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Click the timestamp below to jump to a specific question/topic. Scroll below for a full transcript.
Brad Bates (Vice President, Consulting @ Collegiate Sports Associates): My name is Brad Bates. I’m here for AthleticDirectorU today and joining us are Todd Turner, the president and founder of Collegiate Sports Associates; the president of Campbell University, Bradley Creed; and the athletic director of Campbell University, Omar Banks.
And today we’re going to discuss the anatomy of an athletic director search. And so, I thought I’d started off President Creed with, if you could just give us your general thoughts, when you learn you were going to engage in a search process, what were your initial sort of concepts and actions that took place?
Bradley Creed (President @ Campbell): Yeah, thank you, Brad. This was not a sudden revelation to me, obviously, our previous athletic director gave me some time to prepare for this. This might be in the offing. So that’s one advantage you’d like to have, to sort of be prepared for this when something like this happens. So having, having thought about it, I’d already lined up an interim athletic director who was our senior women’s associate, Wanda Watkins, 35 years, is the head women’s basketball coach there, highly respected and very effective. Had talked to some others with, within, our Vice President for Student Life. Before I got there, had the athletic director reporting to him and he was great ally. I’d been through some searches before. I’m going to state the obvious that the coaching and athletic director fraternity is very tight, and the grapevine is effective and highly functioning. So within a day of a public announcement, I was already getting solicitations.
BB: You are very popular.
BC: Well, yes, I was and suddenly everybody seemed to know about Campbell University and… but at that point, I was interested in securing the services of the search firm. We knew that we were going to do that as well as have a committee of representative personnel there. Also, pretty soon afterwards, I would say within the next day, I like to do things face to face, so I called a meeting of the coaches and the athletic staff just to talk about this and, you know, to acknowledge the concern they had. There was a sense of loss. They supported and liked our former athletic director. He did a really good job. And to assure them that the one thing that hadn’t changed was my commitment to supporting what they, what they did, and I’m very involved going to their games and know them personally. And so, try to bring some reassurance there. And then we started this process. And we’re deliberate about that.
So we did our research on the people who contacted us and Collegiate Sports Associates was one of those and I spent a lot of time making phone calls asking about different people and talk to folks on the phone and then it went through there with the assistance of a few people settling on Collegiate Sports Associates, and Todd and, and his group was, was very helpful. Then we started the process of the search. So that’s kind of a shorthand of what we did over, you know, maybe two to three-weeks period of time.
BB: And engaging the athletic department had to be greatly appreciated, I’m sure by the staff that was there. Talk about, I think you’d reference you had set up a committee. How did you… what was your thinking in terms of identifying who would participate in that process?
BC: We always tried to be representative and, and think about what a good representation will be touching on several points, you know, a balance in terms of, of race and gender and different kinds of employees, whether in the administration and coaches, and also had a couple of student athletes as well. And, and had, I believe, two trustees who were very interested in athletics and would be supportive. So, sometimes the larger committee, again, it can be unwieldy, but I knew these people could work together. And our Vice President for Student Life chaired it. I asked him to chair it, and he did an effective job with it.
BB: And maybe if I could pull Todd into this conversation. At some point, obviously, you were where Campbell was going to engage in a search process. Maybe if I could hear from President Creed and you about how you both approached each other and how you found each other.
Todd Turner (Founder & President @ Collegiate Sports Associates): Well, the first thing I did was send him an email. I told him about our company and offered to come and visit. And, fortunately, I’m right down the road and I had a chance to run down and visit with, with him and with Doc Bazemore face to face, which I thought was very helpful. And then they made their decision about, about who to select. So, you know, the, I mean, that’s how I recall it.
BC: Yes, yeah, I believe so. And, you know, geography makes a difference. We found as we went through this process that I think having a firm that’s within some measure of reasonable proximity is helpful. I think if you’re a Power Five school and you know you’re on the West Coast and you have somebody from the East Coast working for you, that might be a different dynamic, but we found out his, his location and knowledge of the southeastern part of the United States was very helpful to us.
TT: And helpful to me too as running the search I think it was knowledge of Campbell and its history having grown up in Raleigh…
TT: A suburb of Campbell, knowing about their history was, was very helpful.
BB: Yeah, very good.
BC: Somebody who knows where Buies Creek, North Carolina is…
BB: It’s true.
BC: …gets a step up in the process, and he certainly knew that.
BB: Checked that box for you.
BB: Omar, at what point did you learn about the opening at Campbell and how did you begin a process to evaluate whether you felt that you would be a good candidate and a good fit for the institution?
