I have had to hire/fire more athletic directors and coaches than I care to remember in my time as a college president. But, through it all, I learned several things, including what interview questions a president needs to ask any candidate for the job of athletic director – whether in DI, DII and DIII. And, my hope is that by sharing some of these questions, both presidents and ADs can be better prepared for the interview process.
I also hope you will do two things: rank this questions in terms of their degree of difficulty for the candidate on a scale of 1 –6 with six being highly difficult and one being a softball; and then let us know which questions you think would be important to be asked or that you were in fact asked when you were interviewed for your AD position (whether you were awarded the position or not).
One preliminary and foundational point: College and university presidents should be engaged in the search for an AD. There’s no question about that in my mind. There are many things a president can delegate and this is not one of them. And, the president should have veto power over a committee’s selection, rarely used one hopes since most committees present their top two or three candidates. No, presidents do not need to be on the actual selection committee, although the president should have a hand in determining the composition of that committee to insure diversity in every sense.
And, as an added issue because it affects the questions to be asked, it is my view that ADs should report directly to the president. I have tried it several ways and in my view, direct reporting is the best way for a president to both address problematic issues but also to see the challenges faced by an athletic department (and there are many running the gamut from NCAA compliance issues to rogue athletes and rogue coaches). By the by, it is the preferred approach of the NCAA across all three Divisions.
So, here are the six top questions I would ask; I’ve provided a brief explanation as to their rationale. Assume for a moment, too, that these are not the first questions asked; there are some pleasantries to be exchanged and some small talk. And, do note that the questions are not listed in their order of importance; their order depends on context and how the meeting is progressing. Also, every candidate brings different skills and what skills matter at a particular institution at a particular point in time most depends on other aspects of the college or university’s athletic program, finances, previous AD experience and presidential vision of athletics across campus.
1) What is your view, when determining a coach’s salary annually, of taking into account that coach’s team cumulative GPA each semester?
The point here is to address the meaning of the term “student-athlete” as well as eligibility issues and how an AD sees his/her role in developing and maintaining this difficult balancing act for both coaches and student athletes.
2) Having looked at our athletic department and met some of the personnel within athletics and across the campus, what is one significant change you believe is needed within the first few months of starting your employment?
This question is aimed at several things. First, it determines how well the AD candidate has reviewed the materials presented to him/her. It is also designed to see how much they know about other programs. Lastly, it is designed to see if there is a reticence (a good thing) to make change too quickly and without knowing the tenor and tone of the institution. I worry about folks who have too quick a trigger finger.
3) Suppose two student-athletes came to you to say that one of your coaches (not their coach) was seen meandering around the outside of the athletic facility, apparently peering into the windows that look into both male and female dressing rooms, weight rooms and trainer’s rooms?
This question is designed to see whether the candidate will ask about the Title IX enforcement procedures on campus and when and whether they will report what they were told. Would they first speak to the coach in question? When would they advise the President? With whom, if anyone, would they discuss the issue?
4) Name three people you know who work within the NCAA and what your relationship is with them (How did you meet them? On what issues have you work or engage with them?)
This is an opportunity for the candidate to share his/her all important knowledge of and relationship to the NCAA. It does help to know the systems, to know some personnel, to have worked on committees where one has established trust and respect. It also foreshadows a candidate’s view of the NCAA and the familiarity with and need for compliance. The candidate’s choice of which people to name is telling too – Enforcement? Education? Programming? Rules? Co-panelists?
5) Describe how, if selected, your weekly meeting would work with the president. Would there be an agenda and if so, prepared by whom? Where would the meeting take place? What if anything would you send the president (or his/her assistant) in advance of the meeting?
This question is designed to see how the candidate sees the value of these meeting – descriptive, problem solving, issue spotting, strategic, informational or all of these. Next, this question suggests the need for an agenda and who better to prepare it than the AD. But, what if the president has items to discuss? How is information shared? That relates to trust and respect. And, how willing is the AD to ask the president to come to his/her office for some meetings for many reasons, including the athletic department seeing an engaged president.
6) What is the most important book on athletics or/or leadership and/or finance that you have read in the last 12 months and why does this book stand out to you?
First, I want an AD who is familiar with what is being written in key fields that intersect with his/her position. Second, as an academic institution, everyone should be reading and learning. Third, the choice of book will speak volumes about the candidate and his/her focus. Picking the book Cheated would be different than selecting The Secret Game, which in turn would be different from selecting Indentured.
Look forward to your degree of difficulty rankings and your presentation of other key questions that you deem important.
The poll is now closed.
Karen Gross is the former President of Southern Vermont College, an NCAA DIII institution fielding 13 teams. She was the president of the college's Athletic Conference, the NECC. She also served on the NCAA DIII Presidents' Advisory Council. A lawyer by training, she represented an NFL quarterback (decades ago) and is a serious professional and college sports fan. She currently is senior counsel to a crisis management firm in DC where she specializes in education. A Red Sox fan, she knows a lot about losing and winning. Her son, now a professor, is a former NCAA Division I athlete.