James Coffey, Maine high school athletic director and coach, explains exactly why it’s best to do both jobs — at once.

This past school year, I needed to hire a varsity softball coach. 

It was a good thing. Our softball program’s numbers were extremely low two years ago when I became the athletic director at Falmouth High School (Maine). In an effort to build up engagement, we created a co-op with another school and kept the program alive for two years. We also put additional funds and resources into our middle school program to boost participation. 

Our efforts paid off—we finally had enough girls to field a team. With our roster filled out I posted the coaching position early in the school year. I was up front that this was a program in need of a total rebuild. Nobody applied. 

Well, I’ve been an athletic director for fourteen years. I’ve also coached before, but not while being an AD at the same time. Still, as a former baseball player, I love the sport too much to see a program fall apart. I knew someone needed to step up and rebuild this program for future players, so I pulled a Roger Dorn from Major League and hired myself.

Our team consisted of an all-league senior captain, one junior, four sophomores and ten freshman. To say the least, we were young and inexperienced. Yet we took on the toughest softball conference in Maine, and took a big step forward in rebuilding the program. 

Along the way I learned how difficult it is to coach and be the athletic director at the same time. I also learned exactly why every athletic director should coach at least one sport.

Connect with student-athletes in a different capacity. 

As an AD, I have great relationships with the student-athletes in our school. But a lot of my time is spent in meetings or conferences, or working on detailed projects. I can accidentally go for a while without any meaningful dialogue with students. 

But, as everyone knows, coaches and kids have a different connection. We spent hours together every day for several months straight. I got to know the kids and their families much better than I ever would have as just the AD.

I got to know the kids and their families much better than I ever would have as just the AD.

I was able to get a pulse on what was going on in their lives, in the school and in my athletic department that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Appreciate the common challenges coaches face. 

As a coach this year, I went through my fair share of difficulties, just like any coach in any sport. We all have to work with the same groups of people—parents and guardians, booster groups and, most importantly, the student-athletes.

Of course there were the challenges that come with rebuilding a program from the ground up. But on top of that, this year was the rainiest Maine has seen in a long time. Many coaches weren’t able to use their fields and we all had to adapt. I had to coordinate with all our spring sport coaches to share what facilities were available, like our gymnasium, weight room, turf field, and even the school parking lots.

My coaches appreciated the fact that I was in the foxhole with them, dealing with the same coaching issues they were. And it helped me give them even better guidance. I’m not just the administrator—I’m one of them.

Give yourself a break.

Even though doing two jobs at the same time is more work and understandably more difficult, it gave me a break from the daily grind of my athletic director role. 

This was a difficult school year in many ways and knowing I had a couple hours each day to step away and coach gave me an outlet. Coaching kept me sharp and it alleviated the frustration that can build being an AD. To me, it was almost like a daily therapy session.

I can honestly say this one of the best experiences of my professional life. It totally changed my thinking on how to approach running a strong athletic department, and overall made me a better athletic director. 

If you’re an athletic director and have the ability to coach, believe me—you won’t regret it.

James Coffey attended Endicott College in Beverly, MA where he got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Sport Management. He has spend the last fourteen years as an athletic director at three different high schools. Coffey was named the Massachusetts Secondary School District A Athletic Director of the Year in 2012. He has also spoke about the positive effects of social media on athletics at several New England conferences.