What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions

What The Mike Haywood Situation Indicates – The Five Fallacies of Hiring a Head Coach

For those of you not familiar with this situation, Mike Haywood was hired last month by the University of Pittsburgh as it head football coach.  That lasted less than three weeks when Haywood was fired after his arrest on a felony domestic battery charge.

Images of Haywood at the helm of the Panther football program had to be taken with a high-speed camera.

It is crucial to understand what this situation indicates. This is not about whether it is right to fire a guy on that whole “innocent until proven guilty” argument. This is not about how football coaches jump from job to job. This is about what happens when you hire people into jobs based an anything other than that individual’s ability to do the job.

Coaching in college football is such a wonderful example of this. Coaches so easily become the face of so many other things besides football that it becomes monstrously easy to lose sight of what a football coach is supposed to do. The two core competencies of a college football coach are 1) recruit players and 2) lead those players on Saturday afternoon.  The minute you stray away from those two criteria in selecting a coach, you run the risk of disaster. As shown by example below, there are five main fallacies that derail coaching hires.

Example #1 – Mike Price

The Fallacy: “Let’s not overthink this decision because nobody could be as bad as the guy we just fired.”

The Story: In order to get this one you need to follow a real halibut. Enter Dennis Franchione. Franchione was a terrible hire at Alabama, and when they finally ended the relationship, Mike Price was just coming off taking Washington State to a Rose Bowl. That was all “Roll Tide” Nation needed to hear; Price was named their new head coach. However, Price would coach the same number of games in Tuscaloosa as Haywood will in Pittsburgh; it took no time at all for Price to get caught paying for lap dances with his University credit card.

The Lesson: Just because a guy is a winner doesn’t mean he isn’t either dumb or have character issues.

Example #2 – George O’Leary

The Fallacy: “We don’t need to check anything. This is our guy.”

The Story: This happens when a major power broker in your program gets to make arbitrary decisions. Some guy who wields an inordinate amount of picks out the coach he wants, and nobody else has the seeds to challenge the power says, and worse yet, nobody bothers with doing the due diligence. That’s how Notre Dame hired a coach, THEN discovered his resume belonged in the Saturday Review of Fiction.

The Lesson: There’s no excuse for not doing the required reading; due diligence exists for a reason.

Example #3 – Dan Hawkins

The Fallacy:  “He won there, he can win here.”

The Story: Here’s another example there’s a big difference between the “Big” conferences and the smaller schools. Hawkins is another example of a guy who won small, but had no idea of the difference. For example, if you going to make your kid the quarterback, you can get away with it if your kid is John Elway.

The Lesson: Winning isn’t universal. Hire a coach who can grow beyond the role of a glorified high-school coach.

Example #4 – Rich Rodriguez

The Fallacy: “This is the best guy out there, so we better grab him.”

The Story: This one just ended, and it ended badly. We all saw that, but we may not have seen why it failed so badly. Rodriguez is one of those “gimmick” coaches; the kind that has some quirky offense that allowed him to get some success in a place where he had enough time to recruit a base and institutionalize his gimmickry. Urban Meyer got everybody to buy that “spread option” crap, but then again he had this guy named Tebow.  RichRod can’t get a guy like that, so hiring him means losing to MAC teams and Purdue.

The Lesson: The “best guy out there” isn’t the best if he doesn’t fit; you can’t put a Cadillac engine into Ford Taurus.

Example #5 – Mike Locksley

The Fallacy: “Our head coach has to be a certain kind of individual.”

This can be the deadliest of the fallacies listed here, because it can be a three-headed dragon.

1) “We need a guy who excites the fan base.” Please tell me if you have the foggiest notion of what that is supposed to mean. I think this is what Michigan means when say say that idiotic stuff about their coach being part of the “Michigan Family.”

2) “We need a guy who can move the program in the right direction.” I love it when I hear this one; isn’t it assumed you would want to do that? Does anybody hire the guy who they hope destroys their program?

