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Question: its called the coaching carousel every year when football season...

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It’s called the coaching carousel. Every year when football season ends, coaches get fired, and new coaches get hired. And because every team needs a head coach, there is precisely one job at each team and that job has to be filled—and quickly. Take the National Football League for example. Every team wants to make the playoffs, so that becomes the critical measure of success. The day after the regular season ends is known as Black Monday, and most firings take place that day or a few days after. Of course, not all teams failing to make the playoffs fire their coach. Sometimes a team has a long history of success, and one bad year is considered an aberration. In other cases, a team is in the midst of a planned rebuilding, so expectations are low to begin with. At the end of the 2015 season, seven head coaches were fired. So where do new head coaches come from? Some come from a pool of former head coaches who were previously fired but are still considered viable head coaching prospects. For example, in early 2016, the Tennessee Titans hired Mike Mularkey as their coach. Mularkey had been fired from two previous head coaching positions but subsequently had been performing well as an assistant coach. Other teams look to the college ranks. The Houston Texans hired Bill O’Brien a year earlier. O’Brien had several years of experience as an NFL assistant and then spent 2 years as head coach at Penn State University. Still other teams look for respected up-and-coming assistant coaches. The Miami Dolphins hired Adam Gase, formerly offensive coach for the Chicago Bears. The same situation exists at the college level as well, but given the larger number of teams involved, things are even more complicated. Consider just these examples. As noted above, the NFL’s Houston Texans hired Bill O’Brien from Penn State University, so Penn State needed a new coach. The school ended up hiring up-and-comer James Franklin, at the time the head coach at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt then needed a coach and hired Stanford’s defensive coordinator. Similarly, after legendary head coach Mack Brown was eased out at the University of Texas, the school hired Charlie Strong, at the time head coach of Louisville. Louisville, in turn, turned to former coach Bobby Petrino as their next head coach. What do teams look for when hiring a new coach? Most of all, they want someone who can win. Team success is measured by wins and losses, and a coach who consistently fails to win will not be employed very long. The San Francisco 49ers, for example, fired head coach Jim Tomsula after a single season (actually, a rare event). NFL teams want coaches who can win (obviously) and whose offensive and defensive philosophies match those of the team’s general manager and owners and fit the team’s players. Colleges want winners too but also have to put an emphasis on recruiting skills (to entice talented high school players to join their team) and public relations skills (to schmooze with important alumni and donors). Some hiring decisions are applauded by the fans and media, while others attract dubious scrutiny. For instance, after the 2013 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Greg Schiano and hired Lovie Smith. Smith had spent several years coaching the Chicago Bears, leading them to the playoffs several times and to the Super Bowl once, even being named Coach of the Year in 2005. He was fired in 2012 after a disappointing season and a change in top management. His hiring by Tampa Bay was widely hailed as a great move. Unfortunately, though, things didn’t work out, and Smith was among the seven coaches fired after the 2015 season. In contrast, consider Louisville and Bobby Petrino. Petrino is considered an offensive genius and enjoyed great success at Louisville for 4 years. He was then enticed to take on the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. He quit that job before his first season ended, a move that was criticized for both the timing and the manner in which he departed (informing his players via a printed note in their lockers) and took the head coaching job at the University of Arkansas. He was subsequently fired from that job for having an “inappropriate relationship” with a subordinate and then lying about it to his boss. After spending one season coaching at a lower-tier school, he was rehired by Louisville after Charlie Strong left for Texas. This move was widely criticized, given Petrino’s public conduct, and was seen by some critics as a “win at any cost” move. While we’ve focused on head football coaching jobs at the professional and college levels here, the coaching carousel also extends across other sports and other levels, as well

as the ranks of assistant coaches and coordinators. Basketball, soccer, and baseball coaches and assistant coaches at the high school, college, and professional levels also move on a regular basis. Indeed, it’s rare for a coach to have an extended career in the same job.


1. In what ways are recruiting and hiring coaches similar to and different from recruiting and hiring corporate managers? 2. If you were a coach, what would be important to you in considering a new coaching position?

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