CBS Sports college basketball insiders Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander spent a month surveying 100-plus Division I men's basketball coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled across the sport's landscape: some of the biggest names in college basketball, but also small-school assistants in low-major leagues. Coaches agreed to share unfiltered opinions in exchange for anonymity. We asked them 10 questions, and will post the results over a three-week span.
In July, Istory on an emerging pall of burnout (and some ) that has seeped into men's college basketball over the past two years. A trifecta of transfer portal mania, unregulated circumstances around NIL and how those two factors came amid expanded rosters due to COVID-provoked exemptions have led to roster variability and instability at levels heretofore never seen in college basketball.
There's also concern about a brain drain from young people in the profession: lower-paid support staffers and young assistants in their 20s or early 30s are either considering leaving the profession or have already left on account of 80-hour work weeks during the offseason.
But not everyone is unhappy. Some coaches are able to compartmentalize the job and their lives away from it. Others feel blessed just to have the opportunity to work in coaching at the Division I level.
It's been the biggest conversation topic around the sport over the past five months, so we had to ask:
Have you experienced professional burnout in the past year or so?
Quotes that stood out
Coaches who said no
• "No, but I've enjoyed the job less than ever before. A combination of calendar never ends and portal/NIL factors."
• "Hell no. Coaches just love to complain. This profession is full of the biggest time-wasters and inefficient workers in the world. If you need time off, don't stay in the office until 6 p.m. on a Friday in May when nothing is happening. Just because another coach is doing it doesn't mean it is smart and doesn't mean it helps."
• "I love my job more than ever. But I'm kinda isolated from the mess that my colleagues are dealing with."
• "Hardest summer as a D-I coach, without a question. However, we get to do what we love to do and get paid very well for it. Is it stressful? Yes. Is there anxiety? Yes. Is it different than when we started coaching? Way different. Have to adapt. Have to adjust. Have to open your mind. Have to figure it out. Have to work at it. Most people work for a living. I get to be around 18-24 year-old young men. Learn from them and help them. Get to coach a game I love. Beyond fortunate."
• "Not burnout but frustration, confusion and 'WTF am I doing fighting this nonsense?' thoughts."
• "I'm lucky to work for the coach I work for. I swear I think I'm the only high-major D-I assistant that's had a two-week vacation this offseason."
• "Not suffering from burnout, but I'm tired of too many non-basketball people offering opinions/suggestions about what the game and recruiting should be like. The recruiting schedule will never be convenient for a college coach and it will always lend to servicing the haves over the have-nots. Also, this is what we signed up for when we decided to become coaches."
• "I am getting close. How I've handled it: trying to stay away from the office on weekends, trying to not even go in. And I'm exercising, lost weight, diet a little better, trying to get a little better sleep. … I think it affects my level (mid-major) more than the higher levels. I brought in eight guys and 10 guys the past two years. I specifically brought in transfers this year that are not grad transfers."
• "No. My wife told me a long time ago: Humans have a choice of what we prioritize."
Coaches who said yes
• "I absolutely experienced professional burnout over the past two years. The way the spring recruiting has changed has left us without any ability to plan time for ourselves and our families. The NCAA has failed to anticipate and change the recruiting schedules to allow for some time to recover. We literally started recruiting the transfer portal before our season even ended in March."
• "I have had different days of burnout, but not a consistent burnout. It is crazy how stressful the springtime is now. I have talked with several friends in the business and we have agreed that the spring is more stressful than the actual season. Battling for retention of your guys, portal recruiting and NIL battles have made what was a time for a breath the most stressful time of the year."
• "Getting harder and harder to balance work and personal life. Having three young kids we miss a lot. My wife has been a superstar of holding things down. Being in the moment when I am home has become paramount. Try not to be on the phone all the time when at home."
• "Yes, but less so than some of my peers. In our league we're not dealing with transfers as much. Transfers have caused quite a bit of health/burnout issue with coaches. I'm kind of underplaying it, honestly. I think it's pretty bad."
• "It is ridiculous. Complete unknown every day. ... The NCAA has zero concern for coaches and the reality is they are the ones who get the product to the floor."
• "Yes, I have not handled it well. I am still tired and still plugging away."
• "100%. No coach can say they haven't. Just the high school and AAU recruiting calendar alone, not to mention personally having to navigate turnover on staff. ... I can only imagine what it's like for other D-I guys all summer, transfer portaling, and if your team sucks. Luckily, none of those three apply to us."
• "It's exhausting. Be intentional about your down time. Schedule it. Golf, sleep, vacation. You need it."
• "Most definitely. Have to try to have an attitude of gratitude every day and remind yourself that the players on your team need you to be there for them no matter what else is going on in our lives."
