It's not just about the coaching anymore

Football coaches must promote the right image for alumni, boosters

December 21, 2010|Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

In the 10 years since the University of Maryland last sought a new football coach, the way coaching searches are conducted has not changed. What is significantly different, according to one of the nation's leading college athletic consultants, is the criteria schools use in identifying potential candidates.

Bill Carr, a former University of Florida football coach who for the past 20 years has run a consulting firm in Gainesville that recommends coaches and athletic directors to schools, said Tuesday that television and fundraising have changed the landscape.

Athletic directors are looking for sizzle as much as substance.

"Television has changed college football and therefore college athletics like no other phenomenon in the industry," Carr said. "Television has introduced a theatrical dimension in football. The head coach is a snapshot, if you will, of your program. A caricature, an icon, of your program.

"The ability of the coach to portray the image of the program in that physical, constant manner is more of an issue today than it was 20 years ago because television is so much more prevalent. Most games are televised and therefore your coach is on stage."

Image turns into equity and the revenue raised by big-time college football programs through television contracts and ticket sales — including selling luxury boxes at most stadiums — helps support (typically along with men's basketball programs) the other non-revenue sports.

That seems to be a factor in first-year Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson's decision to buy out Ralph Friedgen's contract and begin searching for his successor. Anderson, who called Friedgen's ouster a "business decision" at a Monday news conference, said he will use a consulting firm to identify potential candidates and a search committee to interview them.

Maryland has not named its search committee, but could do so as early as Wednesday.

Anderson, who came to College Park from Army through a similar process in August when he was chosen to replace longtime athletic director Debbie Yow, now at N.C. State, acknowledged that former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is on a list of potential candidates. Anderson wouldn't name any others, but former Notre Dame and Washington coach Tyrone Willingham, Connecticut coach Randy Edsall and New Mexico coach Mike Locksley, a former Maryland assistant, have been mentioned in media reports.

"The search is an open and national one in scope," said Anderson, who used an "advisory" committee when hiring Rich Ellerson from Cal Poly to coach Army two years ago.

Maryland's athletic department will use money from its coffers — generated through traditional revenue streams and donations — to help pay Friedgen and hire a new coach. Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, a former Maryland football player and prominent booster, is seen by many as a key proponent of Leach's candidacy because of a previous relationship at Texas Tech (Plank has not returned calls from The Baltimore Sun for comment). The Red Raiders were among the first teams to outfit their football players in Under Armour.

Anderson admitted at Monday's press conference that he confers with Plank on athletic department matters "but no more than any other supporter or booster. They talk and throw names at me every day and I listen."

Carr said that the role of boosters has not changed when it comes to hiring coaches.

"I don't think the booster role has changed dramatically," he said. Boosters often provide the resources to make hires, and then become a part of setting expectations for new coaches.

"You've got to have somebody with some money who's going to back decisions because most athletic departments don't have two million dollars laying around," said Grant Teaff, a former head coach at Baylor who has been executive director of the American Football Coaches Association since 1994.

That coaches are making seven-figure salaries — even top assistants such as Will Muschamp, the offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting for the Texas Longhorns who was recently hired to replace Urban Meyer at Florida, make big money now — factors into decisions to hire and fire.

Teaff believes the amount of money involved has changed the dynamic between fans and coaches.

"There's a sort of a callousness that goes along with whoever the constituents might be who say 'They're making all this money and if we make a change, we're going to pay them a lot of bucks and we can go on about our business," he said. "I just don't think there's as much empathy or sympathy than they're used to be (for coaches.)"

Carr was involved in the search that resulted in hiring Friedgen — then the offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech — in 2000, but said that he is not involved in the current search. Given that Friedgen's firing came after an 8-4 season for which he was named ACC coach of the year, this search is a little unusual compared to many.

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