One Size Doesn't Fit All

Selecting a new head coach can be a frustrating process – mostly because there is not one "right" way to do it.

As West Virginia's search for a new head coach for its football team heads for its fourth week, there are probably ten times as many complaints about the process as there are legitimate candidates for the job. While some of the issues are certainly valid ones to be considered, the overall picture tends to get lost in all the shouting. The big ticket item is this: there's no one method or process that guarantees success in hiring a new coach, nor is there one that will address everyone's concerns.

Take, for example the question of timing. Some want the process completed quickly. In following that path, however, WVU officials might not have the chance to speak to all the candidates that could be viable ones for the position. It would also suffer from some segments of the court of public opinion, which would offer up the snap judgment (more on those in a minute) that West Virginia didn't do a good job in researching all of its option.

Now, take the opposite tack, upon which we seem to be moving. After a couple of abortive attempts to hire a coach, the interview process is open again, which makes the people in the first group happy, but is now drawing fire from the opposite camp. "It's taking too long," goes the cry from the other side. "We have no continuity, it's embarrassing, and we're losing our recruits." Again, some valid concerns, but wrapped in the shrill cry of the wronged they tend to lose their value, and simply create more noise.

The same theory holds true for several other opposing views. West Virginia ties vs. Outsider. Head coaching experience vs. lifetime assistant. Recruiter vs. Xs-and-Os guy. The debates are endless, and in the end meaningless, because no one really knows who the "right" person for the job is, any more than a "right" length of time for the process is.

Of course, that doesn't mean that those doing the interviewing can just throw darts at a board to pick their candidate. Interviews, reference and background checks and all sorts of due diligence need to be performed to make the best decision possible. That doesn't guarantee success, however – but that judgment will be made several years from now, so it doesn't really enter into today's theme.

Another problem that enters into the process, at least in football and men's basketball, is the interest in the process. As proud as fans may be about the success of the men's soccer team, for example, there wasn't the daily watch on the hiring process that brought current head coach Marlon LeBlanc to West Virginia from Penn State. That relieves a bit of pressure from those doing the hiring, which does make things a little easier. One look at the heat that was generated when Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster was mentioned as a candidate should illustrate that point without further discussion being necessary.

Also contributing to the carnival-like atmosphere surrounding the search are the many parties involved. Coaches have agents, lawyers, financial specialists and public relations specialists. On the school's side, those involved in the process range from the President's Office to the Athletic Department to the Mountaineer Athletic Club (presumably the Biology department was not included). Add in other outside figures, and the recipe for confusion and mixed signals grows exponentially – none of which contributes to an efficient process.

None of this is to excuse the current West Virginia administration from the mistakes that have been made in the current process. Those involved know that hiring a coach for one of the high profile sports will be pressure-filled. The communications between the Athletic Department and the Board of Governors has been spotty at best and abysmal at worst, resulting in several missteps. Other outside parties have also been injected, or injected themselves, into the process, which, as noted above, simply magnifies the problem. One inconsistent statement or one ill-timed action, and the entire state of negotiations can be set back or destroyed. That appears to have happened more than once since WVU began its search, making a nebulous process even murkier.

Finally, the knee jerk reactions from observers at every bit of news or every new name that surfaces simply exacerbate the situation even more. More character assassination has occurred during this search than has taken place in the race for the Democratic Party's presidential slot in the 2008 elections. Just mention a name, and a litany of complaints begin to rain down. At this point, if Vince Lombardi were alive, I think he'd have a sizable set of detractors too.

This isn't to say that opinions of the fan base aren't valid, or shouldn't be heard. But the ugliness that spews forth every time something doesn't go according to plan, or to the way in which those observers think it should, simply adds fuel to the fire, and to the perception that the search process is a failure even before it results in a hiring.

Columns such as this usually result in suggestions for ways in which to fix the problem. However, as noted at the outset, there is no rulebook or set of procedures that guarantees a good outcome, or satisfaction on the parts of all concerned. Like bowl game preparations, that magic bullet has yet to be identified – and it most likely never will.


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