Tips For Aspiring Coaches

Since writing about my tough decision to leave college coaching last week I have had tons and tons of people email me with support, questions, job opportunities and advice. I sincerely appreciate each and every one of them.

However, I have received a handful of emails from aspiring coaches that had their eyes opened by some of the struggles I wrote about and ultimately played a major role in my decision to leave a great college-coaching job. Although I have appreciated these emails, in some ways they have really bothered me. I didn’t want my blog to deter other guys from chasing their dreams. My post was just MY reality. I’ve gone through so much and seen even more during my 7 years with the University of Tennessee so I thought I would post the things I have learned during this time in hopes of helping all of you aspiring coaches.

**Even if you aren’t in the coaching profession, I think these tips can help you in your pursuit of professional success.

1) Make Sure You Love It

I am thankful for the advice Coach Pearl gave me before I took the job as a Graduate-Assistant at the University of Tennessee. He said this profession won’t be easy.  He made me think about whether or not to pursue this career. It wasn’t that he thought I couldn’t do the job but he wanted me to evaluate why I wanted to get into this profession. If you don’t love coaching, you’ll never make it. Don’t get caught up in the glitz and glamour of being able to tell people you coach for a living. Likewise, don’t get into this profession just because you think this is all you can do (I hear that all the time from guys who are just finishing their playing careers). Deep down inside you have to LOVE coaching because, honestly, only about 10% of your day and duties will actually be coaching basketball. 95% of the country has no clue what goes into helping a program run efficiently. There is so much more that goes into being a coach than putting players through drills, diagramming plays and motivating your players. Nobody told me about class checks, laundry, dealing with upset parents/AAU coaches, driving a coach to recruit, organizing the team’s schedule, getting guys where they need to be on time, etc. All of those things aren’t fun. But if you love it, you’ll understand that all those little things are part of the bigger picture. Winning games. If you don’t love it and you are asked to do those same little jobs, you’ll quickly begin to resent the job. No job can be too small for a successful coach. The ability to coach is such a blessing. If you love coaching ball and positively affecting the lives of kids, this profession is awesome!

2) Dominate your responsibilities and then do more 

As mentioned earlier, there are things you will be asked to do that you never thought were in a coach’s job description. However, the only way for you to move on to “bigger” duties will be to dominate the current responsibilities given to you.  I have been given many different responsibilities as a graduate-assistant and administrative assistant. Some tasks were as deflating and small as going to get Coach Pearl or Coach Martin a cup of coffee while others were much more meaningful such as running our summer camps, planning our recruiting visits or helping the coaches with scouting reports. Regardless of how important you see your responsibilities, it is your job to do whatever is asked of you to the best of your ability. With that said, I believe that most guys do what is asked to the best of their ability. If they don’t, they probably won’t be around long. Either that or they’re part of a losing staff and a culture that accepts mediocrity. To get to the top of this profession, you can’t be like “most people”. You can’t just punch the clock and only do what is asked of you, unless you want to be average. You must separate yourself from the average support staff member if you want to get a bigger and better job.  You must go above and beyond your duties. You must always be searching for ways to help the program improve. Whether it’s in the area of player development, game planning, student interaction, summer camps, recruiting, development, marketing… there is always something to be done to help the program. No idea is a bad idea. So when you’re done dominating your duties, start working on new ideas to bring to your boss. Just think, as a head coach you’ll have to have your foot in EVERY part of the program so why not start doing it now? By assisting in more areas, you become more important to your current staff and more attractive to future employers.

3) Be someone the staff and players can trust

I’m not talking about being an honest person. I would hope you’re already honest. If not, you need to start working on more important issues than how to move up the coaching ladder. What I am referring to is being a person that anybody (student manager, administrator, players, other coaches and the head coach) can come to about anything. How does this happen? You need to know your stuff! Are you able to answer any question about the program a colleague calls you with? If not, can you get them the answer in an efficient manner? You can’t ever be uninformed or unwilling to put in the work to find out the answer. You can’t just be willing to do it for the people you like or when it is convenient for you. Be a sponge for information and be accountable. You want everyone around you to know that “If I need something, I know I can go to INSERT YOUR NAME HERE.” You also need to have a good filter. By this I mean you need to be a good judge of what to go tell your boss and what not to tell him. You may be thinking, “How can I be someone coach trusts if I don’t tell him everything?” Some head coaches might not agree with me but I strongly believe you can’t tell the head coach everything. If you want the players’ trust, you need to be able to filter what the head coach needs to know and what he doesn’t need to know. A head coach doesn’t have time for everything. Big stuff, yes. Obviously, you should take that to coach. But smaller issues told to you during “venting sessions”, they don’t need to be told to coach. Handle them properly and move forward. Be someone EVERYONE TRUSTS!

4) Don’t be a “YES” man!

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I can’t stand it when people tell their boss what he wants to hear all the time or agree with a suggestion he makes just because he’s the boss and he made the suggestion. If you dominate your responsibilities, know everything about that area (like I mentioned above) and coach asks a question about something you have put tons of time and effort into, you must stand up and say with confidence what you believe in. If you don’t, you have not only wasted tons of time and effort but you are a coward. You can’t be afraid to give your educated opinion. If you work for a coach who you feel will take your input as argumentative or disloyal, chances are you don’t want to work for that coach. Bosses (head coaches) should hire assistant coaches and staff members who bring informed opinions to the table all the time. I wouldn’t want guys to always agree with me because I know that I’m not always right. In fact, I feed off of others input. Now, after you give your input, it is your job to make sure that you do all you can to ensure whatever the head coach decides is successful. If you suggest going right and he says, “we need to go left”, then it is your job to go left as hard as you can to make his decision work. He is ultimately responsible for making the final decision but it is your job to give your informed opinion all the time. It isn’t easy sometimes but I promise it is a lot easier to look in the mirror after you’ve done it. It beats just being a “Yes” man with no backbone.

