I got a few emails yesterday about this Bruce Feldman piece.
I’ve covered college sports for 20-plus years and have often dealt with the inner workings of the games, but one area I rarely thought much about was the people at the top: the athletic directors. I knew what ADs generally did and I knew who most of them were, but when it came to who the good ones were and, more specifically, what made them good at their jobs, I didn’t have a lot of answers. So about a year ago, I began a project to get a better handle on what makes a good athletic director and who the best ones are. I decided to conduct two anonymous surveys: one with 15 of my media peers who cover college sports, both on TV and in print. The second was with 10 ADs themselves.
I asked two basic questions of each group: What factors determine how effective these folks are at their jobs? And who are the best three ADs in the business?
Gee, I wonder why anyone might think I’d be interested.
Actually, the second question really matters little to me — let’s face it, had Greg McGarity’s name popped up as one of the top ones in his profession, it would have said more about Feldman’s methodology than about McGarity’s competency. (In case you’re wondering, McGarity didn’t get a single vote.)
The first question, though, is another story. Here’s the media’s criteria for what makes an athletic director successful:
Hiring and retaining coaches/staff (34 points): “Clearly, their most important role is hiring the right football and men’s basketball coaches and then keeping them happy and focused.”
“I respect athletic directors who don’t rely on search firms and make hires themselves.”
Fundraising (25): “Smart ADs are great salespeople. They know how to leverage their assets, and they understand the business of college athletics.”
Accessibility/Communication skills (10): “This is the tricky one for the long haul. It’s about being able to say no to powerful coaches or boosters and recognizing when a little problem is threatening to metastasized into something larger (hello, Baylor).”
Crisis management (8): “I’m also big on ADs holding their employees, players and themselves accountable. That includes meaning the AD is accessible to the public, doesn’t just hide behind nonsense statements and doesn’t put himself out there simply to get attention. When times are tough, does the AD make the right call and/or explain himself or herself? Properly handling a crisis is one of the biggest tasks for an AD these days. Look at [former Baylor AD] Ian McCaw and how that worked out.”
Culture building (4): “You have to make people proud of what they have and in a sense what they don’t have.”
Innovation/creativity (4): “Thinking outside the box is also a key trait for me, especially with the need to find different ways to sell out stadiums and pay for the increasing costs associated with athletics.”
And here’s how athletic directors judge their peers.
Culture building (18): “Everything starts with your ability to develop a culture of integrity and accountability and how well you communicate, and then everything falls from there.”
“If you have the right culture, you’ll be able to attract the right coaches.”
“You can look at the kind of experiences the young men and women are having in your program and also the level of academic success they are having.”
Hiring and retaining coaches/staff (12): “It’s not just about being able to hire good coaches. It’s also really important about knowing when to fire those that are a bad fit.”
Fundraising (9): “You hire good people/personnel, you win football games and then it’s easier to raise money.”
Crisis management (5): “You’d better be flexible and not someone who gets stuck in their ways because it seems like every day arrows are coming at you.”
There’s a good deal of overlap between the two. Outside of bringing money in the door, it’s hard to see where what goes on in Athens checks any of the boxes.
I’d love to hear what you guys think about the lists. Is McGarity being underrated, or are the lists an inaccurate way to evaluate the job? Should Jere Morehead pay attention? Have at it in the comments.