3) “We need to hire a black guy.”

Let’s cut through the politically-correct crap here. This conversation happens all the time, and terrible coaches get hired all the time because of it. This is because we have a false belief operating in America that any vocation that has a lack of black participation is undoubtedly practicing racism. This is how we get coaches like Mike Locksley.

Locksley was an assistant coach at several schools before the University of New Mexico succumbed to this thinking and hired him despite the fact there were rumbles that he might not be the right guy to lead a college football program. Sadly for the Lobos, they discovered those rumbles had merit, but only after they had married themselves to a contract from which they couldn’t afford to buy their way out.

In late May 2009,  Locksley’s administrative assistant Sylvia Lopez claimed to have been subjected to age and sexual discrimination before being transferred out of Locksley’s office. The claims were later withdrawn, but the scandal continues to cast the football program in a negative light. Later on,  in late September 2009, Locksley was reprimanded for an altercation with an assistant coach, in which he hit the assistant. He was subsequently suspended without pay for ten days.  Again, this isn’t really what most programs call “the face of leadership.”

Couple that with the terrible on-field performance; Locksley led his Lobos to 1–11 records in his two seasons at the helm of the program; and you see the problem. Not only did New Mexico ignore the warning signs, they married themselves to a contract with an unknown quantity, and that contract had a buyout number over their budget. Now, despite the fact he is obviously not qualified to be a head coach, Locksley will return for his third season.

Worse yet, Locksley’s name kept coming up when other schools were in the search for a head coach. The University of Maryland was rumored to be interested in Locksley as a replacement for the forced-out Ralph Friedgen. Locksley has demonstrated he has character issues, he’s a terrible game day coach, and he isn’t recruiting well.  So, why would anybody hire him as a head coach?

Mike Haywood proves that Mike Locksley is not an isolated case. The University of Pittsburgh was forced to admit they made a huge mistake when they fired Haywood, saying he could not continue in the job he held for less than three weeks because of his arrest on a domestic violence charge. Within hours of Haywood’s release, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg stated Haywood had been dismissed  “effective immediately” and the school was reopening its search.

“To be clear, the university’s decision is not tied to any expectation with respect to the terms on which the legal proceeding now pending in Indiana might ultimately be concluded,” Nordenberg said in the statement. “Instead, it reflects a strong belief that moving forward with Mr. Haywood as our head coach is not possible under the existing circumstances.”

Pittsburgh moved swiftly to oust Haywood, because they saw what happened in Albuquerque. New Mexico doomed the next five years of its football program on a bad hire, and Pittsburgh saw had replicated that situation. The big problem: Pittsburgh hired an unproven quantity; a coach  who had only two seasons as a mid-major head coach, including that saw only one win. Moreover, Pittsburgh’s search for a coach only lasted a few weeks.

Pederson: Needs to be held accountable for a horrible decision.

In other words, Pittsburgh fell victim to all five of the above listed fallacies involved in hiring a head coach. Former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt had clearly left a bad taste in somebody’s mouth, considering the way he was hastily kicked off the island. Then, somebody decided we needed to get a coach in place fast because, amongst other reasons, national signing day was right around the corner. In such an accelerated environment, an accomplishment like Haywood’s; taking a team from double-digit losses to double-digit wins in one season, is a golden ticket around the “due diligence” phase, especially when the powers that be wanted the embarrassing Wannstedt situation healed with all possible speed. Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson saw Haywood as the best guy available, and with the pressure from above and the cultural fallacy that simply hiring more black coaches because they are black corrects some perceived social injustice and voila, the “perfect storm” of hiring failure.

Every hire has at least one of these fallacies. Good ones have only one. Catastrophic hires have three. But when you hit all five, you have clearly hit rock bottom in making hiring decisions.

About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

One comment on “What The Mike Haywood Situation Indicates – The Five Fallacies of Hiring a Head Coach

  1. Pingback: The Five Fallacies of Hiring a Head Coach: The Challenges Faced by Penn State « Dubsism

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