5) Player and Staff Interaction

Let’s face it; if people around you in the program or the school don’t like you, you’re in trouble. Therefore, I strongly believe that your interaction with those around you is vital to your success. Besides knowing your stuff and being trustworthy, it is important to build genuine relationships with people. To do this you need to interact with them outside of normal working hours and talk about things other than work. Have you asked one of these people how their day is going? Have you sincerely asked about their family? Did you console them when they face adversity in the classroom or with a significant other? It’s all about relationships. If you have a strong two-way street relationship with players, they are more likely to trust you. It is the same for your coworkers. I admit, sometimes I got so engrained in getting all my responsibilities done that I forgot to do this. I didn’t go to lunch with people enough. I didn’t go sit in other coaches’ offices and “chop it up” with them enough. In my last few years, I just wanted to work so I could get home at a decent hour to see my family.  I felt like I didn’t have time to go talk about “such and such” for 30 minutes. Don’t do that. Those “chop it up sessions” (as I call them) are important. Have your door open at all times with ESPN on and candy in a bowl. This will help players come see you more often. I absolutely loved when Jordan McRae would come by my office almost every morning to eat his breakfast. Honestly, it probably meant more to me than it did to him. You’ll win more than just games if you interact with others and make building genuine relationships a priority. You’ll win valuable lifelong friends and references for your next opportunity.

6) Don’t be a Naismith

I’ll never forget a few years back when Coach Pearl jokingly asked one of our managers to “go get Naismith.” Unfortunately, he was referring to me. I was working on one of those “do more” projects and I thought I had all the answers and apparently was acting close-minded to suggestions from others. To be successful, you can’t be like that. You have to be a great listener. It took me a handful of years to fully understand but if you want to reach your potential you must be a constant learner. There are so many brilliant and experienced people you could talk to, books you can read and websites to explore. With so much experience and knowledge around you, lack of growth is purely a sign of laziness, stubbornness or conceitedness. Tap into other resources of knowledge and watch your career take off!

7) Be an Energy Giver

You’re not feeling well. You’re having problems with your wife or girlfriend. You were up all night with your sick child. Your car broke down. Your mom or dad is sick. We ALL face stressful issues or moments outside of work. Don’t let those affect the energy and effort you bring to the office. You have a responsibility to the other members of that staff and the players within the program to bring your “A” game every day. You might think you can hide it well but I promise you others around your program will notice it. No matter what your role in the program is, others feed off of the energy you bring to the table. Be an energy giver not an energy taker! Energy is something that everyone can bring. No matter where you are on the totem pole. If you are an energy giver, I guarantee that you will be someone others want to be around. This will lead to greater responsibility, more trust and stronger relationships.

8) Speak Up!

I say this with some hesitation because I am TERRIBLE at this. I am not a braggadocios person. If you ask me to do something, I am going to do it. I don’t care if you or anyone else knows who did it as long as what I did got the job done and ultimately helped the organization. However, looking back, I think there are times that you need to speak up and let somebody know about all the things you are doing. If you don’t, who will? When you are in a support staff role, you might be given a different job from four different people within the same day. It is impossible for the head coach to know all that you are helping accomplish (and nor should he most of the time). Speaking up about what you do is tough. I know. I’m not sure I ever did it. However, if your boss doesn’t know all you have done and are capable of doing, you may get passed over for a job or not get the same recommendation you would have received if you would have spoken up.

9) Treat EVERYONE With Respect

I guess I have a couple of pet peeves because this is another one that bothers me if it isn’t done. I strongly believe that one of the best signs of a coach’s character is how he treats his student-assistant coaches (managers). These guys or girls work their butts off but are seldom appreciated. They are vital. If your Athletics Director came by your office, how differently would you treat him from a student-assistant or a janitor? They all deserve your respect. If you mistreat someone, it’s amazing how that always comes back to bite you in the long run. Treating that student-assistant bad? Watch what happens in a few years when he works for a company you are trying to get a donation from to help build your locker room. Don’t give that graduate assistant in the development office the time of day? You never know what school he or she will be the Athletics Director of in ten years when you’re trying to get your first head coaching gig. I promise you if you treat everyone with respect you’ll be amazed what doors open for you.

10) Present Yourself Professionally

This one is tougher than you might think. I absolutely loved being able to wear basketball shorts and a t-shirt to work each day. In retrospect, I wish I had dressed a little more professional each day. I’m not saying dress like Carlton from Fresh Prince every day but make sure you dress for the job you want and not the one you currently have. Also, the most often over looked aspect of presenting yourself in a professional manner is the way you talk. Don’t be cussing all the time. It’s a sign of being immature and uneducated. Be an adult and use different words to express yourself. How can you be the face of a program or the CEO of a business if you can’t express yourself without dropping a 4 letter word.

11) Be A Good Communicator

Although this one is No. 11 on my list, it is VERY important. You can’t be successful in coaching or in any other profession if you aren’t a good communicator. If you can’t effectively communicate to your players, how are they going to execute the play correctly? If you can’t communicate with your colleagues, how are you going to organize an effective recruiting visit? Another aspect of communication that is often forgotten about is giving proper feedback. You must be willing to give accurate and honest feedback after a job has been done. If you can’t have tough conversations with people, the team or organization you are a part of won’t grow at the rate it should. Jason Shay, who I worked with at UT and played for at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, taught me communication needs to be done “early, loud and continuous”. Successful communicators become successful leaders!

