College Athletic Director Search: Too Fast and Furious?
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People in the world of sports have a natural inclination to get to the finish line as soon as possible. This often includes how they look for coaches and leaders. When a college or university conducts an athletic director search, for example, alums and stakeholders inevitably call for the process to be sped up. “We need someone in place,” they say, whether to protect the institution’s reputation or to ensure continuity in fundraising.

The problem is, says Greg Santore, head of Witt/Kieffer’s Sports Leadership practice, that an accelerated athletic director search process often comes at the expense of proper candidate vetting and a thorough, deliberate selection. The risk is that the best candidate will not be chosen. Or, regardless of who is hired, stakeholders will be critical of the way the process played out.

Greg Santore

Greg Santore

“The importance of selection is magnified in this day and age because the stakes are so high and processes are much more transparent than in the past,” Santore recently told Inside Higher Ed (see “At Rutgers, a Question of Vetting”). “The cost of failure is so great because, when a new coach, athletic director or any leader doesn’t work out, a replacement again must be found and the organization’s reputation must be repaired, which is not easy and obviously takes a long time.”

There is no substitute for comprehensive vetting, Santore added, which today includes assessing candidates for their skills and behaviors as well as for their fit with an organization and how they are likely to perform under specific, challenging situations. Higher education institutions and their recruiting firms also need to take a longer look at candidates’ past job performance through a more rigorous interview process.

“One way of exploring past experience is through ‘deep-dive’ interviews, which take a very methodical approach and go through past experiences step by step and, importantly, how and why the candidate made key job and career decisions,” Santore told Inside Higher Ed. “These things take time, which people in the sports world don’t always like, but they’re important.”

In most sporting events, “slow and steady” does not win the race. With a college athletic director search, however, it is critical.

By Paul Thomas, Witt/Kieffer Senior Writer (@PaulWThomas)

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