an athletic director, how do you make time for long-term strategizing?

Hudson: Twice each season, I meet with the athletic staff to talk about our vision for athletics and the role coaches have in creating a positive athletic culture. We are currently working on sportsmanship goals, parent involvement, student-athlete academic achievement, and educating student-athletes and their parents about the process of going on to compete in college. We ask each of our head coaches to create a plan for their team that supports our goals.

Toth: With so many things to take care of every day, it’s tough to come up with long-term strategies. So I try to focus on small projects that can be handled by someone else. Our baseball coaches and players have been working on upgrading their field. Through our welding class, we are in the process of repairing lockers that are about 40 years old.


What is your approach for managing coaches?

Toth: When it comes to supervising a coaching staff, there is a delicate balance. I want my athletic department to be a big family. But I know as an athletic director there has to be professional distance between my coaches and myself. This is something I still struggle with. I want us all to count on each other—we are in this together. But I also have to be the bad guy if a coach does something wrong.

Groves: The absolute toughest problem I have faced is firing coaches. I have terminated more than 20 coaches in eight years. When making decisions about letting someone go, I always pose the question: What is in the best interests of our student-athletes? I also ask myself: Is this coach effective with kids? Is this coach good for our kids? How successful has this coach been with our athletes? What kind of educator is this coach?

The best strategy is to have your documentation in order (emails, notes, and evaluations), proof that you have relayed your expectations, and the ability to articulate specifically why there needs to be a change. I have found that if I have communicated openly, fairly, and directly with the coach, I have less of an issue should I have to terminate him or her.


What do you do on those days when things gets overwhelming?

Hudson: I call my wife, brother, mom, or dad, in that order. Sometimes one won’t pick up, so I go to the next. When I first got the job, I was told to have someone to vent to. These are my go-to people, and without fail, I immediately feel relieved after talking to them and can go back to work.

Doan: I figure out what needs to be done, and between my secretary and I, we bust out the work.

Toth: I try to take a step back and break things down into manageable steps. Sometimes it is hard to get started and focused but once I do, things generally flow until I get caught back up.


What is an ongoing challenge you are working on?

Hudson: Getting buy-in from stakeholders. We need to grow the number of people who trust that Washington High School is what we say it is. There is some negativity around our program, and we’re trying to erase that by not giving it power. To do this, I work on supporting coaches who are doing great things and genuinely love what they do. By concentrating on the positives, we hope to grow the number of supporters.

Doan: I am trying to make our athletic department more efficient through technology. Some of our older coaches resist this change, so I am offering them training about technology. I have also made videos they can watch. It’s been a slow process and I’ve had to have patience.



For a copy of the Head Coach’s Documentation Form used at John Adams High School, please visit:






Signs of Success

In the first question posed, panelists discuss what they believe makes an athletic director successful. Below, William Groves, of John Adams High School, elaborates on his answer.

What makes an athletic director successful?

• The ability to multi-task different projects by prioritizing what needs to be done first and figuring out how to get everything completed.

• As a leader, to know and accentuate your strengths and find others to make up for your shortcomings.

• Letting your coaches be the shining stars in your program and putting them in leadership roles.

• Having strategies to get everyone on the same page, pulling in the same direction, and standing for the same principles.

• Keeping everyone accountable for the job they do.

• Possessing the courage to make changes if improvement is needed.

• Seeking wise advice to improve your athletic program.

• Being open to the ideas of others and making them part of your program.






Joe Toth has been Athletic Director at Clay High School since 2009, after serving in the same position at New Haven (Ind.) High School. He has also been a social studies teacher and coached football, softball, and basketball.


Marie Doan is entering her second year as Athletic Director at J.W. Riley High School. She was previously a coach and teacher at the school for five years.


Garland Hudson became Athletic Director at Washington High School in April 2015. He was formerly a special education teacher and football coach.


William Groves has been Athletic Director at John Adams High School for eight years. Previously he was Director of Student Management at Clay High School. He has been a teacher and coach, was President of the North Liberty (Ind.) Youth League for seven years, and is currently serving his fifth elective term as a school board member in the John Glenn School Corporation district in Walkerton, Ind.

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