Bahn: ADs Say Search Facing Razorbacks' Long Will Take Research, Planning And Instinct

by Chris Bahn  on Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 11:59 am  

Jeff Long faces the difficult task of hiring a new football coach. Athletic directors agree it's one of the most challenging parts of their job. (Photo by Ryan Miller)

An athletic director’s daily to-do list is a lengthy one.

Running a clean program, making sure the NCAA keeps its distance, ranks high among the priorities. Providing the resources to ensure athletes make academic progress is a part of the job often overlooked by outsiders. Finding ways to engage fans and keep them buying tickets has an impact on the bottom line. Raising money and finding other sources of revenue to fund what amounts to a small corporation is critical.

All of the responsibilities are important to keeping an operation like the Razorbacks' $75.5 million athletic department running smoothly. Nothing, though, matters quite like hiring a football coach. And nothing on an athletic director's plate is quite as demanding as the process that accompanies the selection. recently visited with four BCS conference athletic directors in charge of football coaching searches last season. Each had his own approach, but all of the administrators — Arizona’s Greg Byrne, Illinois’ Mike Thomas, North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham and Washington State’s Bill Moos — agreed that a football coaching search is as consuming as it gets.

Finding somebody to win games and run the football program often has an impact on all other areas the athletic director is charged with overseeing. Winning coaches bring in top recruits and top donors. Football generates millions of dollars, is a source of civic pride and can lead to upticks in campus enrollment.

There is no overstating the importance.

“Personnel decisions in any organization are the most critical. That’s going to determine your success,” the Tar Heels’ Cunningham said. “But since choosing a football coach is so visible and it’s so high-profile, it’s probably the most pressure packed decision you’re making in a short period of time.”

Choosing a coach must often be done in a matter of days. One-on-one, in person time with a candidate is usually limited to a couple of hours. That handful of days and precious few hours when the work happens can have years of impact on a football program, university and community.

Finding the right coach is a taxing process that requires extensive background checks, an understanding of a program’s fan base, knowledge of what works in college football and, in the end, nothing more than intuition. Like picking the right combination of numbers on a winning lottery ticket, hitting the jackpot when choosing a coach ultimately comes down to a feeling.

“Part of it, it’s just your gut instincts,” Thomas said.

Achieving this mix of research, detective work and feel for a candidate is the task that faces Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long today. He fired Bobby Petrino in April and hopes to have a coach in place by mid-December.

It is, Long notes, challenging work.



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