The front porch: Home buying and coach hiring

Recent coaching changes in high profile football programs, in some cases involving coaches with major career success, resulted in significant movement that will ultimately shape each team and athletic department for years to come.  The popular cliche' regarding college athletic departments is that they are the front porch of their university, and there is no more important feature on the front porch than the football program. Football is the front door - it needs to be inviting, secure, function well and complement the house or it is going to detract from the porch and by extension, the rest of the property.

In real estate, the number one rule is location, location, location.  Having recently relocated to State College, Pennsylvania, our family went through the process of searching for and ultimately buying a home.  And there were numerous parallels between purchasing a home and hiring a head coach that emerged, including -

  • You need to learn the neighborhood quickly and understand the market.  If you've lived in an area for a while you may have a good idea of homes that could entice you to move. Likewise, if you are an AD who has been attuned to the coaching market, you likely have a short list.  But if you are an AD from outside the industry, you are going to need a crash course about the coaching marketplace. 
  • Most people use an agent.  Whether a first-time or multiple-time home buyer, the market is set up for agent involvement.  Coaching searches are similar. Few AD's and almost no coaches decide to go it alone anymore, opting instead to engage professional help through search firms and agents.  Search firms know the market - who is interested in moving, as well as the financial and contractual situations of potential candidates.  And agents know what a reasonable contract is relative to the marketplace and can serve as an adviser to the coach.  
  • You can learn a lot on the internet.  Pictures, descriptions, dimensions, and location of your future home can help in screening.  But what about the coaching search?  Consider the recent search at Rutgers, undertaken by first-week AD Pat Hobbs.  By all accounts, the hire of Chris Ash from Ohio State is logical, plausible, and wins the press conference.  He comes with a good coaching pedigree.  But this after-hire analysis by the Asbury Park Press about what was going on behind the scenes shows just how common internet research and YouTube watching are.   
  • Cosmetics matter. Fresh paint, cleaning, de-cluttering, and staging all go into the home sale. Every coach candidate emphasizes their strengths and minimizes weaknesses in their presentation.  AD's are doing the same thing in selling the job opportunity.  Everyone puts forward their best impressions.   But the key is to figure out if the house has "good bones" - is it solid, dependable, no major mechanical issues (needing a new roof or furnace) that are going to cost you big money in the near future?  Envisioning what the house (and the hire) will look like 3 years after decision has been made is the real trick.  Unfortunately there are no guarantees.  
  • Turn-key or Fixer-Upper?  Some homes are move in ready and others require months of house projects.  Some houses are owner occupied while others are acquired in order to "flip" it - that is sell to someone else, with the hope of quick profit.  The same holds true with coaching jobs.  Is the opening move-in ready or in need of some work?  Is it a dream job or a quick hitter where success is possible but unlikely to develop a strong culture from stable long-term leadership.
  • Finances matter.  You're unlikely to make a more important financial decision than purchasing a home.  The same with hiring a head coach in a marquee sport. You need to know what you can afford.  How big is the contract going to be?  And for how long?  How much money do you plan to put down?  Taxes and insurance add to the bottom line of a house, just like salary pools for assistant coaches, perks such as country club memberships and vehicles, buyout clauses and possible bonus payments.  Understanding what you are able to spend, would like to spend and are willing to spend are three different things that can help avoid wasting time pursing the wrong candidates.  
  • There are lots of inspections to perform before buying.  A whole house inspection, radon, termites, title searches and other checks are common in a home purchase.  Coaching searches involve inspections too.  On- and off-list references, educational and criminal background checks, interviews, social and traditional media information will provide a good picture of who you are hiring.  But inspections won't find everything and while everyone does their due diligence, the coach is, for the most part, as is.   
  • There will be unexpected findings after you close the deal.  Some will be pleasant, some less so.  Strangely located light switches, outdated fixtures or a faded carpet can be more obvious after you move in than they were when you walked through.  Maybe some of the furniture from your prior home doesn't fit in your new place.  Your new head coach is going to find numerous things about your program that don't align with his view of the future and will need to be changed.  Images, catch-phrases, photos and furniture all need replacement to send the message that there is new leadership and to redefine what it now means to "Play (insert the name of your school here) Football." Hopefully the demands for change from your new coach can be accommodated with limited difficulty. 
  • Don't delay.  Once you've found the right home, acting quickly and getting an agreement in place is crucial or you may lose the home to a higher or quicker bidder.  Hiring requires speed as well.  Great coaches are in limited supply.  Unlike a home, you can't just build another one. Delay and your dream coach may be stolen out from underneath you.   
The right house hits you when you see it.  There is a feel of comfort, future happiness and endless possibilities.  Finding the right coach can be the same - comfort between the President, AD and new coach, all in alignment, can create endless possibilities for future success and a great front porch with curb appeal for your institution.