12) Have Balance          

Grind, grind, grind…that’s what we as coaches do! I grew up in a family that taught me if I wasn’t working, my competition was. Grinding is what I have always done. Shoot, I don’t have a job right now and I still wake up each day at 5am and work almost non-stop until I go to bed. This “almost non-stop” working is new to me. I’ve learned you need to take a break once in a while. Someone recently gave me this analogy: If two farmers start chopping down two different, same size trees at the same time, who will finish first? Is it the farmer who keeps chopping nonstop even though his ax keeps getting duller or the farmer who efficiently stops every once in a while to sharpen his ax? The answer is the farmer who takes time to sharpen his ax (By the way, can you tell I live in the south by that analogy?). As hard as it is sometimes to not go into the office on a Sunday, leave the office at a decent time at night or take a vacation with your family. YOU NEED TO DO IT! Spending time with your family or taking time to work on improving YOU (spiritually, emotionally, intellectually) is important. If you don’t do it, the passion for what you do will become duller and duller and you’ll eventually get passed by the coach that does.

13) Network

People in this industry are very loyal. Many are afraid to talk to members of different programs because they are afraid they will use something they say against them in preparation for their game later in the season. Additionally, they may see it as disloyal to their current staff. This can’t be further from the truth! It is so important to build relationships with other people in this business. Some of my good friends are in similar roles at Kentucky and Florida. We don’t talk about our games but we talked about our families, ideas for camps, team travel arrangements, etc. Their knowledge and friendship was invaluable. It is not only important to build these relationships with other coaches but with student-assistants, administrators, boosters and media members. These are all people that could be great resources for you inside or outside of basketball in the future. How do you network? First and foremost, do what I mention above and treat everyone with respect and build genuine relationships with people. Talk with other coaches about their experiences, go to coaching clinics, attend as many university events as possible, get involved in your university and community, etc. The more people you develop genuine relationships with, the more people you will have to call on when you need help with that next project or getting that next job.

I hope these things I have learned from my experiences during my seven years in college coaching can be of some assistance to not only coaches, but also all individuals looking to move up the ladder of their organization. Love your job but more importantly love the people you work with. Life isn’t always about how much money you make or how big your house is. It’s about the relationships you develop and how many lives you can positively impact. Chances are you won’t be a head coach or the CEO of the company you work for. However, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If you want to be the next head coach of Duke, work your butt off each and every day to accomplish it. As you chase these dreams, make sure you have balance by focusing on the things you can control and the relationships that mean the most to you. If you remember just one thing from this entire post, please let it be this….

God never promises a trouble free life of leisure, but he does promise to never leave you and to always love you. Stay positive and keep fighting through your adversities. God is with you!

If you have any other questions please feel free to email me at PancratzHoopsDevelopment@yahoo.com. Thank you so much for your time. Good luck and GOD BLESS!!

Mark

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Toughest Decision Of My Life

95% of the country will think I’m crazy. All of Vol Nation will definitely think I’m nuts. Shoot, even some of my best friends and family members think I am throwing away my dreams and giving up on years and years of hard work.

Coaching and teaching have always been in my blood. I’ve been blessed to be around some of the best. My mom, a Hall of Fame volleyball coach in Illinois. My dad, a standout player for Ray Meyer at DePaul University. He was the best basketball coach I have ever had, because he taught me at an early age how to compete, never say “can’t” and that if I wasn’t working on my game, somewhere, my competition was. If my dad wasn’t coaching me, my grade school and junior high coaches, Mrs. Streit, Mr. Lagan, Mr. Maestranzi, Mr. Rivera, Mr. Baird, Mr. Gallas and Coach Julio, were busy making a huge impact on me on the basketball court or on the baseball field. In high school there was my Hall of Fame coach, Bob Williams, who taught me so much about discipline and fighting through adversity. There was also Mark Steger, Tom Mueller, Adam Smith, Mark Stilling and Mr. Ivan Thomas, each of whom helped mold me into who I am today and increase my desire to be a coach. In college Coach Pearl, Jason Shay, KJ, Tony Jones, Rob Jeter, Duffy Conroy and Coach Bidlingmyer made a huge impact on me. They taught me a lot about the game. In fact, since Coach Pearl knew I wanted to coach someday, he had me sit in the first seat on the bench helping scout our opponents when I redshirted my freshman year (this would later become the same seat I occupied as a full time member of his staff at Tennessee). When I was done playing and ready to move into the “real world,” I knew I would like to coach, but I wasn’t sure at what level. I was all ready to take a sales/marketing job when Coach Pearl called me and offered me the Graduate Assistant job at Tennessee. I’ll never forget what he said, “Mark, are you sure you want to get into college coaching? This is not an easy business. You could have more stability and make a lot of money quicker if you did something else. Think about it another day and call me tomorrow and let me know what you decide.” Well, to me that sounded like he doubted me! Did he think I would be better off doing something else? I appreciated his honesty, but that kind of ticked me off. Of course I wanted to coach. He knew that! Needless to say, I called him the next day and accepted the position to come to Tennessee. Before I left for this great opportunity at Tennessee, I wrote down this goal: “Become a head coach by the age of 35.”

