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What do search firms actually do?

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This is why athletic departments pay tens of thousands of dollars, even if they end up hiring their first choice anyway.

The search firms hired by athletic departments to find their head coaches get a bad rap from fans and media alike. We have all made our fair share of jokes about them. We have all claimed that we can do their job better than they can. We have all wondered just what in the Sam Hill a college athletic department is doing spending tens of thousands of dollars on one.

You see, search firms are mysterious, and that’s partially by design.

Their offices have multiple entrances and exits so they can shuffle potential candidates in and out without them bumping into each other. If you were an AD and hired a particular firm, you might get your own secure login to access a dossier of clients to pick from, if that’s how that particular firm operates.

Their names are purposefully bland. See if you can figure out which companies out of this list are search firms (no peeking at Google, and the answer’s at the bottom of the story).

  1. College Sports Solutions
  2. Thomas, Mumm & Carter
  3. Friday, Eldredge & Clark
  4. Collegiate Sports Consulting
  5. Turnkey Search
  6. Eastman & Boudine
  7. Collegiate Sports Associates

I made up one of those companies. The rest do real work in the business of college athletics, but they are not all search firms. These firms prefer to hide in plain sight.

The jargon soup of their names can obscure their existence and make them indistinguishable from the standard law firm or regular consulting organization. College sports is a business, and besides the bonkers amount of cash, nothing is more exemplary of how business-y things have become than this.

There is so much money in the sport that an AD (who is paid in the high six figures) pays millions of dollars in buyout money to fire a head coach and then pays tens of thousands of dollars to an outside entity to help him find the next coach to pay millions of dollars.

They do that in the hopes that they don’t have to do it again and everyone can just live happily ever after.

Search firms do more than just identify candidates once a position comes open.

For instance: if you’re a coach who misses out on a job that a search firm was a part of, you or your agent can usually follow up with that search firm to get feedback on how your interview went. This is especially beneficial for obscure/”unproven” coordinators or minority coaches (read: longshots for many jobs). If you’re a young coach, it very much behooves you to get to know some people involved in search firms so they have your resume on file. You never know when a call might come about a job you don’t even know about.

If an AD only wants to see the candidates they have on the school’s short list, well, then that’s what they’ll get. Firms are at their best neither seen nor heard, simply connecting one faction of a search to the other and serving at the behest of an AD, so everyone has plausible deniability.

A good example: your coach who says he was on a recruiting trip in Atlanta might stop by the airport Marriott for a job interview. If he’s recruiting in a small town in the South, then he’s gotta connect in Atlanta anyway. Two birds with one stone, you see?

So we at Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody thought we’d pull back the curtain on search firms by talking to someone who works for one and conducts these searches.

Godfrey and I called Chad Chatlos of Ventura Partners. This longform interview sheds some light on just what the heck search firms do, including:

  • The search firm was involved in the hire, but the school hired the person the media’s been saying they were gonna hire for forever. What was the point of the search firm?
  • How search firms keep all the power brokers in a search at bay. And we don’t mean just boosters.
  • How they do background checks.
  • What exactly Chad does the other 11 months out of the year that aren’t dominated by coaches getting hired and fired.
  • Who actually has football expertise in this industry.
  • How something like perception of win/loss record gets overcome.
  • And much more!

(Find the episode here if the embed above isn’t working for you).

Search firms might seem like some obscure part of the business or a fad. That could not be further from the truth.

They are now interwoven with the very fabric of college sports. They aren’t not going anywhere, so you need to know how they work. They’re coming to a coaching search near you very soon — if they haven’t already.

If you liked this episode, subscribe to Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody wherever you get your podcasts, and maybe tell a friend after you Well Actually them about what they think they know on this subject.

The search firms in the quiz are choices 1, 5, 6, and 7.