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Why Colleges Are Using the Recruitment Firm Option Play in Hiring a New Football Coach

December 19, 2013
Related Topics: Executive Recruiting, College Recruiting, Candidate Sourcing, Interviewing, Strategic Planning, Succession Planning, The Latest

Whether or not you're a football fan, there's always a lesson in watching recruiting trends in college football. Usually that means seeking innovation like custom-looking notes that are actually mass produced or texting software that allows assistant coaches to directly access candidates at all times of the day or night.

But today, we're not here to talk about trends related to landing the next five-star quarterback.  Instead, let's talk about the trend of major college football programs using executive search firms from the business world to land their next head coach.

In case you missed it, the University of Texas (one of the richest college football programs in America) recently hired executive search firm Korn Ferry to run its search for a new head coach to replace the departing Mack Brown. These types of searches don't come cheap either, as Colorado State University (which looks dirt poor compared to Texas in college athletics) reportedly paid Spencer Stuart $250,000 to run their head football coach search a few years back.

Paying $250,000 to run a search for a Colorado State head football coach. Let that sink in a bit. Staggering, isn't it?Mack Brown

Why are public institutions paying such astronomical sums for this type of search when the candidate pool can be quickly cut down to 100 candidates or so, all of whom are of public record and easy to find? The answer can be found in the following five realities, some of which your company faces and some you simply can't relate to:

1. Everything is public. No one cares to cover your search for a new divisional VP. It's boring. But in the college sports world, everyone wants to talk about your search publicly, both through traditional channels and the back channel that is the mob called social media. As a result, having the third party work behind the scenes makes perfect sense, and seems like a solid investment. Texas didn't ping that candidate, a general search firm did.

2. Embarrassment when candidates say no.  Everything is public, and to build on that thought, there's no greater place of embarrassment for a historic power like Texas than to have 2-3 candidates say no to them in a row.  If candidates say no to the third party, Texas can save face by not having exploratory conversation with candidates and only coming to the table when the candidate has been fully vetted and has qualified that he will make the move if the offer comes.

3. Plausible deniability.  So many things can go wrong with a search, it makes sense to have a third party that can give you cover as you explore a variety of candidates at a variety of price points and experience.  With these searches so public, nothing freaks out candidates quicker than having other candidates named in the media as a finalist. The people leading the search have to be able to say, "I haven't had a conversation with Steve" in a variety of circumstances and have it be true.

4. Internal politics. Everyone has their favorite for the job in question. This just in — universities in general and the athletic departments that exist on campus are highly political animals. Why alienate anyone politically? Take the cover of search firm and you'll never find yourself at war with someone until it's too late for them to sabotage you.

5. Agents. Football coaches have agents with a singular purpose: to drive up the demand for their clients. They'll use and abuse you in the process, so university athletic departments have decided they need their own agents in that war. Enter the high-end executive search firms.

It's easy to wax poetic about the cost of executive search to find a football coach at a public university. The reality is as follows: If you were faced with the same search and the all the downside related to public interest, politics, misinformation and potential embarrassment when repeated candidates declined your job in the national media, you'd pay for search help as well.

Would you pay $250,000? Well, that's a good question.     

Kris Dunn, the chief human resources officer at Kinetix, is a Workforce contributor. He is also the founder of “The HR Capitalist” and “Fistful of Talent” blogs. Comment below or email Follow Dunn on Twitter at @kris_dunn.

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