On my drive down from Schaumburg, Illinois to Knoxville in 2006 with all my belongings packed in my parents teal mini van (not a good first impression with the ladies, I know), I realized a few things about the South. They had a lot of churches, the people drove a bit slower than in the Chicago suburbs, college football recruiting and non-mainstream college sports were on the cover of the sports page and talked about on the radio, they loved this stuff called sweet tea, and there were mountains. I had never seen a mountain before, so I was pumped!  If that doesn’t sound crazy enough, I had never been to a college football game, let alone an SEC football game! Needless to say, I was in awe when I was walking recruits around campus before our opening football game vs. Cal in 2006. I’m supposed to be talking to the recruits about campus and where they’ll eat, sleep, study, etc, and I can’t talk because my jaw is down to my toes in amazement of the tailgate scene. People in orange were everywhere, and so much excitement was in the air! Then, basketball season came. I had played against and seen a lot of great players before I got here, but everyone down here talked about this Chris Lofton kid. To be honest, I hadn’t really heard of him before I got down here. In preseason open gyms, he seemed to be an “ok” player. In practice he was petty good. In the first few games, he would score 15 points one game, 16 in the next, but nothing special. I kept asking Jason Shay, “I thought C-Lo was supposed to be an All-American? What’s the deal?” and Shay used to always respond, “Wait till the big games. You’ll see.” Sure enough, in a packed house vs. Memphis, C-Lo had one of those legendary Chris Lofton games. Nobody could guard him. He was unstoppable! Since these experiences that first year, I have bled orange and have absolutely turned into a Vol For Life!

My motivation to help our basketball program be as successful as possible while trying to positively impact the lives of our players and reach my goal of becoming a head coach has made me literally “give my all for Tennessee” the last 7 years. I have given Coach Pearl, then Coach Martin, the assistant coaches, our players, this university and this community everything I have and then some during my time here. I have spent countless hours in the office. I am almost always the first one in the building around 5 a.m., and more times than not, I’ve been the last to leave at night. I have sacrificed so many family moments that I will never get back in order to help this program and pursue my dreams. I never saw my brothers or sister play a collegiate game in person, I’ve missed three of my best friends weddings that I was supposed to be a part of, and my almost 3-year-old daughter told me while we were at home about two months ago, “Daddy you need to go home.” When I responded with “Charli, I am at home.” She said, “No daddy, you live at your office. That’s your home.” She may or may not have known what she was saying, but that about broke my heart. I give these few examples not for sympathy but for no other reason than they are just the facts. Missing out on some of life’s important moments is a part of this business. And to be honest up, until the last few months, I’ve been okay with that. I am the type of person who likes work. If I don’t have any work to do, I still need to go to the office for a few hours to work ahead or brainstorm some new ideas because I feel like the competition would be getting ahead of us and I’d be letting the rest of the staff and our players down if I didn’t. That drive to be great wont ever change. I know I have made my share of mistakes and could improve in many areas, but I strongly believe that my efforts have been a small part of the success this program has had over the last seven years. This program and these efforts have enabled me to experience things many can only dream of and build relationships with people that will last me a lifetime.

Despite my efforts and the success of our program, my progression in this business hasn’t happened the way I thought it would. During Coach Pearl’s tenure, he gave me TONS of responsibility and we were having GREAT success. I had possibilities to move up the coaching ladder elsewhere but we were winning, I loved it here, and Coach Pearl had made me some promises that made me excited about the future. These promises didn’t materialize, and things didn’t end for Coach Pearl the way many people thought they would. However, I appreciate the opportunity Coach Pearl gave me here, and the things he taught me. After being fired along withthe rest of our staff, by the grace of God, Coach Martin came into the picture. He literally pulled me from the dead when he re-hired me in 2011. He is one of the greatest men I have ever met. I will always look up to him and forever be indebted to him for giving me another opportunity here at UT. I hope they both know that I came to work every day determined to make their job easier and to help them and their program be as successful as possible.

Although my progression up the coaching ladder here at UT or elsewhere hasn’t happened, this thing we all experience called “life” has. I have been blessed with the most loving, supportive wife in the world. I am confident that if I asked her to move to Alaska because a great coaching opportunity became available, she would. She has always been there for me. Then, there is my almost 3-year-old daughter, Charli, who has given me an entirely new perspective on life. She should be the poster child for “Daddy’s Little Girl,” because I would do anything for her. Lastly, after trying for more than a year, God has blessed my wife and I with another baby due in February. We are so excited! However, because of my current role on the basketball staff, what the future holds in this business and the addition of this secondchild to our family I have had to reevaluate my priorities and determine what is best for my family and our future. This second future Vol or Lady Vol has made me really stop and think: What does the future hold for me in this crazy uncertain world of coaching? Is committing so much time to this profession worth being away from my family so much? Is what Iearn now and what I probably will earn for the next five years or so as a mid-major assistant worth moving my family for a few years until the next job offer comes? Is telling my wife again that we need to keep renting a small two-bedroom condo because we can’t afford a bigger place and we don’t know if we’ll be here come April worth it? Is basically asking my wife to be a single parent of two kids from October to (hopefully) April, and then all of camp season in June, worth it? Is never being able to coach my kids or missing out on their school plays worth it? The coach in me says, “Ya, you sacrifice those great moments with your family, but think about all the cool places they get to travel and moments they get to experience and share with you.”  And “I’ll make it to the top someday.” The competitor inside of me says, “It doesn’t have to be that way. I can be a great husband, father, son, brother and friend while also being a great coach. I can have balance in my life.” Really though, can I? Is it really possible to have balance in this profession if you are going to win at the level necessary to reach the top of coaching and then keep your job in this social-media fueled, happy-today, fired-tomorrow world? I really don’t think you can. To be a great coach, you need to give almost all of your time to your team, your recruits, your boosters and your community. Not your family. So I started to think about getting out of coaching. But then my mind wandered back… I can’t get out. Basketball IS me. Every time I go home to Schaumburg or out around Knoxville nobody asks, “How are you doing?” Instead, they ask, “How’s Tennessee going to be this year?” or “How’s the new point guard going to be this year?” or “How’s Jeronne’s knee?” or “Do you think you’ll make the tournament this year?” I’m not sure anyone except maybe my wife and parents see me as Mark Pancratz. I’ve always been a basketball player or a basketball coach. To be giving up on coaching would be giving up a huge part of me.

