SBJ/September 19-25, 2011/Opinion

How to turn an internship opportunity into career in sports

While I love my students dearly, I admit to some level of frustration when I am annually asked the following question: “Will there be a full-time job for me after my internship is over?”

My answer has been the same for more than 25 years: “It depends.”

When explaining what it depends upon, I offer the following:

• Depends upon your performance.

• Depends upon organizational need.

• Depends upon how you have been perceived and your perceived potential and value.

• Depends upon timing: Are there currently openings or anticipated openings?

• Depends upon luck — the type you make and the type you find.

My best advice to the students is to make themselves so valuable that the organization actively seeks to identify potential opportunities to retain them. I have since added a Navy SEALs philosophy: How you do anything is how you do everything. It implies that no matter how small the assignment, do it to the best of your ability the first time and every time.

One of the best examples I can provide is the story of a former student from my days at Ohio State, Tim Corbin. In 1987, Tim was a graduate assistant with the baseball program and had decided he wanted to be a baseball coach, so we set out to identify some potential internship opportunities.

I reached out to a friend, Danny Morrison, then the athletic director of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. (Morrison is now president of the Carolina Panthers). At the time, Wofford was an NAIA school soon to be an NCAA Division II program and years later a Division I school and a member of the Southern Conference. Like any small school, Danny (who may have invented multitasking) had a very small staff that had a broad range of duties and functions essential to the operation of the department. An intern at Wofford had to be willing and able to do anything and almost everything. I explained to Danny that Tim would do anything asked of him, but that it was very important that Tim also be able to work with the baseball team in some capacity. Danny, always generous with titles, offered Tim the opportunity to be assistant baseball coach in addition to being assistant everything else.

In exchange for what I conservatively estimated to be a 70-hour work week, Tim was given the opportunity to live in a windowless room in the old gymnasium (with the old locker room serving as his bathroom) and a meal ticket as his compensation. (To be fair, Danny always tried to find and share whatever extras he could for his staff, including Tim).

AP IMAGES
Tim Corbin started as an intern at Wofford College. Today he is head baseball coach at Vanderbilt.
Tim seized the opportunity at Wofford and impressed Danny with his diligence and passion toward all of his assignments — not just the baseball coaching duties. Tim balanced his workload so that everyone in the athletic department and the baseball coaching staff knew they could depend upon him and that whatever they delegated to him would get done to the best of his ability and on time.

When Danny and I talked about Tim, I knew Tim had a bright future. I have met very few people in my life who could handle the variety of tasks that were an essential part of the internship without showing a distinct preference for one and thus affecting his performance on the others. Tim’s performance at Wofford, a strong recommendation from Danny, as well as good fortune and timeliness, resulted in his first head coaching position: resurrecting the baseball program at a nearby NAIA institution, Presbyterian College.

Tim spent the next six seasons at Presbyterian helping to move the school to NCAA Division II, making the playoffs three consecutive years and earning South Atlantic Coach of the Year honors in 1990. Then, proving that if you are successful someone will discover you no matter where you are, Tim joined the staff at Clemson in 1994, and for the next nine seasons helped lead the Tigers to nine NCAA appearances and four trips to the College World Series. Tim also earned a National Assistant Coach of the Year in 2000 from Baseball America and the American Baseball Coaches Association and won a gold medal with USA Baseball in the world championships.

This all led to Tim becoming the head coach at Vanderbilt University, where he has been for the past nine seasons leading the Commodores to their first appearance in the College World Series in June. But the lessons Tim learned at Wofford were evident in some of his other accomplishments, notably in fundraising and upgrading the facilities at Vanderbilt. He was named 2007 SEC Coach of the Year and earned the Co-National Coach of the Year by College Baseball Insider and regional coach of the year honors by the American Baseball Coaches Association that same year. The work ethic that Tim demonstrated so long ago as an intern became a critical part of who he is.

I went to Nashville to see Vanderbilt play in the NCAA regionals this past June. I spoke with Tim, but mainly I observed this outstanding young man (I am 60, so Tim is still young to me) leading his team to victory. I talked to local media, alumni and fans who all told me what a fine person Tim was, how loyal he was to Vanderbilt, how important he was to the community and what a great family man he was. I smiled because it was apparent that the multitasking that Tim learned so long ago as an intern at Wofford was still evident in his life and pursuit of his dreams.

What Tim has accomplished is the result of hard work, vision and determination. But someone has to see that along the way, and there is no better place to exhibit it than during an internship. Anyone preparing to accept an internship should take the Tim Corbin story to heart and make it part of their approach. n

Bill Sutton (wsutton@bus.ucf.edu) is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.

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