Coach-To-AD: A Resurgence of the Old Model is a Good Thing for College Athletics

May 2nd, 2018 | by CollegeAD
Coach-To-AD: A Resurgence of the Old Model is a Good Thing for College Athletics

coach to ad

When Southern Illinois University hired its former football coach, Jerry Kill, to serve as the school’s newest athletic director, it certainly wasn’t the first to do so. In fact, the act of transitioning successful coaches to the AD position has made somewhat of a resurgence. So, with most universities these days opting to hire individuals that have followed the typical administrative path, what are a the benefits of hiring based off the Coach-To-AD model?

A Unique Understanding:

For coaches who go on to lead their school’s athletic programs, their past successes aren’t just bullet points on a resume. They are living, breathing parts of the school’s athletic history. As University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Chancellor Beverly Davenport stated upon announcing the hiring of a former UT student athlete and head football coach, Phillip Fulmer, to the AD position in December, 2017: “No one better understands the storied history of Vol athletics and its deep connection to alumni and fans, and I believe he will be a unifying presence for all of us committed to the university’s success.

Loyalty To The Program:

With athletic directors transitioning in and out of jobs at an increased pace, program loyalty is harder to find. In 2016, upon being hired for the AD position at Mississippi State, former MSU baseball player and head coach, John Cohen, spoke of his love for the university and his familiarity with the coaches and athletes, whom he considered his friends. Cohen is someone Bulldog fans identify with first as a member of the Mississippi State 1990 College World Series team, next as the baseball program’s head coach and now the athletic department’s director of athletics.

Staying Power:

Before there was a Coach-To-AD trend, there was Barry Alvarez. Alvarez became the University of Wisconsin’s head football coach in 1990, and spent 16 years in that position. In 2016 — in his 13th season as UW’s athletic director, he signed a contract to continue in that post until 2021, when he will be 74 years old. During his time as AD, he has become the oldest one in the Big Ten Conference, and one of the highest paid. He also garnered tremendous success, with 56 conference titles and 14 national championships during his tenure. When asked about his succession plan when he retires, he said he was not even close to thinking about that yet.

While Kill’s own success story as athletic director at SIU remains to be written, the school has high hopes. As Chancellor Carlo Montemagno stated: “It’s time for us to make a change in leadership that will help the program fulfill its potential.”

While former coaches returning to become AD is certainly nothing new, it is a sort of “throwback” idea that some institutions have returned to. In the case of Kill, Alvarez, Fulmer, Cohen, and South Carolina’s Ray Tanner who led the Gamecocks to back-to-back baseball national championships, these are figureheads that fans and alumni identify with. During their coaching careers they ran highly successful programs. These hires fire up fan bases that in most cases felt, for whatever reason, some disconnect with the previous administrations. These coaches represent a branding play for the entire athletic program, or better put, a rebranding play.

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