I am not a “toot my own horn” type of person, so don’t misinterpret what I am saying. I am positive that I can become a great head coach, win tons of games and impact tons of kids lives if I decided to stay in it. What I am saying is, are those material accomplishments worth the sacrifices that I will have to make in order to get there? When an opportunity opened up at UT, and another one at a different university I was intrigued by this off-season, I was excited that I could finally be moving up. I felt God might finally be opening a door for me to move forward in the coaching world. But when those doors got slammed in my face, my future once again became cloudy. Another year in a non-coaching position in which my responsibilities were far greater than that of the typical “video guy” seemed inevitable.  I absolutely love my job, but being a 30-year-old in a non-coaching position really began to bother me. When Brooke told me a about eight weeks ago that she was pregnant, I began praying for wisdom and guidance. This thing called life is progressing! I have gone back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Do I stay in college coaching, or do I get out? The decision has been so hard. Through much prayer and countless tears, I have finally become completely at peace with my decision. I love what I do and have been so blessed to do it at a place like Tennessee. But, as a husband and a father, I have to make sure I do what is best for my family’s future. Therefore, I am excited about my decision to pursue other professional opportunities.

The hardest part was telling Coach Martin and the players. I love UT. I love the current players and the players I have been able to work with over the years even more. They were why I got into this business. The thought of not being able to be on the floor when D’Montre, Jordan and Jeronne play their last game in Thompson-Boling Arena makes me tear up (I would have definitely been like Dick Vermeil as a head coach, getting emotional all the time). Not being there for the guys when they have personal problems or questions, or celebrating when they achieve something on the court or in the classroom, is going to be tough. I love those guys and pray they have the greatest year in UT history. As I told them all when I called them to tell them about the decision, no matter where I am, I will always be a phone call away and willing to help. I just pray that the players, our staff and everyone else around the program know that I gave that basketball program all I had during my time at UT and can respect the fact that I needed to make this decision because I feel it is whats best for my family.

Many people will say I have failed at my goal of becoming a head coach by age 35. But you know what, I am okay with not becoming a head Division I coach, because I know I have given everything I can to this profession, and I am happy that instead of coaching at age 35 for some university in some different state on a Saturday afternoon, I will be able to be coaching my daughter’s team. The question I keep getting is “What are you going to do now?” My answer is, although I don’t know where I will be working in the future, I do know that whatever I am doing I will continue to work my butt off and help whatever company I am working for reach its goals. Sure, it’s kind of scary not knowing what is going to happen next, but I am excited. I know that no matter what I decide to do, there will be adversity and huge adjustments to make, but I’m eager for a new opportunity. As I search for a new career, I will continue to stay involved in basketball by conducting basketball skill workouts and basketball camps for kids. Who knows when the “big boy” job will happen? But I am confident that my relentless work ethic and experience working with so many aspects of our program will land me a great job somewhere.

Vol Nation, thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of the Vol Family for the last seven years! This community, university and athletic program are filled with some of the best people in the world. I look forward to seeing you at a football game this fall and a basketball game this winter cheering on the Vols. The only difference is, this time I will be sitting with my family.

GOD BLESS!!

Mark Pancratz

PS: At this point I can’t be shy so if you or your company has a job opening, and/or if you have a son or daughter who might be interested in some basketball skills training, please don’t hesitate to email me at MarkPancratz@yahoo.com

The loves of my life!

Jakes Wedding

The people in these pictures are what have made this decision so difficult. I will always love each and every one of the former players and coaches and will cherish my relationship with them forever. Thank you for letting me be a small part of your life during your time here. I pray that in some way, I made a positive difference in each of your lives. I am excited to see what the future holds for each of you. #VFLCoach Martin Era Coach Pearl Era

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My Story…

Tuesday August 23rd I started a new life as I officially accepted Jesus into my life and got saved! This is my story…

 

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in a religious Catholic family with parents who were great role models. They loved us unconditionally, taught us hard lessons and raised us in the church and around Godly people. My family and I went to church on Sunday’s, I attend CCD class during the week, served as an Altar Boy until 7th grade and earned all of the Catholic milestones along the way (Baptized as an infant, First Communion and Reconciliation). However, looking back I may have been religious at a young age but I definitely hadn’t accepted Jesus into my life. As my siblings and I grew older and became more involved in sports and more and more problems seemed to arise in Catholic Churches throughout the country my family’s attendance began to falter. By the time I was in high school, college and graduate school the only time you would see me in Church was Christmas and Easter. Quite honestly, that was only part of it. During those years, I prayed before games and when I needed help but that was about it. God had become a crutch I leaned on only when I needed it. I knew He was out there but He really wasn’t a focal part of my life.

 

Then, I starting dating my now wife and eventually met her family. They were a strong Christian family who put nothing before God. When I met the Waddell’s my first thought was, “Wow, they are awesome people!” My second thought was, “Man, I don’t know how they can live like that.” To me, it seemed like they NEVER had one negative thought or committed one sinful action. Me, on the other hand, well, let’s just say I needed a lot of work. Furthermore, they went to church on Wednesday, twice on Sunday and taught Sunday school. At the time, that was about the extent of my attendance at church throughout an entire year. As Brooke and I grew closer and closer, so did my relationship with her parents and ultimately God. I started going to church again every Sunday, opening up my Bible here and there and praying more frequently. But still, I had a long way to go. Deep down in my heart I hadn’t fully accepted God into my life. How could I? It seemed so hard. The time commitment to learn and change some of my behaviors seemed impossible. Can’t cuss? How could I do that while in coaching? No drinking? What’s wrong with having a couple of beers on a Friday or Saturday night? Read the bible and pray? How in the world was I going to do that with all the things I had on my plate? Better yet, where do I even start? I knew some of the major Bible stories but that was it. Ask me where the book of John was or what tithing was and I’d look at you as though you were speaking Japanese!

