BYU football: Cougar assistant coach Poppinga is learning on the job
Tom Smart, Deseret News
PROVO — The job of a college football assistant coach is hardly an easy one. The hours amassed breaking down film, managing personnel, developing game plans and administering practice sessions are taxing — and that's not even the half of it.
Coaches don't punch in just prior to the season and then punch out when it concludes — it's a year-round job that involves many hours and time away from home. It's work that isn't readily seen by fans but holds at least as much importance as the work being done during the regular season.
"I really had no clue how much time was involved with coaching before getting hired on full-time," said BYU outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga. "As a G.A. (graduate assistant) you see and get a feel of some of the work, but you really don't have any idea of everything that is going on behind the scenes. You don't understand it fully because you don't see it."
Poppinga was hired as an interim coach following the dismissal of defensive coordinator Jaime Hill during the 2010 season. After the season, Poppinga's coaching status went from interim to permanent as a member of head coach Bronco Mendenhall's staff.
While Poppinga was well-versed on the aspects of game preparation and player management, other facets of coaching left him with little clue from the outset, leaving him to learn on the fly.
Shortly after the end of the 2010 regular season, Poppinga found himself on a plane to Oregon to recruit for a solid week. It was the first time he was charged with specific recruiting responsibilities, and he had to make-do learning on the fly.
"Coach (Mark) Weber did a really good job preparing me and sending me the right way, but you really have no idea what is involved and what's effective until you're just thrown in there," Poppinga said. "Fortunately I was able to establish some good connections early, and I just went from there."
Poppinga established a strong recruiting relationship with a local area coach that opened doors to finding other prospective players. Some keys to recruiting are to establish good relations with local coaches and to keep a full schedule of appointments, Poppinga said. Nevertheless, some of the best contacts he's made were by chance encounters.
"Sometimes appointments fall through and you just find yourself at a certain school hoping to find a good relationship with the coach and even some players that would fit in well at BYU," Poppinga said. "Some of the best guys I've found have been through just doing that, actually. Without the coach even knowing I was coming in, I've been able to find some really good players for us."
Poppinga said it is like LDS missionary work.
"You're out there by yourself just trying to make good contacts and find people who would be interested in joining our program, so yeah, it's a lot like being on a mission again," said Poppinga, who served a two-year mission in Ecuador prior to playing for BYU. "It's a lot of fun, but it's hard — it's hard work."
BYU assistant coaches spend a total of 12 weeks on the road recruiting each year, according to Poppinga — two weeks in December, four weeks in January and six weeks during the period between spring practices and the so-called "quiet period" that begins in June. It involves a lot of time away from home, which can be tough on a young father.
"You're gone the whole week, usually from Sunday night until late on Friday night, so that's the hardest thing by far — just being away for long periods of time," Poppinga said. "It's all part of being a coach, but it's the one thing you don't really realize when you're hired is how much time you're away."
The recruiting process certainly isn't limited to the time spent on the road. The hours of the day year-round involve constant phone calls, emails and letters being sent out, which all add up to a lot of work.
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