Coaching Search Firms, What Role Do They Actually Play?

The dreaded coaching search firm may not be as bad as many think
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Yesterday, Jeff Goodman of The Stadium announced on Twitter that Boston College was using a coaching search firm for their basketball opening. For many Eagles fans and followers the dreaded "search firm" brings back flashbacks of some of the less successful searches including Jim Christian and Steve Donahue, and the feeling of "here we go again". However in this case the firm will not be Eddie Fogler (who was a favorite of previous BC regimes), but Eastman and Beaudine out of Texas.

But there have been a lot of misperceptions about what a coaching search is, and what they actually do. First and foremost, a coaching search firm does NOT give a list of candidates to the Athletic Director. Pat Kraft will give the firm a list of candidates that he is interested in, and they do a lot of the leg and grunt work that he most likely won't have time to do. According to Andy Staples formerly of SI, the firm has four different key functions. 

• Cover

• Plausible deniability

• Inside information

• Background checks

The biggest role that the firm plays is being the feeler to find out if a candidate is actually interested in the open job. They can do a lot of those backroom meetings to find out what kind of salary and demands the candidate has, and find out if they could be met by the school. This saves lots of pointless conversations that could drag out the process and make both parties look bad, especially if it is played out in the court of public opinion.

Firms also allow for AD's to have plausible deniability when talking to candidates. If Kraft whiffs on for example Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard, but it's the firm that has talked to his people, the AD has the ability to say "no, I never talked to him", and technically be telling the truth. Therefore if BC misses on a handful of names, they can protect their brand and the prestige, and prevent the media from running with stories about how the Eagles missed on all their top candidates. On top of protecting the AD, it protects the coach, who can deny to his school that he ever talked to Boston College. Because technically he never did, he talked to the coaching firm. 

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Secondly, background checks. Coaching searched has brought up some ugly pasts that could have been caught if there was a firm to weed them out. Remember George O'Leary's short run at Notre Dame? He was immediately fired when it was determined that he lied on his resume. Many times ADs are so swamped with other duties that they'd miss this, and having an outside agency comb this out and find these details saves a lot of potential headaches. 

The firms do a lot of the behind the scenes leg work as well. For instance if Boston College found out that Mark Schmidt had a $2 million dollar buy out, it may be the firm that tries to lower that number or get any details that would be crucial for the hiring process. 

All in all coaching search firms are incredibly valuable for a program that needs them. Sure, there are going to be times when school's know exactly who they want, they target them and don't need the firm's help. But in a lot of cases, especially when the list of possible candidates is as long as BC's could be, a firm can help make the right decision. Don't let Brad Bates and Gene DeFilippo's lack luster coaching searches sour you on the use of a firm. That is more on them for coming up with less than stellar lists of coaches, and the school for failing to bring in more attractive candidates. 

Staples concludes his discussion with a great ending sentence on the value of the coaching search firm: "Rounding up names can be done for free with Google. But discretion costs money."

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