CJ's Corner: Hiring Guidelines

This is the first of a two part article on Stanford's search for a new head basketball coach. In this part, I'll examine criteria that I believe the hiring committee should consider in evaluating the candidates. In the second part, I'll discuss how some of the known candidates measure up against this criteria.

Following are some of the key factors that Ted Leland and the hiring committee might consider in the hiring process. 

1. Recruiting ability.  Stanford presents a set of challenges in recruiting that is unique among D-1 schools.  Not only does Stanford require its recruited student-athletes to complete full-fledged applications that are identical to those for the general applicant pool, but all applications of student athletes are reviewed by the admissions department.  University administrators have taken the position that Stanford's admissions standards for recruited athletes are and should be higher than even those of Ivy League members Harvard, Yale and Princeton.  Given these policies, the pool of high schoolers from which Stanford can recruit is unlikely to expand any time soon.  Therefore, it is imperative that the new head coach be an outstanding recruiter who has the patience and savvy to work effectively with the admissions department.  Moreover, in order to attract interest from elite basketball recruits, it would be tremendously helpful if the new head man were to have a national reputation as either an established, known quantity with a great track record of success or a hot, up and coming coaching talent.  Regardless, as long as recruits and their families see our head coach as a real draw, for whatever reason, it will be a huge plus.  Any coach who is a relative unknown runs the risk of being unable to command the requisite interest from top high school players.  Unlike some elite programs with lengthy traditions of success, television exposure, a large fan base and a track record of placing players in the NBA, Stanford is a relative neophyte among the nation's elite programs, and its success is very much associated with its former head coach, Mike Montgomery.  His successor will certainly have a tremendous advantage relative to Montgomery's situation when he fist came to Stanford insofar as Stanford is now squarely "on the map," Stanford basketball is not quite in a position where the program sells itself.

Within basketball circles, including among coaches and athletic directors, it is generally known who is and is not a good recruiter.  In the hiring process, it is imperative that Ted Leland, a true believer in the importance of recruiting, articulate to the hiring committee the importance of recruiting and each candidate's ability in that arena.  I believe there is a real risk that recruiting ability otherwise will not be accorded enough weight in the hiring decision.

I would sound this cautionary note for those who believe that recruiting is overrated and that pure "coaching" skills can make up for a lack of recruiting ability -- even Mike Montgomery, one of the great teachers and tacticians the college game has seen, was unable to achieve significant or sustained success until, nearly a decade into his Stanford tenure, he caught a lucky break in the form of Brevin Knight.  Because Knight was overlooked by all of the basketball powers of the early nineties, his best offers were from Stanford and Manhattan College.  Had Montgomery not caught a break by landing Knight, which initiated a process of snowballing success on the court and consequently in recruiting, there's a real chance that Stanford may never have risen to national prominence, despite Montgomery's genius, or that it would have at least taken considerably longer than it did.

2. Teaching skills.  Let's be honest, no matter how good a recruiter and technician our next head coach is, he'll almost certainly face a talent deficit relative to other elite programs such as Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Arizona and probably UCLA.  During the Montgomery era, Stanford often had one of the three or four most talented and experienced rosters in the league, and the talent level was often underrated.  Nevertheless, it's fair to say that during the remarkable run of ten straight twenty win seasons and NCAA tournament bids, the Cardinal consistently outperformed relative to the talent level of its players.  With the possible exception of the 2001-02 season, the whole was always greater than the sum of its parts.  Moreover, players consistently improved over the course of their Stanford careers thanks in no small part to the teaching abilities of Montgomery and his staff.  Whoever succeeds Montgomery will need to continue this tradition.  Fortunately, he will have an incredible resource to rely on in assistant Eric Reveno, unless Rev himself is elevated to the head position.  As Arizona, UCLA and even Oregon stockpile talent, it is likely that unless Stanford's new head coach is a good to great teacher, Stanford will be hard pressed to remain in the top 2-3 teams in the conference going forward.

3. Technical skills.  To appreciate the importance of understanding the technical nuances of the game - the X's and O's - one need look no further than Stanford's putative rival across the bay.  Todd Bozeman and Ben Braun, two coaches whose appreciation of the finer points of offense is lacking, have saddled the Bears with a decade of average to poor offenses that have capped the success of the Dirty Golden ones.  This is in spite of good if not excellent defensive schemes and execution under Braun.  A good technical understanding of the game is important for any head coaching job, but much more so in the case of a program that doesn't have the ability to overwhelm opponents with talent alone.  There isn't any particular style of play or philosophy necessary to succeed at Stanford, and the next head coach can be successful with a structured system or one that relies on loose principles, one that is up-tempo or emphasizes halfcourt play.  But given the realities of the recruiting pool for Stanford, it is imperative that the next head coach have a good technical knowledge of the game.

4. Experience at Stanford.  For all of the talk from Leland and from some fans about the importance of coaching experience at a small private university, there is no substitute for experience at Stanford.  A select few colleges and universities have admissions processes that do not allow coaches to offer a scholarship to just any player who meets the NCAA minimum standards for eligibility and who is not a miscreant.  But there is no D-1 university that has an admissions process and standards like Stanford's.  There is no University that requires everyone in the athletic department from the athletic director down to the assistant coaches to understand and respect the unique and bizarre politics of The Farm.  The risk of culture shock for any coach who has not been a part of the Stanford family is real.  Another consideration is the nature and extent of each candidates personal ties to Stanford.  Because Stanford is not going to pay a market salary, the committee must consider the odds that a given candidate without ties to Stanford may bolt for a higher paying college job or for the NBA.  A related consideration, though one of relatively minor importance, would be ties to the Bay Area.

In addition to the specific criteria above, which I think are particularly important for the Stanford head coaching job, there are the usual intangibles to consider.  These things are equally important for just about any college job, and include leadership ability, motivational skills, managerial skills and media and alumni relations skills. 

In the end, these are just some of the things that in my opinion ought to be considered in evaluating the candidates for Stanford's head coaching position.  I would not suggest that these are requirements by any stretch, and a coach who has weaknesses in some areas may be able to make up for it with his strengths in other areas.  There's no rote formula for success at Stanford or any other school, and for the most part, a good college coach is a good college coach, regardless of the particular setting.  On the other hand, for reasons I described above, Stanford is different from most schools in certain key respects.  If the person chosen for the job measures well against the criteria I've laid out here, he will likely be very successful at Stanford.

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