Omar Banks (Athletic Director @ Campbell): Well, I’ll start with that evaluation process. Many years ago, I knew I wanted to be an athletic director. So I took the time to explore my own core values. And then I searched out schools that I felt would be a fit for me. I realized that my core values were developed very strongly through my family, but also during my time at my undergraduate institution at the University of Richmond. So from there, I started looking for like schools and Campbell University was one that was at the top of the list. And so, when the job initially came open, I believe it was in, in December, I saw it and I really didn’t see anything else after that. And so, I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I continued doing my job. I believe I saw the opportunity come available through Collegiate Sports Associates. I reached out to my boss at Virginia Tech at the time, told him that this is one of those schools that I felt would be a good fit for me and my skill set and went from there.
BB: And how did, from a consulting standpoint, how do you develop a pool of candidates?
TT: That’s a great question. The first thing that, that I did after agreeing to, to work on this project was come to Campbell and spend a full day on this thing with the coaches just as you did and others on campus to try to help me develop a profile that fit what they were looking for. So that was invaluable. And in fact, we do that with all of our searches. We’ll spend time on campus visiting stakeholders and making sure that we find the right fit, because not every candidate is right for every job. A lot of people forget that, you know, you’ll just apply job after job. And the fact is, there have to be values that are in alignment. And I’m glad you mentioned that. You knew what you were looking for. Plus, it was in the region where you grew up…
TT: You knew something about Campbell as an institution.
TT: So that’s the first thing that I did. And then meet too with the search committee to be sure we get processes in alignment, teach them how to access our systems which protect the confidentiality of the candidates and that kind of thing. It’s a seamless process, but it’s important that you get off to a good start and do it the right way where there is alignment in values both of the school and the candidate pool.
BB: And President Creed, you, you talked about how popular you were once it was announced you were going to go through a search. How do you manage the noise? How do you… because you’re getting everyone making recommendations, you have candidates calling, how do you sort of negotiate through that process?
BC: Well, you have to stay focused. And as you go into this, this is not hunting with a shotgun. It’s hunting with a rifle. And you need to have some idea of what the process is going to be like. You need to know who you are as an institution and your priorities. And you have to have some ideas about the profile of the person and I got, I got lots of calls. I mean, I heard from people I hadn’t heard from in years, not so much soliciting me directly, although there were some people I knew who I would consider friends in the process. And I think just having a plan and a process that you go through. I also in addition to meeting with all of the, the personnel in athletics collectively took time to sit down with all the coaches and some of the senior administrators just to listen from there. There was only one in that whole group that, you know, essentially told me they needed more money to do, you know, resources, but it was a great process. And so, that helps to stay focused too. And I took notes. I listened. But you start to build a narrative and a profile not only for your next athletic director, but for the process, which needs to reflect honestly and carefully who you are as an institution. That magic moment is where a person’s sense of vocation or calling can intersect with your institutional mission. And that, that’s how we got to Omar Banks.
BB: That’s great. So before we jump ahead to getting Omar, maybe if you two could talk about how you sort of defined and scripted the process.
TT: Yeah, well, it’s a pretty prescribed process. The search committee was wonderful. They were given access to the database of candidates with all their profiles. Those profiles were vetted as a group. And together, they identified a number of people. I think it was maybe in this case, there were six or seven that we ended up interviewing face to face.
And they were the ones that identified those eight, six or eight candidates through interactive process that we helped facilitate. And then visited with the candidates face to face and recommended Omar as the top choice along with another candidate, which they came to campus and you visited on campus, and the decision was made that the best person for this job was Omar Banks. So, you know, one thing there’s a misconception about search firms and what we do, our job is to help manage the process to take all the burden off your shoulders, to having to answer all the calls and deal with the… there’s time involved in that. I mean, that we’re… that’s what we do. And so, be able to do that and also to keep the search confidential and out of the news media is really an important part. It keeps the, the candidate pool strong. And so, I think that was an addition to running the, you know, the communications with candidates and continuing to communicate with the search firm and the search committee. Those are the things that are most important to make the search work. And it’s a tried and true system and I think, Brad, it works well and I hope it worked well for you.
BC: It did work well. I really liked the process. I didn’t want it to be totally about the process. But the administrative deliverable for me, in other words, I need to know this was getting done is we were going to have an intentional, workable process that was participatory, inclusive, and could yield us a good outcome. In executive roles, one of the things that, that you do in your execution is make decisions. And I knew ultimately, I would make the final decision. There was a lot of input. I didn’t weigh in early. I was kept apprised. I don’t think there was any one candidate I said, “You get, we got to bring this person here.” And so, I trusted the process with our people. And Todd doing a great job, I just felt really good about him, his background and sort of the chemistry that was there. And so, so when it came time, it fold, it’s an organic process. And I knew those things were developing. And so that sort of teeded up, to use a golf expression here, to make the decision that we did.
BB: That’s great. And you didn’t articulate it this way, but to acknowledge the power relationship with the president and the process, and being patient and allowing the process to work its way through is really a tribute to the way you sort of led this whole thing.
