ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
With the appointment of three new head coaches and reasons for optimism regarding the fourth and final opening, Tabor College Athletic Director Don Brubacher is breathing a lot easier these days.
He filled the role of men’s head basketball coach himself two weeks ago, and Rusty Allen and Lonnie Isaac were appointed to lead the women’s basketball and men’s and women’s tennis programs, respectively, last week. Two strong candidates will be interviewed next week for the opening in baseball.
Though the rush of job searches is nearing an end for this year, Brubacher admits the turnover of coaches at Tabor has become almost an annual occurrence-and an unwelcomed one for all involved.
“It’s a huge factor for the job (of athletic director) and continuity is a huge factor for the athletic program,” Brubacher said. “If we’re hiring people into three, four or five head coaching positions every year, it consumes all of our time and energy that could be profitably spent elsewhere.”
Judy Hiebert, as vice president of student development, oversees the athletic program. She agrees with Brubacher’s assessment.
“It consumes a great deal of our time,” Hiebert said. “The human cost is great, for administration as as well for students.”
But Hiebert and Brubacher are quick to add that Tabor is not alone in the struggle. Almost all small colleges face similar challenges.
“First of all, coaching is a much more volatile area than many other areas of our campus,” Hiebert said. “It’s a different setting than is the academic classroom.
“Part of it also, given the size we are, is that many institutions struggle with coaching position not being full-time,” she added.
“On many campuses, coaches are paid more (than teaching faculty). But on our campus, we try to keep them, if not in line, then very close to being in line with the rest of our employees of equal degree and longevity.”
Because coaching positions at Tabor are part-time, a combination of assignments-sometimes as many as four-are pieced together to create one full-time job.
“Someone does that for one or two years, then they run for cover-if they’re smart they do anyway,” Brubacher said.
“Then, whenever someone like that leaves, how do you fill that job description? You don’t. You leave a portion of it off for the new person coming in because you can’t find someone to do each of those positions. Then you scramble because you have a spot left over.”
Coaching salaries at small colleges like Tabor are generally lower than at larger institutions, but Hiebert doesn’t apologize for that.
“In the field of athletics, (salary) probably plays more of a role just because many institutions are ready to pay whatever it takes to hire someone,” she said. “We don’t have that luxury.
“(Salary) certainly contributes, but does it contribute more in athletics than for a psychology person or an English person? I’m not ready to say that.”
Tabor does face a few challenges a lot of colleges-even small ones-don’t.
One is its geographic location. Not every qualified candidate enjoys the small-town atmosphere, and Hillsboro’s relative distance from metropolitan centers makes commuting difficult.
“We’re not in a Wichita or a Topeka, where there is an abundance of people with expertise who could walk into (a coaching job),” Hiebert said. “You don’t have somebody drive in from Wichita, generally, and stay for 10 years for a quarter-time position.”
Another challenge is finding candidates who are as equally committed to the school’s faith commitment as they are to athletic success.
“We want it to be a good fit,” Hiebert said. “That’s the first thing-their faith statement and their testimony. We certainly look at their degree and their success and experience in coaching, but who they are as a person and their relationship with Jesus Christ comes first.”
Even though obstacles remain, Hiebert and Brubacher feel the college has made some strides in improving the prospects for longevity on their coaching staff.
One of the most successful changes, Brubacher said, is making it a policy to bring both spouses to campus when one of them is interviewing for a coaching position.
“That way both of them can see the college and the community and there are no surprises when the family moves here,” Brubacher said.
A related strategy has been to hire qualified local candidates.
“When we hire someone from the area who is a highly qualified coach, we stand a much better chance of longevity and building a program,” Hiebert said. “Of course, Hillsboro only has so many people and Marion County only has so many people. That’s one of the disadvantages for us.”
Even though the college is committed to paying coaches at a similar rate as other peer faculty, more money would make a difference, Brubacher said.
“Right now, we don’t have any regular fund-raising activities other than what each head coach does for his or her individual sport,” Brubacher said. “That needs to continue.
“In my judgment, what I need to do is raise $150,000 a year,” he said. “That needs to be done where I’m not trying to find new donors every year.
“The thing that frightens me is that we also need to raise money for a football stadium and for virtually every facility we have,” he added. “I think it can be done, but it’s not done without personal contact.”
And that’s hard to do when an athletic director is spending significant time recruiting coaches.
For all the challenges, Hiebert is hopeful about the future because she has seen miracles in the past.
“Are we trying to change it? Of course, we are,” she said. “Are we succeeding? With very small steps. But if we’re willing to walk on water, then let’s get out of the boat. Seeing how God provides is something I’m always enormously grateful for.”