Wednesday, October 1, 2008

So You Want to Work in Sports?: Liam Klein, Director of Player Personnel, GA Tech Football

Over the next several weeks, HHR will be interviewing 20 and 30-something-year-olds in various careers in professional, amateur and collegiate sports to get a take on how they broke into their respective industries and to offer tips how ambitious sports-related job seekers might do the same.

Today, we interview Liam Klein, 30, Director of Player Personnel for Georgia Tech Football. A former college lineman, Liam held coaching positions on various levels before taking on the job at Tech.

Oh yeah, and he's a blogger, too.

Name: Liam Klein
Age: 30
Position: Director of Player Personnel
Organization: Georgia Tech Football
College Major: Education / History / Political Science
Prior Sports-Related Experience: High School Teacher / Coach

Take us through your transition from player to coach to your current role with Georgia Tech - How were you able to use your experiences and involvement in various levels of football to get to your current position?

I finished playing and became a high school history teacher and coach. After a few months I realized that teaching was not for me so I sent out resumes to over 100 schools to try and get started as a college football coach. From all of those I got 1 interview and I did not get that job. Oddly, they recommended me to Lafayette College in Easton, PA (which was a higher level of football) and I interviewed on a Wednesday, was hired that Friday, and started working the following Monday. I learned a lot from the staff at Lafayette. They taught me the in and outs of college coaching and I truly believe that helped me get to where I am today. I spent 1 year at Lafayette College and took a job at Harvard University coaching the outside linebackers. This was a very similar position to that at Lafayette, except the salary was a lot better. Again, I learned so much from the staff at Harvard and working for Coach Murphy was a real honor. After a year there, I was told that there was an opening at Georgia Tech as the Defensive G.A. (Graduate Assistant.) I pursued it, got an interview and was hired. So in July of 2003 I moved to Atlanta and I have been here since. I spent 3 seasons as the Defensive G.A. and worked with some of the best coaches and talent in the country. Once my G.A. was finished (you can only be a G.A. at 1 school for 3 years) I was hired as the Director of Player Personnel. I have been in this position since February 2007. I currently coordinate all the on-campus visits, whether official or un-official , for prospective student athletes in football, as well as work hand in hand with the recruiting coordinator on daily recruiting activities. Some other responsibilities include working with the GT Alumni that are currently playing in the NFL, working with the NFL Scouts that evaluate our current players, handle all football walk-ons, am the advance GT representative for away games, run our recruiting website, run our coaches clinic, help oversee our summer football camps and all other little things that may occur within our program.

Was this your intended career path as an undergrad with a totally different educational focus?

As I hinted to earlier, I was an education / history / political science major in college. I always loved football, but it was not until after I started teaching that I knew I wanted to give college coaching a chance.

Give us a quick overview of your daily responsibilities. How does this change in the off-season?

My day starts here at Tech at 6:30am looking for content for recruiting mailers, recruiting website info, and all other Georgia Tech things in the media. About 20 minutes before our 8:00am staff meeting, I write the names and home address of top recruits on the boards in the staff room so the coaches can write a note to them. After the meeting I spend my day getting things organized for whatever recruiting function that may be on the horizon. This week we are playing Duke at home and I plan on having 70 recruits and their guests here for the game. We will feed them, have people speak, and give them tours of the football facilities all before kickoff, so I have been preparing for that. Once it is 3:45pm, I head out to practice. After practice, we spend some time going over recruiting news and issues with coaches until I get out of here sometime between 8pm and 9pm. During the off-season, i spend a lot of time preparing for our coaches clinic, summer football camps, and un-official visits.

How involved, if at all, are you with handling current players, or is your role limited exclusively to recruiting end of the program?

I deal with 80% recruiting and 20% current and former players

As a former coach and former college player yourself, how does this make it easier in understanding the player mentality, and how do you see yourself viewed and received by the team members?

I think I see things a lot different now then when I was a player. Things just seem to make sense now because I remember that my teammates used to complain about who was playing, coaches showing favoritism, and many other little things. As a coach, I now see these situations as excuses the players make to justify why they might not be playing. I know as a coach, especially at this level, if you do not play the best player at any given position, it will cost you your job. Playing time for these kids has nothing to do with who the coach likes or not, but who works the hardest and who is the best prepared to play.

