As an athletic department, arguably the most important and challenging task is hiring the correct people. From coaches to trainers to staff, making selections for positions is an imprecise science that has substantial stakes in the success of an administration and a school.
As was observed in this space last week, success on the athletic front can lead to windfalls that can change a school in its entirety. Final Four runs, national championship exposure, and high profile athletes all lead to more incoming applications, which in turn raise the academic standards of an institution. A scandal, on the other hand, can lead to national disgrace and a negative reputation for the school that can require decades to undo. These two disparate fates are largely the result of the people hired for the athletic department. It is they who will maintain compliance, choose the athletes, and represent the institution.
Mark Few, MBB head coach at Gonzaga, spoke about this topic recently, relating his preference for giving veteran coaches second chances by bringing them onto his staff. “I just have a soft spot for coaches that lose their jobs or whatever might have happened,” Few stated.
His AD is also on-board with Few’s preference for an extra set of experienced eyes on the court. Gonzaga athletics director Mike Roth said, “If you look at what’s in it for us, it’s somebody else for Mark to talk to and visit with.” He goes on to make the argument that the arrangement is mutually beneficial, as coaches will get a look behind the curtain of a national powerhouse and Few can lean-on their expertise in areas unfamiliar to him.
This tendency perhaps runs counter-cultural to the philosophies of many athletic departments. Finding the exciting, young new hire who will shake-up the status quo is often touted as the correct course of action in AD circles. Trying re-treads, even relatively successful ones, sometimes smacks of settling to boosters or a fanbase.
Furthermore, Few’s preference for surrounding himself with experienced leaders is not necessarily replicable in other schools. Having a strong leader, either as head coach or athletic director, is a must. Also, hiring members of staff that have had prior successes can lead to high turnover within a department, as there is a better chance they’ll be tapped for another leadership role.
Mark Few’s practice of offering a helping-hand to experienced coaches works well for Gonzaga and might seem attractive to other athletic departments. Few gets extra sets of knowledgeable eyes to assist in practice and games, while the coaches get a chance to observe a top-25 program and perhaps get back on their feet. However, athletic departments must look inward when considering who they’re hiring in terms of experience. Without strong central leadership, hiring veterans (especially coveted ones) can lead to instability within a team or department. While on the surface it seems bringing-in experience could only help a program, that is not always the case.
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.