Thoughts about hiring a coach

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In the world of work, there’s usually a defined process for hiring someone:

  1. Create a job description, including both the responsibilities of the role and the desired skillset of the person to be hired
  2. Review hundreds of resumes
  3. Interview the top X candidates
  4. Invite a select few back for further interviews, testing, background checks, and reference checks
  5. Hire the top candidate (if found)

However, in the sports world, this is rarely followed. The process is almost the exact opposite:

  1. Identify top candidate available based on no criteria
  2. Interview top candidate
  3. Offer top candidate the job

There are almost limitless examples of teams that have done this. My favorite example is Billy Donovan, who was #1 on the list of the Orlando Magic back in 2007. He was interviewed and immediately hired, only to have a change of heart, forcing the Magic to go to #2 on their list and hiring Stan Van Gundy 4 days later. Do you think the Magic had a chance to interview other candidates and really survey the coaching landscape, looking for the next best hire?

Similarly, the Washington Redskins had Mike Shanahan picked out as their desired next head coach before Jim Zorn was even fired. The Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least 1 minority candidate before making an official hire was followed. The Redskins gave a courtesy interview to Jerry Gray, secondary coach. But their mind was already decided.

College sports work a little differently than the pros, where the coach is basically a mercenary, brought in to lead the paid troops, and discarded quickly for poor performance. In college, having stability at head coach is critical to recruiting as well as fundraising. Typically a search process is followed where more candidates are considered and interviewed.

Take for example, the 2001 Ohio State Buckeyes, who publicly interviewed 5 candidates before deciding upon Jim Tressell. The parade of the 5 candidates in the public was a great way to get additional feedback from across the university before making the big decision. Another easy example is at Nebraska, where over several weeks the team interviewed 5 coaches and decided upon Bo Pelini.

While the two examples cited above were successes, sometimes the interview process is more of a routine than a process. The Auburn Tigers hired Gene Chizik over highly regarded Turner Gill after the 2008 season, causing an uproar in the college football community. Fans questioned how Auburn could hire the coach with the worst credentials (Chizik) over the best credentials (Gill). Some cited racism.

Which brings me to my main point: I’m pleased with the way the Mariners filled the gap after firing Don Wakamatsu. Question the firing all you want, but the Mariners used a good approach after the firing.

By literally “calling up” Daren Brown from AAA to lead the Mariners on an interim basis, they’ve given themselves time to conduct a thorough process to hire the manager for 2011. Brown is not likely the full-time replacement as he has 2 strikes against him: 1) Never played in the majors 2) Is a former pitcher.

Some fans say if they knew they were firing Wakamatsu, they should have nabbed Buck Showalter while he was available. (Showalter was hired two weeks ago by the Orioles.) However, this is the wrong thinking. The Mariners need the right manager for this point in their lifecycle. They’re going to have a lot of young talent on the roster next year that will continue to need to be developed. An interim manager gives Jack Zduriencik time to come up with the job description, thoroughly vet candidates, and conduct interviews.

This process is increasingly catching on in MLB. The Arizona Diamondbacks promoted bench coach and former Tiger Kirk Gibson to be interim manager, and the Marlins promoted AAA manager Edwin Rodriguez to the interim post.

Let’s hope Jack Z hires the right guy for this stage of the Mariners instead of the right guy at the wrong time – Wakamatsu.

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