Bill Ferrara is in his first season as an Assistant Coach for the University of New Mexico Women’s Basketball Team. Prior to working with the Lobos he served two seasons on staff with the Florida Gators and worked closely with the guards. His resume also includes stints with George Washington, where he helped the Colonials attain the No. 6 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, as well as stints with Hofstra and Central Michigan.
For Ferrara, his path to coaching was unexpected and began during his undergraduate studies at the University of Florida. He voiced to his athletic director that his dream job was to be the GM of the New York Knicks. Although he thinks his AD probably laughed at him for his lofty goals, nonetheless he was willing to help. From there, he was steered towards basketball and started helping with film for Billy Donovan the next day. This eventually turned into a coaching career – a career he chooses again and again, each day. “I don’t take for granted that I get to do this every day. This isn’t work.”
A Critical Moment
Anyone who knows Coach Ferrara can speak to his high energy and authentic love of the game. When we spoke with him we were curious to know where this passion comes from, where did it all start? Upon reflection Ferrara can remember explicitly a conversation that took place early on in his coaching career with the Head Coach, Jonathan Tsipis, at George Washington. During the interview process Tsipis told him “I think you’re really good at what you do, but I’m hiring you because you have great energy. It’s going to be contagious, and we need that.”
Growing up, Ferrara was always told what he was and what he wasn’t. This nurtured his self-awareness and has helped him feel comfortable in who he is throughout his life. “I think it was the first time that someone had told me the value in my energy…it’s weird how empowering it can be to hear that.” Tsipis wasn’t commenting on his offensive abilities, a skill that Ferrara was sure to have honed over the years. Instead, he commented on the intangibles, the skills that would organically help a team succeed. He also cites Sue Guevara, who gave him his first chance and put her trust in him at such a young age as a guiding mentor to helping him become the coach that he is today.
“One of the best roles we have as coaches is to empower players – telling them and showing them that they can be something that they don’t necessarily see yet.”
The Coaching Carousel
For many coaches, the spring and summer months can bring some uncertainty. To help ease the stress of the coming months, Ferrara stresses, “Be where you are. Be phenomenal at what you are currently doing – you want to have a good reputation as a COACH not just a good reputation as a NETWORKER.” Learn from your head coach as well as your assistant coaches and staff members. His first assistant position came after being a video coordinator, doing that job as well as he possibly could, and one of the assistants eventually asked him to join her staff when she took a head coaching job. Other advice he gave is to crush every responsibility you are given and then ask for more. There may be a reason you’re told “no” at the time but it’s always worth it to show initiative and ask.
As for when the time comes that you are in need of a job, Coach Ferrara shared how thankful he was that this past summer he had incredible mentors to lean on. When you are actually in the job hunt and need to find a new position, he stressed the importance of reaching out to those people in your inner circle, letting them know your current situation, and not being ashamed to ask them for help.
At one point in Ferrara’s career, someone had reached out to him to get lunch at the Final Four. Remember T-Mobile’s “my five” commercial where you’d have five people that you could add to your circle to communicate with? Well this individual was working off of a similar concept, choosing five people who they thought were better than them to meet up, grab lunch, connect, and learn. Ferrara and the coach are close still this day, all because of the initiative to reach out and grab lunch. Who would your “5” be? Think about it, and don’t hesitate to reach out at this year’s Final Four!
Preparing for the Next Step
Regardless of if your next step is for a head coaching job, another assistant job, or your first job on a coaching staff, there are things that you can be doing every single day to improve your trajectory. When we asked Coach Ferrara about what he does to be successful where his feet are while also preparing for whatever is next, he outlined 5 major components of his life:
- Constantly Improve: Make sure to dedicate time in your day to invest in your future. For example, on his 6am flight, he read Angela Duckworth’s Grit, instead of napping. If he’s in his car for longer than fifteen minutes, he’s listening to a podcast.
- Apply: Ferrara takes lot of notes and then makes sure to read them back to himself. When he was at George Washington, he noticed Coach Tsipis reading all the time and constantly getting better – that definitely rubbed off on him.
- Self-Talk: Sometimes it’s positive self-talk and other times it’s asking himself questions. Similar to Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich, Ferrara has a type of “Suggestion Box” that he keeps in his own office with a stack of index cards next to it. He’ll write himself a note of something he came across that he liked, something that a staff member did, how his team handled a scenario, a takeaway from a team meeting, etc. and then every couple of months he’ll review what’s in the box.
- Portfolio: Ferrara keeps a portfolio of all of his coaching philosophies, completed and ready to go. He dedicated the time, the work, and the reflection needed to write it all down and present it in a clear way.
- Pay it Forward: Invest time in young people, graduate assistants, managers, etc.
How Much Film is Too Much?
In many programs, teams build into their practices time for film. Whether it’s scouting, individual, or team film, most programs rely on the technology in some capacity. Ferrara firmly believes that we need to challenge the sometimes “time-filler” and think outside the box to see if there is a way we can teach the same points on the court instead. However, he did cite one opportune time to show film is when you want to praise a player publicly, in particular a player who doesn’t get praised a lot. “I think as coaches we spend a lot of time showing film to our players on opponents…If we can provide more clarity and spend more time on the court showing the players how we want to defend or attack specific actions, I think we can better use our time doing that than in the film room.”
“It doesn’t matter who you play if you have system clarity and know how you are going to guard actions. Mike Bradbury [UNM WBB Head Coach] does this better than anyone…we have a system for everything and because of that we are always prepared.”
“You have unbelievable opportunities around you every day – you just have to open your eyes and search for it. If I could go back I would’ve gone into every single practice with the mindset of trying to soak it all in, as if it were a free clinic. I would have gone to men’s practices and shoot arounds. All you have to do is ask (know when and how to ask). Seek opportunities for growth. Don’t be scared. Don’t be fearful. If you want to grow, go watch a practice and connect with coaches who have been doing it well for years!”