BC: Yeah. Well, thank you, but we have good people. And I’m not a micromanager. Although, in our roles, you need to know when to go micro. And in this case, if I had to go micro, that means that there would have been something wrong with the process where I needed to weigh in and I didn’t. So, I think that’s a combination of the strong program we already had, the kind of university we are, the people that were on the committee, and Collegiate Sports Associates quarterback, using another sports image here, by Todd Turner. So it was, it was a good process and an even better outcome.
BB: That’s great. And Omar, from your end now, you see this process being laid out, you see the posting, from your standpoint, you’d already… Campbell have been on your radar screen, you knew it was a good fit, at least from, as an outsider. How did you engage the process in ways that would distinguish you?
OB: So for me, you know, you typically do the things that you know to do, you’re going to research the institution, you’re going to look up mission values, you’re going to make sure that you understand your resume. The biggest thing for me was, you know, I reached out to some of my mentors and sponsors and got their opinions about the opportunity. And by and large, from what I had assess from the outside, everyone else said the same thing. So from there, you know, you can try to anticipate the questions you’re going to get from the search committee. But as far as differentiating myself, I really felt like the biggest thing for me was to be genuine. For me in the process, I want it to be myself and I want it my true personality to come through in the process.
It’s really difficult to act something you’re not. So I figured I better do the best I can. I need to understand what the needs are of the institution. And again, trying to anticipate some of the questions I really wanted to make sure that I was able to articulate my education, my knowledge and my experience in the context of Campbell University. So, I practiced. I had other people give me interviews. I literally would do mock phone interviews, and I did interviews using FaceTime. But those were the things that I did in order to prepare myself. But as far as trying to differentiate myself, I just wanted to be me.
BB: Very good.
TT: And he mentioned something I think that’s really important. Mentors and advisors and people that you’re close to, I heard from those people. And I was able to… because I know them and trust them and I was able to relate their perspective to the search committee and they, I think, took that information and put it into the full mix. And I think it was very helpful to know that you’ve got people out there who are your advocates. And sometimes they’re your advocates and you don’t even know it.
TT: They’re the best advocates of all. I mean, when they call and you don’t even know that they’re calling because they think so highly of you, it’s like, “Omar doesn’t know that I’m calling but here’s the guy you really need to speak to,” that gets my attention.
OB: And absolutely, I agree with that. And I’ve always been the person to just try to do your job well. You know, everything else would take care of itself. So, in this particular case, I didn’t realize that there were people calling, but I do know that I had wished people were calling. I just didn’t know that they were.
BB: So you had mentioned there was sort of two layers to the contacts with the candidates. What stood out of Omar to bring him to campus in the, in that first round?
BC: Well, there, there was, you know, there were lists that were being whittled down and obviously he was on a very shortlist. And I had not met him personally, but I had read all the information that was there and, and had other sources for finding out information about him. But, you know, to me, this is a very interpersonal kind of work and Campbell is a very interpersonal place even with our growth. And so, I knew I wanted to spend time with the candidates and we arranged to have them in our home for a meal, our wife, my wife cooked, for she is the daughter of a college basketball coach and her brother was a coach and she’s been in leadership positions and just, you know, had that kind of setting and his lovely wife, Ellen, came. And so, there was, there was a lot of that element as well. And, and so I knew that he needed to be a person of character. We were looking for somebody that had administrative experience and he certainly had it at, at a significant level. And he was a good a good fit for, for our institution. And there are just a number of things that I look at in looking for leaders and, and he checked the boxes. And so, it was very confirming is, is that process sort of unfolded and became more interpersonal rather than just transactional with, with resumes and reference phone calls.
BB: And a very good…
TT: Omar said a really important thing. I think watching the interview session go on, there was a connection that just in some way occurred during that meeting. And it was because he was genuine. He was trying just to be Omar Banks and not give them the answers that he thought they wanted to hear. He gave them the answers that really came from his heart. And I think that really resonated with that group.
BB: That’s great. And also it shows your sincerity and genuineness. And, and once you arrived, you are who you represented yourself as you say. So the, the flip of that then in terms of the preparation and going and visiting, often we forget that the candidates are interviewing the institution as well, right? What were the things that jumped out during your interview process that resonated well with you and kind of confirmed that this was a place that I really wanted to be a part of?
OB: You know, a very good question. So, once we, in the first round of interviews with the coaches, that’s where I really felt that there was a strong connection because I was able to be myself and I think they felt like they could do the same and there was some really intense questions and I gave them the answers that I felt were for me. As we got through the first round, and I made it to campus, it’s about a three, three-and-a-half-hour drive from Blacksburg. So I actually came down the night before. I don’t think I told anybody but I came down the night before with my wife, Ellen, and we got on campus and we walked around, you know, I had on you know, just simple stuff. I had a hat and sunglasses on, trying to not be ready recognized, which it was summer. So there weren’t a lot of anybody on campus anyway.
