Committee's answers may be as important as its questions in KU's A.D. search
Most of the focus in the University of Kansas’ search for an athletic director has been on what KU is looking for, but it’s every bit as important to consider what questions potential candidates might need answered before they convince themselves it’s a job they want.
None of this process is easy for either side. It takes time. It takes discretion. And it takes a great deal of vetting, both personally and professionally, before any kind of real list can be put together. And after reaching that point, it’s imperative that any interest is mutual.
The powers that be at KU very well might have identified the man or woman they wanted to hire to replace Sheahon Zenger as soon as a week or two into the search. But unless he or she was (a) willing to make the move to Kansas or, perhaps more importantly, (b) willing to leave the job they have, KU Chancellor Doug Girod and the search committee he put together might have been left spinning their wheels a bit.
That’s not to say that happened here. But it is a reminder that putting together a list of candidates is only half of the battle. Search after search, for coaches and athletic directors alike, have proven that to be true. And that’s why this whole thing could have played out in a bit of an unusual manner to this point, with the candidates having more leverage than the place doing the hiring.
With that in mind, it’s worth looking at a couple of questions these candidates might have had during the interview and/or vetting process.
Yes, Girod, Drue Jennings and Jed Hughes, a consultant at Korn Ferry, either did or will do most of the questioning during the interview process.
What is your vision for where this athletic department can go?
Do you have a plan to fix football?
Tell us something about your past that will make us believe you can execute that plan.
Tell us your thoughts on Kansas basketball 10 years from now. Tell us your strategy for our Olympic sports.
What will your staff look like?
How much money do you need for your operating budget?
On and on the questions go, with the search committee seeking the answers it is looking for — both in sound and substance — to identify the person seated before them or on the other end of the phone line as someone they are interested in hiring.
But while those questions are all critical, not to mention common, it could be the committee’s answers that bring KU closer to finding its next A.D.
I recently spoke with a former high-level KU administrator who is no longer working in college athletics for his input on the KU job, the strengths and weaknesses KU has (and how they have changed) and what direction he thinks the school could go in finding a replacement for Zenger. One of the most interesting things that came from that conversation was his insistence that the person KU hires, whomever he or she may be, needs to have complete control in order to succeed.
In order to get that, it must be provided almost immediately the former administrator said, and the groundwork for that has to be put in place during the interview process.
In short, he explained that the best way for KU to find the right person to replace Zenger is for the committee to ask all of those questions listed above (and many more like them) while also being prepared to answer a few of their own.
“The first question I would have for them if I were interviewing for the job is, ‘What is the goal? How do we define success,’” the former administrator told me, noting he had not been contacted and did not have any interest in returning to college athletics.
The second question was even more direct.
Will I have permission or the authority to set up the athletic department the way I see fit?
“I really think that whoever comes in has to get the OK from the chancellor to potentially make major changes on administrative side that fit their philosophy and vision for what the KU athletic department needs to be in today’s college athletics landscape,” the former KU administrator said. “If you don’t have that, what happens is people who were there or people who might have wanted the job tend to work against you from Day 1.”
Regardless of who KU hires — and we’ve reached the point now where an announcement could come just about any day or the search could stretch deep into July — it remains to be seen what the new incarnation of Kansas Athletics looks like, which makes predicting things from structure to staffing to department priorities more than a little difficult.
There are enough good things about the department that make a complete overhaul unlikely. But there are also a handful of big, critical elements that need to be addressed. If there weren’t, we probably would not be talking about finding a Zenger replacement in the first place.
Before the end of our conversation, I asked the former administrator, quickly, to list any other questions he thought would be important for a candidate to ask. He offered one and it covered a broad spectrum and a variety of topics.
“Tell me what I don't know,” he said. “Tell me what's not apparent. What else is there that I need to know before I take this job that I'm going to have to fix? If they don't address the Adidas thing without being prompted, that might tell you something. And you only get one shot to ask these types of questions before your first day on the job so, if you’re truly interested in taking it, you might as well get every single piece of information you can get and not be afraid to ask for it.”