Mag Study: Northern Virginia’s High School Head Coaching Tenures Halved Since 1989

November 21 - The average tenure of an area high school varsity baseball head coach has been cut nearly in half over the past three decades.

In 1989, the 26 schools that comprised the Virginia High School League’s old Group AAA Northern Region had coaches who had on average been on the job for 10.38 years. This coming season, coaches from the 85 schools in the magazine’s Northern Virginia coverage area will have on average been at the helm for 5.79 seasons.

A number of factors have led to coaches having shorter tenures as the prep game has evolved.

Thirty years ago, coaches weren’t allowed to conduct the off-season practices that modern day coaches essentially have to hold or else fall behind competing programs. This has led to burnout, and in many cases, a decision to step aside comes simply because of the additional time required of coaches that before would have been spent with family.

The change in the administrative structure in many public school systems - with the athletic director title being modified to director of student activities - now tasks a school’s DSA with oversight of other non-sports activities as well. That effectively eliminated the days of head coaches doubling as the school’s athletic director, thus coaches have to decide between staying on the field or pursue the higher-paying administrative position.

Also, and let’s be honest, a large percentage of athletes and sports parents have changed. Teenage ballplayers aren’t always “yes sir, no sir” like they were a generation ago, and parents have been empowered in a society by a number of factors more appropriate to be covered in an editorial than in today’s story.

What makes the fact that coaches on average had been on the job for over a decade in 1989 even more impressive was that many of them were early in what would be long tenures with their program. Tom Verbanic was in the fifth of 16 seasons at Fairfax, Jim Jullien in the sixth of 18 at Jefferson, Dan Griel in the fifth of 17 at Lake Braddock, and Chuck Welch in the fifth of 16 at Langley. Dean Sissler was in the 14th of 24 seasons at Marshall, Ron Tugwell in the 16th of 27 at West Springfield, and Tom Hall in the 22nd of 32 at Oakton.

At the time, 10 of the region’s 26 coaches (38 percent) had been on the job for 15 or more years. This coming season, just five of Northern Virginia’s 85 schools (6 percent) will have coaches with tenures that long.

The average is fairly consistent when the VHSL and Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) are split - with public schools averaging 5.74 years and private schools averaging 6.08.

Fairfax County, which has 34 of the schools in the coverage area, averages 6.21. The next two counties by school quantity - Prince William (5.40 at 15 schools) and Loudoun (5.73 at 15 schools) - are slightly lower. Stafford (8.20 at its five schools) had the highest and Spotsylvania (3.14 at seven schools) had the lowest, while Fauquier and Arlington averaged 6.75 and 4.50, respectively, at their four schools.

For a breakdown of coaching tenures by county, see the graph below.

Notes: Colgan was not used in this study as it remains unclear if third-year coach Mike Colangelo will return. … T.C. Williams, the lone high school in the City of Alexandria, was grouped with Fairfax County schools for study purposes. … Historical information was used for this story from research done by Jimmy Linza.  


Average Seasons by County