OB: But we had the opportunity to walk around and just get a feel for the environment, beautiful campus and just meeting random people, students, employees, and just asking questions. How long have you been here? Do you like it here? Why? What makes it special? So once we got those genuine answers, and the funny part about that was here I am a total stranger with a hat and sunglasses asking questions. Nobody asked me my name. Nobody asked me. Why did I want to know. It was just a gush of information. And I asked one question, and the conversation went on for minutes. So that’s when I knew that there was a unique culture about the campus where the individuals that were there and I think that was the biggest thing that stood out in my preparation for that second round and what stood out as something unique about Campbell University. I’ve been on campuses where people won’t speak to you or they walk with their heads down. But this wasn’t the case.
BB: That’s great. And without going into detail, I want to sort of explore how do you make a final decision? And then what do you do from there? But before that, everyone that’s ever been in an interview leaves that interview and you’re your own worst critic.
BB: When you left that interview, what did you think in terms of, “I should have said this” or “I could have done this differently”? Were there any moments that jumped out at you?
OB: You know, one thing that I said was, during the breakfast with the president’s cabinet, I walked out of there and I said to myself, “Man, I wish I would have ate all the breakfast. This is going to be a long day.” But we went through the rest of the day and the rest of the interviews and I think everything else was a blur. And I just remember meeting with Dr. Creed in his office, and it was literally like a conversation with an old friend, from my perspective. I think, I think we actually went over time when we were, we were talking…
BC: Oh, yeah. We…
OB: …because we just talked…
OB: …about a lot of different stuff. And when I left there, I don’t think I asked him, like some of the main questions I wanted to ask because the conversation was just so genuine. And then I walked out of there saying, “You know what, I hope he brings me back so I can ask those questions later.”
BB: That’s great. And so, obviously, Omar stands out. At some point you make a decision, how does the handshake and the formalizing of the handshake take place from there? Maybe I’ll throw that to Todd and President Creed.
TT: Well, first of all, search firms don’t hire people.
TT: You know, we provide counsel and run a process and we hand that off to the boss and the boss makes the decision. And as those conversations at breakfast, sometimes we act as a liaison, gathering information or dealing with issues that are, are pretty perfunctory like salary, compensation and terms of deals and things like that. But at the end of the day, you know, it is the university that makes the decision.
BB: And maybe President Creed, if you could talk about in today’s world, anything that you tell someone else has a potential of spreading instantly. Maybe talk just for a few seconds on your thinking of how you’re going to communicate this announcement?
BC: Well, again, you, you have to think about these things in advance and, and prepare for that and, you know, be very measured and proactive. So we continued to talk about the process, not just starting the search, but how you bring it to making the decision and the announcement and, and how you introduce your new athletic director to the, to the campus. And, you know, if there were any big, big leaks, I wasn’t aware of those, but it’s an unfolding process. And, you know, all along the way, I got feedback from the president’s cabinet. I trust them and their, their insights and there was really good feedback about Omar.
Todd was very helpful too. He struck a really good balance, careful balance between, you know, talking honestly about candidates, their, their strengths and weaknesses. And then at the same time not being an advocate for one in particular, to sort of listening to me knowing that, you know, at the end of the day, it was the end of the day or the next morning or afternoon, I was going to need to make the decision, right.
BC: And then at some point, the matrix changes. You cross kind of a mental threshold and the burden of proof is why would we not hire this person? And that’s sort of how my, my thinking shifted on that.
BB: That’s a great line too.
BC: And then the rest are details.
BB: Yeah, very good. And Omar, you had the same thing, you had to notify people once you accept the position, how did you make that announcement or what was the communication strategy from your end?
OB: On the front end with my former boss Whit Babcock at Virginia Tech, he was apprised of the process all along the way, and I know that confidentiality that Todd had told me about wouldn’t be breached with him. But again, I want to be genuine and transparent. And so, at the end of the day, or the next day, or the next afternoon, you know, I knew that I was going to have to bring it to him. And he was very, very supportive of me during the process. And so, you know, on the front end of that, you know, just coming up with your transition plan to making sure that things continue where you leave. On the family front, you know, that was something that you just had to plan out.
OB: But with two kids, one transitioning to high school, one transitioning into middle school, I mean, this was probably it for me, if I didn’t get an AD job, I wasn’t going to move my kids out of high school or middle school. And so, the opportunity presented itself and my wife has been a tremendous supporter. We just sucked it up and tried to pull everything off. And I started August 5th. The family came down August 19th. And the kids started school August 27th.
BB: That’s great. And here we are. Well, thank you all for your insight, your reflection on the process, your profound statements and it was very, very informational for anyone that will have an opportunity to visit with us on this. Thank you.
BC: Thank you.
TT: Thank you.
OB: Thank you.