Trusting the process

Director of Athletics Allen Ward. Photo courtesy of Racer Athletics.

Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor

Since Allen Ward accepted the position of Director of Athletics in 2005, Murray State’s coaching hires have had predominantly one thing in common: youth.

Out of the 12 head coaches currently on staff at the university, Ward has played a part in hiring nine of them. Out of those nine, seven of them are under the age of 40.

Coincidence or not, there’s no refuting the trend towards youth in the coaching ranks at Murray State. Despite the prevalence of youth, Ward said age isn’t the main focal point in his decision making, although it certainly helps.

“I do like up-and-coming coaches that bring a lot of energy to the job,” Ward said. “Recruiting is essential and takes a lot of effort, and the current salary gap between the power five and mid-majors can often lead itself to receiving interest from younger candidates.”

As great as young talent is, oftentimes age and experience wins out in the sports world. As for whether or not Ward shows a preference towards a weathered veteran or a rising up-and-comer, he said they both are valuable to the program in their own right.

“I will take a coach with potential that might end up moving to a higher paying position any day,” Ward said. “That means it was a good hire and we’ve been successful.  At the same time, a proven veteran that wants to make Murray his or her home is a luxury I’d accept as well.”

While younger coaches might pay off in the long run, their inexperience has its faults. Softball Head Coach Kara Amundson got the position at the age of 26, and said coming into the program ill-prepared was challenging at first, but Ward’s support made for a quick adjustment.

“I think there were times where I felt like ‘Am I ready for this?’, early on specifically,” Amundson said. “But once I got in, I mean the support system at Murray State is absolutely incredible, including and starting with Mr. Ward.”

Another head coach at the university has felt the effects of inexperience firsthand. Tennis Head Coach, Jorge Caetano, first began coaching when he was 25 years old and still in graduate school. The 29-year-old said his lack of prestige attributed to his inexperience has led to disappointments on the recruiting trail.

“I think the biggest disadvantage is that when you’re young it’s hard to have the credibility part, you know when you’re attracting recruits,” Caetano said. “I feel like I’ve lost a couple really good players that were interested in the program, they really liked it, but they preferred going somewhere where the coach has been there longer.”

While Caetano acknowledged the disadvantages of being a young coach, he also believes it has its positives. Being so close in age with his student-athletes allows him to lead by example, a luxury older coaches may not have.

“Being young helps a lot,” Caetano said. “I can go out there and play with them, I’m not just telling them what they have to do, I can kind of show them what they have to do on the court, so I think they believe me more because of that.”

Murray State has a history of recruiting relatively unknown hires that go on to take jobs in much larger power five conferences. The basketball program in particular has hung its hat on selecting coaches with promise from as early as 1985.

Former coaches, Steve Newton, Mark Gottfried, Mick Cronin, Billy Kennedy and Steve Prohm have all gone to take jobs at major universities. Coaches Kennedy and Prohm were hired by Ward and currently have jobs coaching in highly competitive conferences.

Ward credits the past athletic directors for the long-time success of the program. He said being at a mid-major school can pose challenges in selecting successful coaches, a problem that bigger schools, because of greater resources and funds, don’t have to deal with.

“I like to joke that the big boys get to select their next head coach and those of us at the mid-major level have to find our next great coach,” Ward said. “I’m fortunate at Murray State to have so much to sell with our nationally recognized brand and incredible success.”

Caetano believes because of Murray State’s track record with developing younger coaches, they have created a reputation amongst outsiders as a major stepping stone for up-and-comers.

“This school as a whole is very supportive of the athletics,” Caetano said. “It’s a really good place to start, and if you can create something special here, other opportunities are going to open up in the future.”