In the first part of this series, I suggested that there are a few ‘elitists’ that are considered pack leaders that used long-term strategies to propel them to the top and have used it since to keep them there. And the rest of the pack is using short-term strategies (aka shortcuts, instant success secrets, etc) to chase after the elitists. This analogy is best depicted in our topic for today with College Football organizations. Let’s look at the 2015/16 coaching carousal scorecard.

There have been 27 new Division 1 College Football (CFB) head coaches (HCs) hired. The openings were created by retirements (6), firings (16), and openings (5) created when a coach leaves for another job. This merry go round takes place at the end of each football season with regularity because of unmet expectations whether they be real or perceived in the eyes of Athletic Directors, Alumni, fans or the collective masses. In addition, these unmet expectations seem to be short-term sighted in several cases rather than analyzing whether a program is moving in a positive direction.

The focus of this blog is to explore the leadership aspect of head coaches in CFB and what that means to those types of organizations. Hard to believe, but there is more to being a head coach than the tactical and technical X’s and O’s! It is strictly becoming a bigger business. In order to set things into perspective, one should only look at the recent valuations presented by Forbes. The top 10 CFB programs have values that range from 152M (Texas) down to Auburn with 89M. Now, pull back a minute and reflect what we have here. Eight of the top ten programs are valued at or above 99M.

Let’s translate these values into corporate terms that some of us can readily relate to. By definition, $100 M moves an organization into the middle market company category. What are some of the organizations that have values around 100-150M? Zoe’s Kitchens, Allen Edmonds Shoes, and Big Ass Fans are a few of these mid-market organizations that are comparable in revenues to those of the CFB top ten programs.
Now that we see the stratosphere we are expecting CFB head coaches to function and succeed within, let’s look at the restrictions that are placed on these head coaches. Most are only given a 3 yr contract term (whether in the contract or orally mentioned). If you are not in the top tier, budget limitations are present on hiring assistants, upgrading facilities, etc. The first recruits generally don’t get to start playing until the 3rd year of a head coaches’ tenure. Most are required to graduate a high percentage (90% or higher in most cases). Booster and alumni organizations want to be avidly involved and placated. The pressure to win at all costs, within the aforementioned restrictions, is enormous.

Of the 27 CFB head coaches hired thus far, 6 have been HCs previously. One may wonder about the criteria used by most of these institutions to hire that next “CEO” for their organization. I am not privy to that as most of us are not. However, the criteria seem to be lacking what most business enterprises would use in this situation. I would suggest using a more tried and true knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) approach that many of the successful organizations use in their hiring practices. We have established that this is big business, yet we don’t see many hires having one of more prevalent criteria of experience at a top job- previous head coaching experience for only 6 of the 26 vacancies. Furthermore, we don’t find many with experience in running a large organization. So two of our phantom KSA’s would go lacking in these searches.
So, I would suspect that if many of us were to list the criteria we would like to use in hiring someone of the caliber needed to run a 50-150M business, things would be quite different. This is truly trial by fire as many of these newly dubbed head coaches are in foreign territory when they are hired for this opportunity.

The problem is further exacerbated because there is little or no training provided for someone that aspires to be a head ball coach. Now, there are on line courses provided by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), but none titled for head coaches. It has helped previous assistants to have been assistants for successful head coaches that took some of their valuable time to mentor these assistants. I would submit that there are few current head coaches that truly mentor their assistants on how to perform as a head coach. Some head coaches have yielded fruitful head coaching candidates to the head coaches club so thus the coaches tree can be an indicator of future success for some but certainly not foolproof. Bottom line is that for most of the new head coaches, there is an on-the-job-training (OJT) mentality within the hiring practices.

I literally heard one Athletic Director pledged in public to help train one of the previous assistant coaches hired to be a head coach for a top-tier school on probation. That did not happen as he was unceremoniously fired after four seasons.
Getting back to the challenge at hand, the majority of CFB administrations use a short-term approach to chasing the elitists and it provides short-term results. I suggest getting back to longer-term approaches as it relates to hiring, training, developing, and sustaining head coaches.
1) Hiring- identify the real no-kidding KSAs that are required for the head coach job. This is more than a ho-hum job description or a “feel” for a good hire. Realistic years of experience and at what levels should be specified and strove for.
2) Training- institutions should develop a mitigation plan for the KSA gaps created by the new hire, some which may be training of some sort or saddling up with maybe a successful retired head coach.
3) Developing- a newly hired CEO still must have a development plan for his organization as well as himself and it should be compiled jointly with his superior. CFB head coaches should be no different.
4) Sustaining- there should be some criteria put in place to sustain not only the new hires’ program but the new hire himself. Superiors must guard against the stepping stone approach where some head coaches use a program to catapult themselves to a better future situation. Again, longer-term planning should be considered here to be more successful.
This may sound familiar as most successful businesses use similar techniques. Well, CFB is after all a business and some of these organizations could certainly be more successful by using some of the techniques that have proven to be successful to businesses.

We are Diamond Strategy Group, a leadership development and consulting company. We focus on improving the quality of leadership within organizations by utilizing the same methods MG (Retired) Mike Diamond and his consultants have used in both military and civilian sectors.

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