I feel I am viewed as someone the players can come talk to because with the new coaching staff I am one of the few people that are around that has known these guys since they were in high school. My relationship with the players is a good one and overall we have great guys on the team, so there are never any issues.

What difference do you see coming from a 1-AA, sorry "Football Championship Subdivision," to the atmosphere in "Football Bowl Subdivision" in terms of recruiting, facilities, fans and accommodations?

To be honest with you, it is night and day. When we go and recruit a high school football player we will spend what we need to (legally of course) to try and get that young man here at Tech. From private jets, to our facilities, to media coverage, to eating at the best restaurants in Atlanta, it comes down to money as the main difference in the 2 levels I have coached at. Like many other schools at this level, the recruiting budget is very big.

Do you feel like a 30-year-old reliving your college days?

Sometimes. It is definitely fun to come to work everyday and be on a college campus. There is always something going on and there is so much pride in the athletic program between students, fans, and alumni. Plus, being on the field for our games each Saturday is about as close as I can get now to playing and I enjoy it tremendously.

How long do college football directors of player personnel generally stay in that position? Do you see yourself "going pro" or moving on to a different area of focus in the future?

This position is a relatively new one in the college ranks. There are only a few schools in the nation that have my position. I think eventually I would like to get back into coaching, but it would have to be good situation. I feel I am in a good position here at Tech now working for Coach Johnson, I know he is going to be successful and I like working for him. If a pro job opened I would have to see what is was about before I committed to anything.

What's the most rewarding part of the job?

Dealing with the high school players and their families, plus seeing a player like Calvin Johnson go from high school Junior to NFL Multi-Millionaire was pretty cool.

Biggest perks?

There are a lot of perks with working at Georgia Tech. Clothes, shoes, meals, and recruiting weekends are just some of the great things that we generally get for free, but I would have to say the Bowl Games have been great. I have been to 5 bowl games now and it basically is a week at some place in this country with just about everything being for free. We receive bowl gifts as well, I have gotten a PSP, DVD players, portable DVD players, about $1000 dollars in gift cards, plus some other things. So I would say that is the biggest perk of the job.

Biggest hassles or obstacles?

Dealing with fans and Alumni when you lose.

Anything you would have changed during college to better prepare you? Relevant courses or internships you'd recommend?

I do not think there is anything different I could have done in college to prepare me for this.

What advice would you offer those looking to follow in your footsteps?

Just keep trying to find what's out there. Go to the AFCA Football Coaches Convention (Each year it is in the 1st week or so of January) and try and meet as many coaches as you can. The one thing about this profession is that coaches are always looking out for one another. If you meet a coach from a big school, STAY IN TOUCH WITH HIM, it is the best thing you can do. I cannot tell you how many friends of mine have gotten jobs from just a simple hello at the convention.

A ballbusting member of our staff, and fan of a conference rival, insists I ask the following two questions, so humor him:

What's it like knowing you get to go to work in the oldest facility in the FBS division?

Well, there is a lot of history here at Georgia Tech. He is correct, our stadium is the oldest FBS stadium in the country, but we also have played the most ESPN Thursday Night Games of any school in the nation. ESPN sees fit to come to the "Home of Thursday Night Football" each year and many of our recruits agree with them. On a serious note, it is like playing in the Yankee Stadium of college football, so much history and tradition, it is great to be a part of that each year.

Okay, that jalopy is really cool, but we'd all like to know, what in the world does the "Rambling Wreck" have to do with a Yellow Jacket?

We are one of the few schools in the country to have 2 mascots. Officially we are the Yellow Jackets, but all I can tell you is the "Ramblin Wreck from Georgia Tech" tradition started in the early 1900's. The origins of the Ramblin Wreck are tied to the great engineering history of Georgia Tech and have stayed with the school since then. Our tradition of running out behind the 1930 Model A Ford started in 1961. It is definitely something we use in recruiting!


See all our "So You Want to Work in Sports?" Features Here.


Coach McMorrow said...

Way to go Liam! Go Norwood Raiders!

Coach McMorrow
NJIT Hockey

wildcat35 said...

I read your interview through the SBEN website today. Your story has inspired me to keep trying until I achieve my dream of working in college sports at the management level. Sometimes I feel like transistioning into sports is taking too long for me, but I am willing to sacrifice to make it a reality.


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