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AD Chatter: Could KU’s search be over on Monday?

An aerial shot from the east of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium in 2017.

An aerial shot from the east of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium in 2017. by Nick Krug

Now that we’re smack dab in the middle of KU Chancellor Douglas Girod’s “within the next few weeks” timeline that he provided after KU and Jeff Long parted ways on March 10, here’s a quick look at the latest info I’ve been able to gather as KU’s search for a new AD moves into its fourth full week.

I have not yet been told that KU’s search for a new athletic director will end on Monday, but it sounds like it definitely could.

Sources indicated this weekend that there’s been talk of the KU plane (and perhaps more than one private plane) heading from Lawrence to Chicago on Monday, which would certainly lead you to believe that Northwestern Deputy AD Travis Goff could be the pick.

I also was told over the weekend that Tulane AD Troy Dannen was (or perhaps still is?) involved deep into the process and, like Goff, went through both Zoom and in-person interviews.

The Athletic’s Matt Fortuna reported last Tuesday that Goff and Dannen were “the favorites to land the job.” And while every indication I’ve been given since then tells me that that was dead on, I heard of at least one potential mystery candidate who might have been involved as recently as last week.

None of my sources shared a name — or even speculated — on that one, but at least one of them heard that the KU plane visited Dallas last week.

As we’ve learned far too many times during these deals, that could have been completely random or for some reason other than the AD search.

But if the plane was in fact in Dallas AND there for the search, the two most likely names that come to mind there are SMU AD Rick Hart and North Texas AD Wren Baker.

No big revelation here, but another source told me last week that KU, at least initially, wanted to look long and hard at sitting ADs. However, KU ties also were deemed to be important in the search, and Goff graduated from KU and grew up in Dodge City.

For what it's worth, KU's open AD job listing was still on TurnkeyZRG's website as of 11 p.m. Sunday night, but given that the search firm prides itself on keeping things quiet, it would make perfect sense to me for the listing to stay there until an announcement is made.

Because Goff is the hottest name at the moment, here’s a little deeper look at his resume.

After working in the KU athletic department following his graduation in 2002 (journalism and sociology), Goff went to Tulane to get his master’s degree in business administration in 2007.

As a quick aside, I graduated from KU in 2000 and am 42 (43 in June), so Goff is likely in the 39-40 range.

After getting his master’s at Tulane, he stuck around and worked as an Associate AD for External Affairs until leaving for the job of Deputy Athletic Director/Assistant Vice President (Development) at Northwestern in late 2012.

According to his Northwestern bio, Goff, as a member of former Northwestern AD Jim Phillips’ executive staff, has been involved in “all high-level strategic decisions for the department,” while also serving as the sport administrator for football, volleyball and baseball.

Phillips recently announced he was leaving Northwestern to become the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently reported that Goff has been heavily involved in helping find Phillips’ replacement.

Goff’s bio indicates that he has seen more than $400 million worth of facility upgrades during his career, and, in addition to his administrative duties, Goff has led Northwestern’s Athletics & Recreation’s fundraising initiatives, which include a campaign goal of $450 million, major gift and annual programs and overseeing a team of 11 development professionals.

In 2019, Goff was named to Sports Business Journal’s “Power Players in College Sports” list. A year earlier, he also was recognized as a College AD “Next Up” honoree, as one of 11 people on a list of administrators who were ready to become athletic directors.

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Examining the role of the search firm in KU’s quest to find its new athletic director

Just inside the front doors of Allen Fieldhouse on the University of Kansas campus. The Booth Family Hall of Athletics is home to KU's national championship trophies, the KU Athletics Hall of Fame and other exhibits.

Just inside the front doors of Allen Fieldhouse on the University of Kansas campus. The Booth Family Hall of Athletics is home to KU's national championship trophies, the KU Athletics Hall of Fame and other exhibits. by Sara Shepherd

National search firm TurnkeyZRG, one of the powerhouses in assisting and facilitating the hiring process in college athletics, has officially listed the open athletic director position at the University of Kansas on its website.

Turnkey has been involved with the search since the early stages of KU’s quest to find a replacement for Jeff Long, but the actual job listing has only been on the site for a handful of days.

The listing, which provides background, a mission statement and the core values held by KU, indicates in bold print that interested applicants should contact TurnkeyZRG directly.