 

With that said, my relationship with God was improving. When I got married to my wife I promised her and her father (which wasn’t hard to do considering he was holding a shot gun…no joke) I would continue to seek God. I was improving and learning more about the powers of God by attending Brooke’s home church in Greeneville and Sevier Heights Church here in Knoxville but still, deep down, I hadn’t made the ultimate leap of faith. I was changing on the outside and becoming a religious person but on the inside I was still questioning many things and thus truly not a faithful Godly man.

Then my life was flipped upside down. Married with a 6 month old daughter, I was fired from my job. I didn’t know what to do. How was I going to provide for the two loves of my life? Was I going to have to get out of the profession that I loved? Were we going to have to move? These were just a few of the million stressful questions that constantly ran through my head. Sure I was pressing on, doing whatever I could to try to find a job, but on the inside I was torn up. Until, finally on April 24th, with tears running down my face while listening to Pastor Rudd at my in-laws church in Greeneville, I prayed to God fully committing myself to Him, desperately laying it all on Him. I needed Him. I needed His guidance. I needed His wisdom. I needed His love. I was hurting and as hard as it was for me to admit, I couldn’t do it myself.  Honestly, I needed anything He could give me.

I’ll never forget the difference I felt inside of me walking out of church on that Sunday, having accepted Jesus into my heart.

From that day on I tried to dive deeper into my Bible, consistently pray and ultimately making some character changes. However, because I’m the type of person who likes to try and figure everything out myself, this huge task began to really frustrate me. I didn’t know really where to start. When it came to the Bible and everything about the Church, I was similar to a 3rd grader. Noah’s Ark? Yeah, I remember hearing about it when I was a kid and at church a couple of times but that’s about it. I was so confused. However, I know God knew I was trying as He blessed me in so many ways during this time such as answering my deepest prayers when I got rehired at the University of Tennessee. His many blessings and the comfort and friendship His relationship had provided me had only reaffirmed my commitment to Him. However, my frustration continued to grow because of my lack of Christian knowledge. I wasn’t improving as much as I wanted to. I knew I had accepted Jesus into my life but I wanted to become a better Christian husband, father, friend and Coach. I wanted to gather the knowledge necessary to be able to spread His word amongst all of those around me.

I finally let go of my stubbornness  (momentarily) and contacted our Team Chaplain, Roger “Chap” Woods, and Executive Pastor at Sevier Heights, Greg Williams, and asked them to begin doing a bible study with me. As we began meeting, I told Chap my story and he was thrilled to hear all about my journey and genuinely proud of the decision I had made. Before we moved any further during our meeting on August 23rd he asked if I had ever read the Sinners Prayer? To which I responded “No. Honestly, I don’t even know what that is.” (Once again showing my adolescent knowledge of the Christian life) After Chap explained it I said, “Let’s do it!” So, at 8:23 AM on August 23rd I OFFICIALLY ACCEPTED JESUS CHRIST AS MY LORD AND SAVIOR!

I am so thankful that God has put Greg and Chap into my life!  Through my Bible studies with them, attending small groups at Sevier Heights and studying and praying at home I have grown SO much over the last month and a half. Do I have a long ways to go? ABSOLUTELY. But, now that I have God in my heart and Godly people around me, I know I can do anything as Matthew 6: 33-34 states, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” I look forward to making a positive impact on those around me in the future as a Godly husband, father, friend and Coach! Thanks be to God!

 

NOTE: A special thanks goes out to my parents for putting God in my heart at an early age, my wife, her family and their community for showing me that it is ok to love God and have him in your heart, and to my friends of Sevier Heights for being Godly role models to me. I can’t wait to keep learning and improving! Thank you!

 

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At a Crossroads

Despite my nerves heading to the Final Four, in my heart of hearts, I had really high aspirations. However, walking into the hotel lobby FULL of coaches was like walking into a Mike Tyson right-handed hook in the first minute of the fight (pre-tattooed face days of course). It didn’t knock me out, but it instantly put me in check and woke me up. Getting an interview and finding a job was going to be a lot tougher then I thought. There were young, and old, employed and unemployed, high school and AAU, and Division I to Division III coaches all looking for jobs. It didn’t matter if guys had a good job or not, it seemed everybody was trying to move. How in the world was I going to get noticed?

For starters, I rocked my University of Tennessee basketball shirts all weekend. As you would expect this got a lot of looks and questions. Comments such as “Why would you wear that, they just fired you?” or “You don’t work there anymore” were continuously thrown my way. Comments such as those were exactly what I was going for as the “Power T” broke the ice and enabled me to explain my story to potential employers and colleagues. I am darn proud of all that we accomplished at Tennessee and have nothing to be ashamed of during my tenure there.

I finally landed a couple of interviews on Friday after a lot of time networking on Thursday and with the huge help of some great references. Surprise, surprise, I was nervous but confident. Nervous because I need to find a job for my family but confident because I was just going to be me. The interviews really weren’t that difficult. Sure they asked some challenging questions but because I answered them with complete honesty based on my experiences and character, it was easy. I mean let’s face it, we’re talking about basketball not rocket science. I’m really excited about these potential opportunities and honestly couldn’t be happier with how the interviews went!

