Firm helps Maturi with search for coaches

Mitch Anderson

When big schools like Kentucky, Florida or Minnesota begin the task of finding a new head coach or athletic director, one of their first calls isn’t to a candidate, but to Dan Parker instead.

Parker is the president of Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search, one of many firms that college athletics departments turn to when they need to fill the vacancy of a high-profile coaching position. These firms do everything from background and résumé checks to contacting agents and gauging candidate

interest.

University Athletics Director Joel Maturi turned to Parker to help fill the men’s basketball and football head coach positions. Parker came up with Tubby Smith and Tim Brewster, two coaches who have already generated buzz among University fans.

For the past 25 years, Parker’s firm has been assisting colleges find new presidents and companies find new executives. The practice, however, has only recently crossed over to the world of collegiate athletics.

Parker’s services don’t come cheap. His company charged the University around $80,000 for the pair of coaches, which is typical for the industry.

Tom Wistrcill, University associate athletic director, said search firms such as Parker’s have been “absolutely critical” in making big name signings.

“The search process has changed a lot over the last five years,” Wistrcill said. “It’s just part of the reality of Division I athletics now.”

Wistrcill said the increase in the use of search firms has been partly due to increased public scrutiny of athletics programs in recent years.

“These hires, the basketball and football coach, have become so public now,” Wistrcill said. “With the Internet, cell phones and with people’s interest in athletics so great, there’s the responsibility of doing the job the best way we see fit. That’s where we believe a search firm can really help.”

Bill Carr, a search consultant and former athletics director of the University of Houston, gave a few reasons for the rise of search firms.

Carr said that confidentiality is crucial when a school goes after a candidate.

“If fans catch wind of a deal going down before it actually happens, it can be very detrimental and even kill it,” he said.

This is true in Minnesota’s case, where many people didn’t know that Tubby Smith was even a candidate for the vacant basketball position until the University announced his signing.

Carr also said many universities turned to search firms after several colleges were embarrassed when their newly hired coaches falsified information on their résumés and resigned soon after.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., specializing in the economics of sports, has a different view on the rise of search firms.

“There’s really nothing these search firms can do that athletic directors can’t do themselves,” he said.

Zimbalist added that he understood what compels athletics directors to rely on search firms.

“What the good ones have is common sense and a lot of experience,” Zimbalist said. “A lot of that experience is just knowing a lot of people in the industry and knowing how to work those connections. There probably is some old boys’ network effect here.”

Nick Mosvick, a history and political science senior, said he didn’t feel athletics directors were skirting their responsibilities by hiring search firms.

“Search firms probably have more time and more expertise to add to an important decision,” Mosvick said. “If anything, Maturi might be doing a better job by doing this. Besides, I’m sure that most students are happy that Maturi isn’t making all the decisions anyway.”