“Contacting the University of Kansas will delay your consideration,” the listing reads.

If that does not provide a clear indication of the role that the search firm has played and will continue to play in this hire, perhaps learning more about the company will.

Specializing in the areas of college athletics, sports and entertainment and media and tech, TurnkeyZRG aims to use analytics, decades of real-world experience and a hands-on approach to deliver results.

Because of its long client list and aggressive approach to rounding up candidates that fit the culture of the school searching for a new coach or administrator, the company indicates that it typically needs less than four weeks to deliver a slate of quality candidates and that same amount of time to complete the hire.

KU Chancellor Douglas Girod — who is leading the search for Long’s replacement, with the help of a panel of alumni advisors Linda Ellis Sims, Ray Evans, John Ballard and Wayne Simien — indicated on March 10 that he hoped to hire KU’s next AD “within the next few weeks.”

That makes next week noteworthy and the next 10-14 days potentially very important, as the search committee and Turnkey continue to plow through the heavy lifting of identifying the best candidates for Kansas.

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Official Job Listing for KU AD on TurnkeyZRG website

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According to Turnkey’s website, the trio of Chad Chatlos, Gene DiFilippo and Katy Young Staudt oversees Turnkey’s intercollegiate executive and coaching searches.

Chatlos has 15 years of experience in sports marketing and event management and has helped lead searches in all of the major professional sports leagues as well as college athletics.

DeFilippo has 20 years of AD experience at Boston College and Villanova and, prior to that, spent another 20 as a college athletics administrator. According to his bio, he has placed ADs at Alabama, Georgia Tech, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, the University of Southern California (USC) and other Division I institutions.

Young Staudt, who is listed as one of the company’s four vice presidents, has 16 years of experience in these types of searches, having supported the hiring process for more than 150 Division I head coaches, athletic directors and administrators.

The company touts itself as being uniquely qualified to lead a successful search because of the team’s hands-on experience in college athletics.

They also pride themselves on “managing a quiet search and guiding search committees toward the best results.”

Their role in the process includes facilitating meetings, introducing qualified candidates to the right people and vetting those candidates, as well. And their connections and constant work in this area help expedite the time it takes for universities to conduct these types of searches.

Universities that have used Turnkey for athletic director hires often also have employed the firm’s services in coaching searches, as well.

Because KU will wait for its new AD to evaluate and determine the direction of the football program, it’s not yet known how a full-time replacement for Les Miles will be found. But if there’s a national search that takes place, before, during or after the 2021 season, it’s likely that Turnkey will be involved in some manner because of its familiarity both with KU’s athletic department and the school’s new AD, whoever he or she may wind up being.

“We’ve placed head coaches across all sports,” the company boasts on its website. “Our extensive and current work in this space allows us to start your search “on second base.” We know how to get to the right people and get to them quickly.”

As for the specifics of the KU search, the listing on Turnkey’s website notes that KU is looking for “an energetic leader” to lead KU’s athletic department into the future.

Specific traits that are important include: Visionary and Inspirational Leadership; Consensus building and collaborator skills; Strong Business, Revenue Generation and Fundraising Acumen; and Credibility and Passion for the Student-Athlete and Academic/Athletic Excellence.

While the rest of the listing, including the responsibilities of the job section, are pretty standard and emphasize the importance of fiscal responsibility, strategic skills and both short- and long-term strategic planning in running the department and fundraising, there’s a section that is labeled “Additional Qualities & Desired Traits” that includes a couple of notable bullet points.

First, KU is seeking someone with the “highest levels of personal and professional integrity and trustworthiness.

Second, the job posting indicates that an “appreciation of the University of Kansas culture and the ability to navigate the balance between athletics and the core missions of the uni-versity” is also important.

Finally, there’s also a line that reads, “Proven experience and a strong personal commitment to advancing all aspects of di-versity, equity and inclusion; understanding of gender equity in athletics and Title IX compliance.”

As expected, things have remained pretty tight-lipped and there have been very few, if any, leaks about the candidates involved or the search itself.

While Turnkey is in place to do a lot of the legwork and heavy lifting associated with the process of identifying the top candidates for KU, it seems as if the input from the four-person alumni panel will play a significant role in the final decision, which makes this search different from the one KU conducted a few years ago that led to hiring Long.

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