By Ronnie Burton Jr.
Korn Ferry, Parker Executive Search, DHR International, these are just some of the search firms you’ll hear about as the coaching carousel begins to heat up the next couple of weeks. While the season has been underway for quite some time there are numerous people behind the scenes preparing for a firestorm. Each November and December head football coaches will be hired and fired. Since success is apparent, coaches who have won games have increased their value, while others who are not successful will be fired and flushed out of the marketplace.
As the end of the season nears, athletic directors face the difficult task of evaluating their coaching staffs. What starts the selection process is either a coach has been fired, tendered a resignation, or taken a position elsewhere. Veteran athletic directors typically take a proactive approach assembling a list of candidates anticipating a change in leadership. This compilation of candidates will comprise of coaches who have expressed interest (typically through an agent), head coaches from other programs, and top assistants. It’s protocol for ADs to formally announce that they will not contact coaches until the season is completed. Yet with recruiting in the balance, it is vital a coach be identified so the position can be filled. With so much at stake, universities typically use more covert tactics to begin the selection process.
With ADs having so many responsibilities it’s tough for many of them to simply break away and focus on a coaching search. At that point many pay a search firm to help supplement the hiring process. These firms act as the middlemen between schools, potential coaches, and their agents. With this relationship, there comes an inherent number of advantages that come with the utilization of a firm’s services. First, executives have at their disposal expansive databases which contain up to date information on which coaches are available, who might be interested, and other schools who may be looking for a coach. Second, they also keep data on valuable information such as contracts, buyout figures, and educational background. Last, since anonymity is key for high-profile searches, these firms can contact and interview coaches outside the public eye. This allows the process to move forward even when a potential coach is in season and before the media begins speculating. Since intermediaries are used, this tactic can be utilized as an alibi for potential coaches. Now both coaches and AD’s can deny publicly that they haven’t been contacted by another school keeping the media away.
Continuing, after the search firm and AD narrow down potential candidates, initial interviews take place in an off-campus location. Typically, the first round of interviews is used to establish fit and a candidate’s interest. Most candidates will try and promote themselves in order to garner the on-campus interview. Yet, some coaches use interviews as a negotiation tactic so they can reap raises from their home school. Along with search firms, AD’s and presidents also create search committees containing administrators, athletic department staff, and notable alumni who evaluate the final candidates during the on-campus phase of interviews.
Understanding this process and the role of a search firm is important because hiring a football coach can be the defining factor in any athletic director’s tenure. In addition, with turnover rates at an all-time high, administrators must understand the process of hiring coaches. No matter what level you work at most likely you will encounter a coaching search at one time or another. Having in-depth knowledge of hiring practices, search firms, and the search process can be valuable for current and aspiring administrators looking to grow their careers.
Ronnie Burton Jr., is an emerging professional within collegiate athletics and higher education. Prior to writing for CollegeAD Ronnie worked in administrative and coaching positions at California Lutheran University, Arizona State, and Michigan State. A 2015 graduate of Arizona State’s Masters in Sports Law and Business Program he looks to be an asset for organizations making decisions in the areas of regulation and revenue generation. A former college baseball player, Ronnie’s passions reside at the intersection of higher education and athletics.
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