One thing that has become more apparent to me in the last few weeks has been the importance of family. My wife, our families and friends have been unbelievably supportive. Same needs to be said about my coaching family. Coach Forbes, Jones, Shay, Fancher, Jeter (my former Coach at UWM for 1 year), Dean Lockwood and even Coach Pearl at times have been great to me. Whether it was taking time out of their hectic schedules to make a phone call for me or give their advice, they have been so good to me and I am so thankful. After leaving my interviews, it seems as though my biggest competition are guys from the new head coaches “coaching tree.”

Coaches, for the most part, are very loyal guys. They really like to hire within their coaching family. Unfortunately, Coach Pearl doesn’t have the most extensive coaching tree out there so although this makes things a little tougher I’m positive that based on the references from those above and the things I stand for, my opportunity will come somewhere.

The big question for me is where will that somewhere be. Two short years ago, as a single guy I’d have gone anywhere for any amount of money. I just wanted to coach. But now, with a wife and a daughter, things have changed. It’s no longer me it’s we. I talked to a lot of different people this week. Some I admire because of what they stand for, some I don’t. Some people I talked to coach because like myself love the game and want to help kids improve and become men while others have a different, more self-serving agenda. As we’ve seen in the media lately, there is an awesome and an ugly side to collegiate athletics but that’s everywhere and in every kind of business right?

Coaching, the more I’m around it, the crazier it seems to get. For every amazing story of accomplishment there seems to be a horror story. For every perceived fluffy story such as Butler’s Brad Steven’s there’s a deeper behind-the-scenes story such as the one a veteran coach of 26 years told me this weekend. The story consisted of 26 years of high stress, 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night, moving place to place, cheating amongst colleagues, lost time and missed experiences with family members, lack of loyalty in the business, problems with players/parents, addiction to sleeping pills and the thought of never being good enough because there truly is only one team that ends the season happy and satisfied each year. This was from a head coach who had made it to the highest level of college basketball, won championships and cashed a big paycheck for many years. The recollection may have been the extreme negative side of coaching as things such as seeing your player’s graduate, become better men, winning games, calling coaching basketball a job and making positive differences in the community were left out but when you throw that crap in above, is it worth it?

I strongly believe that coaching doesn’t have to consist of all that negativity but honestly though, the more I think about it, you can’t hide from a lot of that stuff. I’m confident I will always be a Godly man, a family man and a man who tries to make a positive difference in those around me but do I really want to go through the next 30 years of my life dealing with ALL the coaching profession will throw at me? More importantly, do I want to put my family through it?

So although I knew I’d be sitting here taking this flight back to Knoxville today from the Final Four, mentally I’m actually in a completely different place. With my heart in coaching I thought I’d be sitting here thinking about different coaching job options but now, for the first time ever, despite my deep love for coaching, I’m thinking about different professions. This is normal right? I mean what if I don’t get a job offer in coaching? I have to evaluate everything don’t I? What would I do besides coach considering I don’t have any job offers in the “real world” either? I’m at a critical point in my life but I’m confident things will become clearer throughout the coming days through hours of praying, soul searching, talking and as job offers come or…don’t come.

Thanks for reading!

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Final Four

Houston, I have a problem. I’m unemployed and need to find a job, so here I come! Tomorrow at 6 a.m. I fly to Houston to catch up with friends, network and hand out my resume to the tons and tons of coaches in town for the Final Four festivities.

Honestly, I’m a little nervous but also extremely excited for this potentially life-changing weekend. It will be tough but I’m ready. In preparation I have spent hours upon hours working on my personal profile and resume, sending out numerous emails and reaching out with phone calls to colleagues and mentors. The responses I have gotten thus far have been great but yet frustrating at the same time. Almost every person I have talked to has said nothing but good things about me and 99.9% of the time finish our conversation with something along the lines of “you don’t have anything to worry about Mark, you’ll land on your feet.” Really? How in the world do you know that? I try to be a person of integrity, work hard and treat people the right way but how in the world does everybody know that I’m going to be a great coach one day? That time seems SOOO far away. I just want an opportunity tomorrow!

What goes on at the Final Four? This five-day event, attended by the majority of college basketball’s current, former and unemployed coaches, numerous media outlets and tons of basketball vendors from all divisions of the NCAA, is packed. Most coaches arrive on Wednesday and leave on Sunday prior to Monday’s national championship game so that they can get back to campus for the following week’s workouts with their teams. During the day the majority of the coaches and media personalities get together with old buddies, network with new ones, look back on their seasons and attend the open practices, clinic’s, meetings and trade shows. In addition, a lot of coaches, especially those that are seeking a job, hang out in the host hotel lobby during their down time hoping to shake a hand and pass a resume along to as many potential bosses as possible. For younger guys in the business like me, sometimes you need help getting introduced to coaches so this is where your friends in the business really help a lot. Not all coaches are willing to help other coaches but I am so thankful for those who have been willing to put in a good word for me to a coach they know. Without them, I would have nothing.

At night, many of the major college basketball sponsors (Adidas and Nike), media outlets (CBS and ESPN) and basketball groups (Rising Coaches Elite and Sportstec) have parties for members of the schools they sponsor. These, my friends, are BIG TIME.

With that said, I am praying people give me the opportunity to meet with them to give them a better insight of what I stand for. My loyalty will only be to one man, God, and the character and morals he and my parents have instilled in me. I am eager to show people the reason I coach is to make a positive difference in the lives of the student-athlete, to help them grow as men first, basketball players second and to do what is necessary to help the head coach and his program achieve their goals. That’s it. It’s not talk. It’s fact. Given an opportunity, I am confident my work ethic, passion and skill set will be an asset to any program.

Wherever this job search leads me, I know one thing: God has blessed me in so many ways. The love and support I have around me is tremendous and I am so very thankful for that.