• "We are all blessed to be able to coach such a wonderful game, but not having much time to spend with family and to work on yourself burns you out. Some wives have to feel like they're single parents with our calendars."
• "What's helped me through those days of burnout is reminders of how fortunate I am to coach college basketball, the amazing relationships that come with coaching college basketball, working for and with amazing people that have a clear understanding of what we are doing, and the fact that I have no earthly idea of what I would do outside of coaching."
• "The demands of turning a mid-major program around in the new world of NCAA basketball are at an unsustainable level. Fundraising and NIL is a full-time job, navigating administrations that don't understand the seismic shift in our world is a full-time job, recruiting is a full-time job, coaching and mentoring your team is a full-time job. Boosters who now have to invest more in your team want 'now' results. ADs are firing coaches at high rates. As coaches, you are being held responsible for your players academics, their relationships, gambling, social media and play. Burnout was months ago. I don't know what stage this is."
Every year, there is at least one Candid Coaches survey question that prompts more impassioned responses and venting sessions than others.
This was that question.
While it was nice to see more no votes than yeses come in on this question, make no mistake about it: a 38% return on "I have felt burnout" in a sample size of 100-plus coaches is still head-turning and worrisome. Had we asked this question in 2018, I suspect it would've been a 90/10 split at the absolute worst, in favor of no-burnout. The number of people in college basketball feeling worn down is rising and will continue to rise.
If you ask the coaches, the people affected goes beyond just them. In fact, this problem also extends throughout college athletics, based on my conversations with administrators this offseason.
One thing I did pick up on: Coaches surveyed who had minimal roster turnover this offseason said they didn't feel burnout. A few speculated they would've gotten there had they lost two or more players to the portal.
Some coaches harped on the need for a calendar change for the betterment of players just as much as the coaches and support staff. Players are not seeing the adults in the building as much in the spring due to official visits and recruiting trips to court transfers. But workouts are still going on. With so many weekends eaten up by recruiting, that also weighs especially heavy on coaches with families.
Among a handful of coaches who said they hadn't felt burnout, they did say they felt something close to "burnout." Fatigue was the most common description. The job being "more" now than ever. A lack of sharpness. Even if that's not burnout, the sentiment is felt among way more than 50% of the people we polled.
The season is one matter. Seems everyone can agree that sacrifices there are worth it. It's this intense, six-month-long experience that has highs and lows, thrills and chills, and everything that comes with it is just part of the job. The anxieties, stresses and victories are all worth it from October practices through whenever a team's season ends in March or, if you're really lucky, the first week of April.
The issue for many is how it seems to stick in fifth gear once April arrives, due to the transfer portal and recruiting back players on your own roster. If anything, stress increases at this point, some coaches told me.
"You don't know who the hell is going to be on your team next year," one ACC coach told me. "That anxiety is extremely challenging, and while you're waiting for the portal, you're never really sure. You're hopeful. Then you have to go out and recruit. The portal recruiting is shorter but it has to be more impactful because most of the time in those situations you're counting on guys who can really help you. For head coaches, you have anxiety for your staff. Are you losing assistant coaches, strength coaches?"
One coach said an eye-opener for him was to see recruiting on Father's Day this year. That's when the sport really lost the plot. Another said he was working on his wedding anniversary because a recruit was coming to campus. Multiple coaches shared examples where they recruited transfers on Zoom calls while preparing for postseason games.
Yes, that's what the money is for, as Don Draper once famously scolded (and has since been memed into permanence). But here's the thing: Plenty of coaches get into this for reasons much more personal and impressionable than money. There is no perfect solution, but there are logical improvements. If the new calendar can be implemented as pitched earlier this summer by the NABC, it will certainly help.
It's fair to say there's a crisis here, and it goes deeper than college basketball. Work/life balance can be central to optimal mental well-being. Because of the roles coaches play in others' lives, these can have profound downstream effects on the people around them.
The most important factor? I must have heard from more than 30 coaches who want to have a true blackout period at least once and for at least a week — if not longer — on the calendar. No communication whatsoever with recruits, in an effort to truly break free from the work cycle and try to be unburdened.
"Nobody breaks our arms to do this, and we make good money, but the assistants are the ones lifting the heavy weight when the season is over," one SEC assistant said. "Football has a dead period. The women do as well. It's time to consider that for men's basketball."
Some don't want that, but for the greater good, these coaches on the whole would likely see their livelihoods improved if they were truly allowed to turn it off — like most other people get to do in their jobs — at some point during the offseason. If you want to reduce burnout, the NCAA and athletic directors at these schools might need to save these coaches from themselves.