Hot Reads: The Art
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: The Art, No the Science, of the Coaching Carousel

November 03, 2017

I spent an amount of time I’m afraid to admit lurking on a Florida message board last night. These are things that, I guess, happen when you can’t sleep. It provided additional evidence for one of my stronger but perhaps less popular beliefs: College football is mostly the same everywhere. Only the names, colors and details of the highly specific concerns change. 

You could have downloaded the entire thread I read on the Gators’ coaching search, altered the names and avatars, and dropped it onto any other board in the country during its time of need(ing the latest information on who the next coach will be). Florida fans were playing all the hits: So-and-so’s agent was on campus yesterday. Coach X is clearly the top choice. Coach X doesn’t have the experience, you at least have to offer Coach Y. Can we all agree that no coach in the country would be dumb enough to turn this job down? I don’t agree with you on anything, but we can agree on that.

These conversations are a bizarre sort of performance art, but as I clicked through all 12 pages of it and Thursday turned to Friday I was forced to confront the truth: I like it. Not the misinformation and illogic, but the puzzle of picking a football coach. Hundreds of millions of dollars and the next three or four years (at minimum) are potentially at stake.

There are almost no easy answers. Every kind of coach with every kind of background has succeeded and also failed. When I spoke with Athletic Director Bill Moos last week, he called it a “fine science.” That jarred me a bit because “science” indicates reproducible results.

From my chair, picking a coach seems more like an art. From Moos’ chair, that of a guy who has actually had to do it, it’s a science. And that’s probably why I’ll be consumed by any school in the spot Florida’s in now. I want to believe the truth is out there, even if all the evidence I have ever looked at indicates I must have been looking in the wrong places. Try a different solution to the puzzle.

Ralph Russo of the Associated Press decided to tackle a piece of the puzzle and examine “what goes into deciding whether to change football coaches.” I would’ve read about 5,000 words on this instead of the, oh, about 1,000 or so that are here, but that’s a me problem. And there was one section that jumped out:

Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana who does consulting work for schools searching for a new coach, said just because a coach has not been fired does not mean an athletic director is not busy working behind the scenes.

"I would suggest to you if I'm an AD I can do a better search with my coach under attack than I can by firing a coach," said DiNardo, who is an analyst for the Big Ten Network. "As soon as I fire the coach, then everyone switches to the search. So I'm distracting my opponents. Meanwhile, I've already decided I'm firing him and not only that, I've got three agents waiting to negotiate with me."

Contact between coaches' agents and search firms ramp up this time of year, trying to gauge which active coaches might be interested in soon-to-be vacant job.

 

One, had no idea DiNardo was available for consulting. (Wonder if he’d jut talk to me for like four hours about the “science” for the heck of it.) Two, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone express so plainly that a school might be better off on the back channels (with a lame-duck coach in place) than where Florida’s currently at, though it now makes some sense. (Don't tell that to Florida fans, however, as they're delighted to be first in line right now.)

Moos was in the former category five years ago as he set off in pursuit of Mike Leach. If you want a blow-by-blow of that time and the playbook for how that was executed, check out “The System.” If you want the Cliff’s Notes, read this 2012 story from Bud Withers of the Seattle Times.

Incidentally that story is titled the “Art of hiring a football coach.”

Puzzling, isn't it?

(Also, if you have any questions about the state of the search in the Swamp, drop them in the comments below. For the next few hours at least, I will feel abreast of what’s going on down there from the fan’s perspective. Wait any longer than that and everything will likely have changed.)

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