It’s crazy to think I’ve only been without a job for a little over a week because it seems like it’s been forever. However, I continue to learn a lot through out this process that I know will help me in the future. Now however, with making my family proud and achieving my goals as my motivation, it’s time to go find a job.

Thanks for reading!!

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Thing’s I’ve Learned

The last few days have been really tough. The sadness seeps in not so much when thoughts of “what am I going to do for a job” come into my head but more so when I think about my wife, who was born and raised in East Tennessee, our 5 month old daughter and leaving so many great friends. My family and friends are whom I work to make proud every day. It’s honestly them I look up to. But now, my wife is looking to me with wide, curious, nervous eyes asking what’s next? I can’t answer that yet. One thing I do know is I’m not just sitting still.

The son of a father who’s a former college basketball player, current medical sales rep and a hall of fame high school volleyball coach, my family was raised to be competitive doers. The word “can’t” — no joke — was not allowed in my house growing up. I can still hear my dad today saying, “We don’t say that word.” So, I’ve taken the approach that with every ending there is a new beginning. I’ve been on the phone, computer and setting up meetings at the Final 4 to try and find something new. I strongly believe those who wait around for something good to happen to them, blame others, or feel sorry for themselves during tough times will get left in the dust. This entire situation has forced me into a new journey. But I can guarantee you, I’ll find a way to reach my goals, somehow, some way at God’s speed.

Although miserable at times because I feel as though I should always be doing something, this experience is teaching me a lot. It has already taught me that there truly are tons of great people out there. Your supportive emails, tweets and blog comments I could never accurately communicate to you how much they have meant to me. In addition, the messages from so many former players such as Chris Lofton, Wayne Chism, Jordan Howell and Dane Bradshaw to former walk-ons Quinn Cannington and Tanner Wild, have been the best! However, the biggest blessing of all this has been the extra time I’ve gotten to spend with my wife and daughter. My wife accurately joked with me the other day that I’ve been around more the last week then I have been throughout an entire month of the season.

During this time off I have learned a few other things as well. The following is a list of these things:

1.     I like hearing my daughter cry just as much as I like hearing players cry and complain…I can’t stand it

2.     Do not blast your music in your head phones while your daughter is in child care at the gym because if she start’s crying and your name is called over the intercom to come get her you definitely wont be able to hear. (Yes, I’m an idiot.)

3.     The coaching fraternity is a tight group. You need as many friends and supporters as possible in this business.

4.     Feeding your daughter is not as easy as it sounds. My daughter grabbed her bowl of cereal and then rubbed it on her face Wednesday morning.

5.     Sweetened condensed milk, contrary to my belief, is not in the milk section of the grocery store. I guess that is what happens when I pick up the things on our grocery list.

6.     Babies really do sleep a lot and I am jealous they get to wear “onesies” all day every day

7.     This is the first time in my life I have not had something basketball related going on between 2:30-6:00pm for a couple days in a row since, ummmm, grade school???

8.     I can and will start going to watch AAU events, visiting coaches at practice and working out player’s since I am not currently employed by an NCAA institution.

9.     Just because of the amount we got back on our tax returns yesterday, I suggest getting married and having a baby every year!

10. Pandora’s Disney station is awesome and “Hakuna Matata” is probably the best Disney song ever.

In addition to learning these things I have been vigorously working on my resume and contacting different places at all levels with potential coaching openings. I will leave Thursday for the Final Four in Houston with my principles and coaching philosophies in my head, my resume in hand and my fingers crossed, eager for an opportunity. I don’t wish things to happen, I work to make them happen so hopefully this work will all pay off soon.

Thanks for reading!

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Thank You Vol Nation

As I sit here, my office completely empty and my car packed full with all my hard work, I don’t know what to say or let alone do. I spent so much time in these offices. I met my wife here. I had my first child here. I got my master’s degree here. Coach Pearl and this great university gave me my first opportunity in the coaching profession, and I am forever grateful for that.

I grew up in Schaumburg, Illinois (20 minutes outside of Chicago), so SEC athletics were foreign to me. Sure, I knew about Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee football and Kentucky basketball, but that was about it. When I packed up my dad’s ugly teal minivan and moved down here, just eight days after Coach Pearl offered me a graduate assistant position, I had no clue the next five years of my life would be this much of a blessing.

I’ll never forget my first football weekend here. We were playing highly ranked Cal on an absolutely beautiful opening weekend. As our staff did on numerous home football weekends, we had a large number of recruits on campus that day. As the Vol Walk approached, we all began making our way toward the stadium. Mind you, this was not only my first college football game ever, it was my first as a UT staff member who was supposed to be talking it up with recruits and their parents about all the festivities taking place all around them.  With the sun gleaming and people tailgating in orange and white everywhere,  I was absolutely speechless! It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe all the people and the excitement they had for the start of a new football season. Right then and there, I was hooked.

As sappy as it sounds, I fell in love with the University of Tennessee.

Since that day, this university, the people within it and the supporters around it have been nothing but great to me. I have experienced college athletics at the highest level and have been witness to one of the best—if not THE best—fan bases in the country. I have been blessed to be a part of the highest of highs that this program has ever seen.  Chris Lofton’s shot over Durant to beat Texas. The #1 vs. #2 showdown vs. Memphis. Advancing to the Elite Eight. The list of big wins could go on forever but it’s the relationships with the players and the passion of the fans that I will remember most. These last five years have been special, have taught me a ton and have made me not only a better coach but a better person. This may be the end for me here, but with every ending there comes a new beginning, and there is no doubt that whatever my future entails, I will continue to work my hardest to make a positive difference in the lives of those around me. I will succeed!!

No matter where I go, no matter who I coach, I will always remember how great it is to be a Tennessee Vol!

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