|Bill Carr – CarrSports Consulting (President)
How frequently do you heavily weigh-in on who an institution should hire as opposed to simply presenting all the options & letting leadership go in whatever direction they choose?
I’m probably one of the most extreme voices in the business in believing that institutions that defer to search firms excessively are making a grave mistake. When an athletic director tells a search firm to “bring me five coaches and I’ll pick from there,” that is tantamount to lack of institutional control. Would an athletic director say the same thing to a booster or someone else that can hold influence over them? What they are essentially doing is allowing the search firm to sell the position to a coach or agent as though it’s a commodity. The institution (through its athletic director) is the only party in the transaction that should be determining who the candidates are and who gets the job in the end.
In facilitating searches, we as a firm do a SWOT analysis on the department and the program to make a determination and assessment of the best possible candidate. What are the characteristics and experiences necessary for an individual to be successful in this particular program? We present this analysis to our client, and only once they confirm that these are in fact the traits and achievements they are looking for do we begin to identify potential candidates that fit the description.
What’s the easiest way for a search to go off course?
The dynamic of the search committee and the paradigm of the decision making by the university. Who is going to make the decision about the hire? The President, Athletic Director, ten people on a committee? For every decision maker you add, the process becomes exponentially harder. Finding well qualified, cerebral and non-biased people to serve on the committee is almost as hard as finding the actual candidates. A lot of times the appointments are political and agenda driven. The truth is that while you can involve as many people as you want in the process (for inclusion purposes), only a select few should actually be able to have a vote in selecting the candidate you hire.
Does the current Power Five compensation landscape restrict the disbursement of talent & make it harder for mid- and low-majors ADs to make good hires?
Nothing affects a market like the infusion of massive amounts of capital. Mid-Major athletic directors have to persuade qualified candidates to lead their programs for reasons that go beyond money. For instance, they can offer longer contracts and sell stability, something a higher paying job may not be willing to offer. But in the end it’s hard to convince someone to take a 50% pay cut to take a job, and so smaller programs are often forced to get weaker, older, and often recycled candidates or very young, underprepared candidates.
How has search work in college athletics positively & negatively evolved over the years/decades?
The trend is self-serving, as opposed to serving the industry’s best interest. The fees have become just like the salaries… outrageous. There isn’t a whole lot of justification to pay the salaries that we are today for coaches, and the same can be said for search fees. No one should be paying $75,000 or even more for a search. But the reality is that it’s a C.Y.A. dynamic – the athletic director doesn’t want to be criticized for the search process so they pay an exorbitant amount of money and then say, “we’ve enlisted the best search firm in the business to help us find a candidate,” and then can wipe their hands if the hire turns out to be a disaster.
Jeff Goodman – ESPN (College Basketball Writer & Sideline Reporter)
What mistakes do you believe ADs commonly make during the search process in dealing/not dealing with the media? As an add-on, if you were an AD hiring a HC, what would be your procedural steps to ensure a successful choice?
Not reaching out to the media, whose job it is to evaluate coaches. Many of us are really plugged in and know these coaches for their entire careers (which is more than can be said for most search firms). I’ve watched these guys coach dozens of times – why wouldn’t you ask me my thoughts? Not to mention that if we have a conversation and you specifically tell me that it’s off the record, now I can’t report on it. So many athletic directors run around trying to keep the search process secretive, when they can accomplish the same by actually speaking directly to us… and actually get some good advice out of the conversation, too.
You may speak to more coaches on an ongoing basis than just about anyone out there. How do you assess whether a coach will be a good fit for a particular institution?
The truth is there’s no sure fire way to know if someone’s going to be successful in a situation, which is part of the reason why I stopped grading coaching hires. But let’s take NC State for instance – they clearly want a guy with a big personality, who’s going to go after UNC and Duke. Many perceived Gottfried as not being a great game coach (which I tend to agree with). And so in making a new hire, they have to look for three characteristics that are essential to being successful in pretty much any situation – the coach has to: be good with people, be a good coach on the court, and be able to recruit.
Yet sometimes when schools make hires, they don’t realize that no matter how successful a coach has been, there’s always going to be a learning curve… especially when they come from a different region. Take Mark Fox at Georgia, who is a weird fit because he’s a west coast guy moving into a job in the south. A coach making a move like that will take a while to build relationships and get players, and so he may need an extra recruiting class or two before he even gets the type of players he wants in his system. That’s also why you should never judge a hiring immediately, rather you should judge them based on the staff they hire.
The funny part is that in all my years of covering college basketball, never once have I seen an athletic director at an AAU event like the Peach Jam. Why not go out there and see how coaches recruit, see who’s locked in? I would have my list, and would be looking at who really cares and who doesn’t. It’s also an incredible opportunity to meet many of them in one shot and at one event.
What’s your position on using/not using search firms? Do you think they’re a part of a trend that’s indicative of what may be happening more and more in the HC hiring process?
I hate it. Who cares if you don’t use one? So you get turned down. Kentucky got turned down by four coaches before they hired John Calipari. The press conference is irrelevant… what matters is the coach that you hire actually ends up winning games. If you need to pay a search firm $75,000 to tell you who to hire, then you shouldn’t have your job.
The sad part is that there are clearly more and more search firms being hired. Maybe they just give an athletic director an excuse to hire the direct opposite person of their last coach. If they hired a former NBA guy last time, the next time it’s going to be a guy with a ton of college experience instead. If it was an older white guy last time, the next coach is likely to be a young black guy. But the worst is when they go out and hire the “hot guy.” Just because a guy wins a game or two in the tournament doesn’t mean he’s a great coach, and especially doesn’t mean he’s a good fit for your school.
“Don’t believe everything you read” is a common refrain from ADs during searches. Do you think there’s a morsel of truth in just about everything that floats around the market this time of year?
Absolutely not, there’s way too many people that throw out nothing but unsubstantiated rumors in the hopes of generating attention. A few years ago there were standards in journalism, but these days there are plenty of “media outlets” that have little to no accountability who chase (or even make up) stories. Even for me there’s an internal struggle about how much information to put out about a search… before a one off comment by an athletic director wasn’t worth reporting, but now even that is seen as newsworthy.
I’m competitive, I want to break every story if I can. That being said, I also know that I can’t ever be wrong or my credibility goes out the window. That’s why I’ve always had a policy that unless I’m 100 percent sure that something is going to happen – whether someone is getting fired or hired – I won’t report on it. I also have to receive the information from a direct source involved – coach, agent, administrator – before I’m willing to pull the trigger.
I’ve only been wrong two times in my career – reporting that Billy Gillispie had accepted the Arkansas job, and that Trey Burke was leaving for the NBA early. With Trey, he had told me personally he was leaving and then he ended up having a change of heart. With Billy, he verbally accepted the Arkansas job — but then reneged and took the Kentucky job. So, I was wrong in a sense.