Coaching Searches Face Ridiculous Scrutiny

College football coaching searches have in some ways become like the NFL Draft is to NFL fans, a whole other mini-season wherein fans and pundits can speculate, cheer and criticize.  There are grades given at the end, fans feel as though they’ve won or lost, and the future of the team has been dramatically impacted for the better or worse.  A big difference, however, is with the draft, NFL teams are judged strictly on the results.  Who did the team wind up with? What did they have to give up to get them?  Did they address the key need areas?  College football coaching searches certainly are judged on the result as well, but  just as scrutinized is the process by which the result is obtained.

Charlie Strong was named the new head coach at the University of Texas last Monday, roughly three weeks after Mack Brown formally stepped down.  The first week or two of the search process was pretty much silent, presumably as athletic director Steve Patterson collected information and put together an action plan.  During that period the media was mostly silent as well; it really had nothing to report other than speculating which candidate might be on the top of the list.  The school did name a search advisory committee which generated discussion within fan forums, social media and traditional media outlets.  However looking back now it’s unclear how involved, if at all, the group was to the process.

Toward the middle and end of week two is when the inevitable leaking of information began.  In this era of technology and communication it’s virtually impossible to conduct a high profile coaching search completely under the radar, try as ADs might.  And that’s when the real speculation, and criticism began.

You have to laugh at the way the media and fan bases scrutinize every reported detail, particularly when it’s based on such speculative and incomplete information.  Searches are messy.  They generally don’t go in a natural arc or flow, and can therefore sometimes seem mismanaged or rudderless.  Sometimes they are, but more often that’s just the result of conducting a search in today’s college football world.

Staying with the Texas situation, once reports surfaced that Charlie Strong and James Franklin had been interviewed but the search was still ongoing, many assumed that neither of those candidates were getting the job (or at least weren’t the first choice).  Then when (presumed) candidates Jim Mora and Art Briles were no longer in the running, it was reported Texas “circled back” to Mr. Strong.  That may be exactly how it played out, but we simply don’t know.  Often too much scrutiny and assumption is based upon the order in which coaches are approached, but if a school wants to talk with several coaches the order in which those talks occur may be completely random and inconsequential.   Logistics, scheduling and convenience may dictate the order rather than anything to do with the order the candidates are ranked (if at all) going in.

When coaches announce they are no longer candidates, that’s when the assumptions and criticism hit a new level.  Mr. Mora and Mr. Briles both made similar announcements on the same day, and the rush was on in articles like this to say both had rejected Texas and now the Longhorns were reeling and heading back to their third choice in Mr. Strong.  Again, that might be the case, but we simply don’t know.  Many times ADs will tell coaches they’ve pursued or interviewed that they are no longer in the running, which will prompt the coach to publicly state he is no longer a candidate.  This technique allows the school to move on without burning a bridge and the coach to save face by not being rejected.

Coaching searches in the era of 24 hour news cycles and social media can certainly be fun to follow, but we should all take a step back when critically viewing the process by which the selection is made.  Searches are messy, unpredictable, and often not at all what is being reported or leaked.  We should judge searches based upon the result, which we truly won’t know for months or years.  After all, will anyone care whether Mr. Strong was the first or fifth choice if he wins big at Texas?  Of course not.  And it won’t matter.

Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielHare.

photo credit: DaveWilsonPhotography via photopin cc

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