Jamall Walker and Ryan Pedon both know what it’s like to be Geoff Alexander right now. Both are recent Illini SPAHCs (Special Assistant to the Head Coach). Both are current assistant coaches, and both had been assistant coaches before becoming SPAHCs.
They know about the transition from a coaching role. They know how to operate as an advance scout and administrator, and then transition back to a coaching role.
Walker was just pulling up to the Grand Canyon Lopes Basketball offices this morning, on his way to a meeting. He had just enough time to say he was excited about Geoff’s promotion, and wishes him well.
Pedon was happy for Geoff as well. When he heard about the promotion, he dashed off a letter of congratulations to his new B1G rival.
I just wrote him a note the other day and said I was really happy for him. I admire guys who worked their way up in the profession. I’ve always felt like he was one of those guys. Respectful guy. Has a very good reputation.
I know he’s kind of grinded his way through this profession and I appreciate guys like that.
When Brad Underwood announced Alexander’s promotion to assistant coach, he denied that there’d been An Understanding between them. Alexander did not become Special Assistant to the Head Coach with the assurance that he’d get a shot, when an opening cropped up, at his current job.
Underwood was a SPAHC as recently as Bob Huggins’s lone year at Kansas State. Like (and occasionally with) Geoff, he’s toiled in obscurity, working his way up through the profession. So you can see why he’d want to give Alexander the chance, and also why he’d demand that Geoff earn that chance.
Are the jobs really that different? The SPAHC job doesn’t pay as much. But you get more time at home, because you’re not responsible for evaluating prospects, and then recruiting them.
Pedon said the SPAHC job is pretty labor intensive, even without the excess travel. But the recruiting assistant is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.
I think it is a big change for families. There’s a really dramatic difference. All families & all wives adjust to that differently. But it’s not like you’re going from “9 to 5” to that (always on the road).
I’m sure Geoff was not anywhere close to “9 to 5,” so there is a little bit of an understanding already. But, just the travel, and the amount he’ll not be around, That’ll be fairly different. Especially at certain times of the year, like springtime on weekends, and summertime when you’re chasing 17 and 18 year-olds all over the damn country.
Pedon said the hardest part of the SPAHC job, as you might expect, is learning not to coach. The NCAA allows its member programs just three assistants. If anyone else joins in the coaching duties, whether it’s off-campus recruiting or offering verbal instructions in the practice gym; that’s a violation.
Instinctually, it’s the hardest. Not to speak up when you see something. You have to be aware of what you can and can’t do.
I’m a big believer, not just in this profession, in staying in your lane. I tried to do that, as much as I could, in that role. ‘Cause I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. And I wanted to be there as a resource, and something positive for our program. For my boss, our head coach.
I wanted to give John (Groce) exactly what he wanted out of me.
And sometimes that varies, from coach to coach. Part of my deal was trying to be an extra set of eyes and ears for him, and the rest of the coaches. And help them in their particular areas. But I didn’t necessarily need to, or want to be, the guy that Had All The Answers. That’s not what that role is for.
It’s a delicate balance. That’s just my take on it. So I tried to be aware, and respectful, of what my role was.
The Illinois program should hope that Geoff Alexander’s career mirrors Pedon’s. Their career arcs, to this point, are similar. Both played college ball, but not at the high-major level. Alexander was at Western Illinois, Pedon at College of Wooster. Both got assistant coaching gigs in competitive mid-majors conferences (Missouri Valley and MAC) before accepting the SPAHC job at Illinois.
Pedon is now a top candidate for a major head coaching gig, having developed Chris Holtmann’s tOSU program into a perennial B1G contender, via cunning game-planning and unexpectedly good recruiting. If Geoff Alexander can mimic that success, the Illini might keep the next E.J Liddell at home.
Pedon didn’t want to share his scouting report with IlliniReport after the Buckeyes win in Champaign this year, pointing out in the days that followed that the two teams would meet again. But he was happy to offer some observations and encouragement to a man who’ll be chasing those same 17 and 18 year-olds all around the damn country.
He’ll also get to know Geoff Alexander better. Up ’til now, it’s mostly been word of mouth.
(Do you know Geoff?)
Just a little bit. Not on a real personal level. Just having worked with some of the same guys. I’ve known of him for a long time and he’s always seemed like a really good guy to me.