IAL Alumni Spotlight - 2009 Alum, Shaun Cole

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IAL Alumni Spotlight: Shaun Cole 

The Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership M.Ed. (IAL) program has been aiding in the development of aspiring graduate students for the past 10 years. We’re proud to say that our graduates have gone on to work in many different sectors of the professional and collegiate sports industry.  To continue highlighting the great work of our IAL alumni, we sat down with 2009 IAL graduate, Shaun Cole.

IAL Alumni_Shaun Cole

Shaun Cole, Photo via University of Arizona

While in the program, Cole focused on coaching and had the opportunity to intern with the University of Arizona. Since he graduated, Cole has worked with the University of Arizona, the U.S. National Baseball Team, and the San Diego Padres; and although Cole graduated roughly 10 years ago, his appreciation for the IAL program and the people he met during hasn’t dwindled since his time at the University of Washington.

Sport has always been an ever present factor in Cole’s life–baseball, soccer, football–he was a fan of it all, and he played baseball all through college. Naturally, it only made sense to Cole to pursue a career in the sports industry after completing undergrad, but he wasn’t quite sure what direction he wanted to pursue, which led him to discovering UW’s IAL M.Ed.

“I always figured that the more education I had, the more opportunities and control over my future I would have. I knew I wanted to get the Master’s degree, but a sports-focus would give me a clearer direction with where I wanted to go professionally.” So he applied, and he was rejected.

However, this didn’t deter Cole. Taking the initiative, he arranged to meet with Sara Lopez, Executive Director of the IAL program, to find out what he could do to enter the program. Lopez told him he needed more real-life, on-the-job experience in order to get the most out of the program and connected him to a current IAL student, Aaron Smith, who at the time was working with the Seattle Mariners.

“So I contacted Aaron, who told me to drive up [from Tacoma] the next day, and Jim Na was the director of player personnel and UW grad. They hired me as an intern that day. I did that for one season, and then that job parlayed into another job as an assistant coach at Edmonds Community College.”

When Cole applied the next year with his additional experience and additional focus on coaching, he was accepted.

As all current and former IAL students know, a major component of the IAL program is the internship experience–whether a student has one, two, or even three internships–all students must take on an internship for nine months of the program.  

For Cole, this opportunity to further his experience in the field was extremely valuable and he took the initiative to search for internships with professional and collegiate baseball organizations, even if that internship would take him out of his comfort zone of the Pacific Northwest.

“I wrote three letters to major league teams and three letters to Division I teams…the Angels and the University of Arizona got back to me. Because I was coaching at the time at Edmonds and we had some success, I went with the University of Arizona.

“When I went down to U of A for the internship, they didn’t pay me anything. I was sharing an apartment with a guy who was coaching at U of A who’s now actually a major league coach for the Twins. So that was a great connection, but at the time there was no real...hope of getting a job at U of A...”

Fortunately for Cole, his internship with the University of Arizona did, indeed, lead to a full-time coaching position, which he held for six years. Yet, as Cole explained, just because he held the title of “coach” doesn’t mean he was only on the field. His duties also involved overseeing academic meetings, travel budgets, scheduling games two to three years out, and of course, recruiting. Cole described the most beneficial lesson he learned while working for the University of Arizona:

“The guy I worked for at Arizona, Andy Lopez, he used to tell me and the other assistant coach every day, if you want to be good in this profession, you need to be able to develop players on the field, or you want to be able to evaluate. And if you really want to be good, have an understanding of both.

I was able to go out and evaluate players to select for the national team, but also go in, onto the field to help players, if needed.  At any level, either college or professional, if you are good at either one of those, you’ll have a job, but if you are able to do both, it just gives you more flexibility and more range to cover.”

After U of A, Cole moved on to work for the National Team for USA baseball where he shifted gears and took on a more administrative role, something he didn’t imagine for himself while in the IAL program, but due to his diverse experience and education, he felt comfortable stepping into the role.

He explained, “The degree opened up doors for me, the people that were brought in to speak from all different backgrounds helped out a lot because they offered a different perspective and insight into different jobs and connected you with different people.”

Cole currently works for the San Diego Padres as a Coordinator of Player Development. When he was first hired on, Cole explained that he was the only person that bounced between scouting and player development all because he listened to his former U of A boss’ advice.

When asked what his advice would be to current and future IAL grad students as they graduate from the program, Cole described that one of the most important things you can do is show your willingness to work hard.

“Be willing to work for next to nothing. Just to get in...There’s a lot of competitive people out there and you need to prove that you’re good at what you do. Just because you got your degree and you went to Stanford, UW, whatever, that doesn’t matter anymore. The reset button has been hit. It’s the real world and you need to prove your value.”