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.
On top of that, Anderson said that he hoped to have a new coach on campus by Jan. 4, the day coaches are allowed to go back on the road and contact recruits prior to the national signing date in early February. With Friedgen coaching the Terrapins against East Carolina in the Military Bowl on Dec. 29, it gives Maryland a very small window in which to complete its search.
"The greatest truth is that every search is unique," Carr said. "Every situation has its own dynamics that have to be dealt with by that institution. Expectations are real. Expectations must be addressed one way or another, either explicitly or implicitly. Sometimes you can do that in a way that's acceptable to all constituencies and sometimes you just have to make an executive decision. You never know what those dynamics are until you get to that moment in time."
Most schools seem to take the route Maryland is choosing, but certain athletic directors are known to make decisions autonomously — or at least with the appearance of autonomy. The last three football coaching hires at the University of Florida were made by athletic director Jeremy Foley, who promoted Ron Zook after Steve Spurrier resigned, then recruited Meyer from Utah (and away from Notre Dame) when Zook was fired and recently hired Muschamp after Meyer retired.
"It depends on those political, institutional, external , media expectations that flow," Carr said. "You have to walk into that given moment in time and deal with the realities you encounter. You can't transfer one circumstance to the other. Every search has its own constraints, its own requirements. You don't know how unilateral a person may appear to operate. The operative word is appears. From the outside, we really don't know all the dynamics that are going on."
Some searches are over quickly, as was the case when Navy promoted offensive line coach Ken Niumatalolo two days after Paul Johnson left to go to Georgia Tech in 2007. But Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said he had anticipated Johnson's departure for more than a year and had done most of his "homework" long before a decision about his successor had to be made.
"That's what we do for a living. ADs anticipate change," Gladchuk said Tuesday. "I prefer to be in an environment where you're given the latitude, you're given the trust, you're given the confidence to go hire a football coach and then you tell the president exactly who it is you're comfortable with and if he's comfortable with it you go on and make the decision."
Gladchuk said that while he still uses search committees to hire most coaches at Navy, hiring a football or men's basketball coach is different. The process can be muddled by the size and makeup of the search committee, Gladchuk said, adding that athletic directors are often told by university presidents to "go through the collegial process" of a search committee.
"If you have a large search committee, it precludes a lot of good people from applying because they don't want to be dragged through such a public forum, and you get people involved in a search like that who don't have the full understanding of what the job fully entails," Gladchuk said. "Most athletic directors who are ahead of the curve know exactly who they're interested in before the coach either leaves or is dismissed."
Whether Anderson had such a plan, given that he had originally planned to keep Friedgen through next season, remains unclear. His ouster, though, seems to underscore how drastically the expectations for — and feelings about — coach have changed over the past 10 years
Speaking of Friedgen's situation at Maryland, Teaff said, "There would be an outcry in the past if somebody fired the coach of the year who had won eight ballgames. That's unheard of. But right now there doesn't seem to be that big an outcry. …That is a factor now. 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. "