Running a team is like conducting an orchestra; the goal is to have everyone play in unison to reach a certain goal.
In sports, however, coaches get some extra help.
The number of assistant coaches per team at Keene State College varies. Baseball has five assistant coaches, whose duties range from first base coach to pitching coach, while until this year, cross-country did not have a single assistant coach.
“It’s fairly easy to handle, sometimes one voice is a lot clearer than two,” cross country and track and field coach, Peter Thomas said.
Thomas, who for the first time has an assistant coach for cross country and two assistants for track and field this year, said it gets hectic on training day with so many runners at once, so it has been easier with the extra help.
“With cross country, it’s just everyone running one race, the girls and boys,” assistant track and field coach John Napolitano said. “When you get to track and field, there’s the sprinters, jumpers and throwers.”
The number of assistant coaches used is up to the head coach, but the type of sport matters too.
Baseball has five assistant coaches, basketball has four, and other sports, like soccer, have three.
“I think it depends on the number of players and what you’re trying to accomplish in practice, [it also depends on] the practice facilities,” head baseball coach Ken Howe said.
Baseball is different among other sports because it’s a sport that needs at least two assistant coaches to run the base paths and the head coach to oversee the whole operation.
“It really depends on the sport and what the needs may be on the team, most of my coaches are pitching guys,” Howe said. “I try to get coaches whose expertise in the game are my weaknesses.”
Howe’s weakness is pitching, and to counter that he has four assistant coaches with pitching backgrounds. Three out of those four have pitched for KSC. John Raiola, Marty Testo, Tim Thiesing and Jeff Pelkey are all assistant coaches with pitching backgrounds.
With former KSC baseball players now coaches, it gives Howe a sense of trust and consistency while coaching for his team.
“The coaching staff brings some ease to the players, knowing that this guy they’re working with will be there with them throughout their college career,” Howe said. “They know me and what I’m trying to instill in the players, not just baseball-wise but also life lessons,” Howe said.
The other side of picking assistant coaches is the financial aspect. The head coaches can have as many assistants as they want.
KSC Director of Athletics, John Ratliff, explained that each team has an allotment of, on average, $7,000 to $11,000 per team and it’s up to the coaches to decide how they want to divvy up their budget.
“It’s really up to them once we give them their allotment, some sports only need one,” Ratliff said. “You could have ten if you wanted.”
The range of pay for assistant coaches goes from no pay to $5,000 annually.
The average assistant coach on campus is getting paid about $3,000, according to Ratliff.
There are no full-time assistant coaches at KSC because Ratliff said he is focused on turning all head coaches into full-time employees first. “The majority [of head coaches] are full-time, there are still a couple that are part-time, the next step is increasing the allotment for assistant coaches,” Ratliff said. “A lot of other schools already have full-time assistants, so we’re a little behind.”
Ratliff said it is a process to eventually increase the assistant coaches stipend to where it is at a more respectable rate.
“We’ve been caught a little stiff because of our commitment to the head coaches,” Ratliff said.
“I doubt there will be a time, at least while I’m here, where we’ll have full time assistant head coaches.”
A reason why coaches only have a certain number of assistants is because there is a lack of availability of talent and proficiency of coaches in the region. Ratliff said there are more people who are experts in basketball than field hockey, at least in the southern New Hampshire region.
“If we were in Boston or the Springfield area where you have more talent to pull from in a metropolitan area, there might be more people with better expertise,” Ratliff said.
There are a lot of former Owls coaching at KSC, which helps with the talent pool problem.
But with their salary, it’s mostly a way for aspiring coaches to get their foot in the door. “There’s a lot of things as a player you don’t see that the coaches do, like the fund raising side of it, all the paperwork and recruiting,” Howe said.
“I’ve had all kinds of players come through the program that are now head and assistant coaches at the high school and collegiate level. It’s fun to see them move on,” Howe said.
Stephen Aruilio can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org