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The Search Firm Madness: What Does It All Mean?

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As we know by now, Georgetown as hired the search firm Korn Ferry to assist with the hiring of its next head coach. The below is from site commenter deixemeir, who provides us with insight as to what these search firms do and why Georgetown would need one:

I used to work at one of these big search firms

First time posting (I think). Finally time for me to give back to the casual community that’s given so much to me.

Agree with the points here. A few additions I’d throw out there.

I actually think Jed Hughes might be leading this. I worked with him a bit at previous firm (coincidentally I also worked on a search for GU on the academic side of things) and he is the godfather of sports head hunting. He did a lot of work for the NFL so that would have given him a leg up to win this over other firms (Tagliabue relationship). Their involvement definitely means things could go a lot faster than otherwise. By the time they announced there’s a firm involved, there was likely a long list of initial thought starters including both the rumored names and other out of the box thoughts.

Re: Nike, the search firms typically won’t care or get involved if there are other stakeholders at play. At least contractually. So best case they have a rep on the search committee (would be pretty extreme in terms of the time invested) or they are included in stakeholder interviews (just like the firm may do with AD, board members, influential program alumni, etc.) that the firm rolls up into a summary point of view of what the school needs/watch-outs/etc. Otherwise the search committee or someone else at the school would manage the Nike relationship and have to represent that POV in the committee.

Confidentiality, "official-ness", speed, unbiased POV, negotiation and benchmarking on compensation, etc are reasons to engage a firm. There are legal and perception issues too, if say they go with the obvious choice or an internal hire (not in this case), or if there were gender/diversity issues at play (again, not really in this case but imagine if this were Baylor given all their sexual abuse stuff). Also, the deniability thing works both ways — in addition to what was mentioned previously, if a candidate doesn’t want to tell Jack J or Tagliabue they wouldn’t touch the job with a 10 foot pole, the firm can deliver this news in a way that masks this and/or mitigates backlash. There are a lot of powerful folks involved here and no one wants to poison the well for future opptys for themselves, their disciples, etc. (or even for their kids if they are in HS and might want to apply to the school in the future.)

If they do their job right, we’ll land on an objectively "better" overall hiring decision than if we did it on our own. I’d assume very little accurate/confirmed information leaks until they’re ready to announce the next hire, unless someone wants to tank the process. Probably only 6 to 20 max people will know the real information and once they get closer to an offer/decision it’ll likely be just a handful of people who know the status.

One curve ball is that if a firm placed someone previously, they contractually can’t recruit that person again. So Shaka Smart, for example, could be an option but the university would have to officially contact him, not Korn Ferry. Doesn’t mean someone like that isn’t on the table, just requires some work-arounds and different processes for anyone like that. In reality there’s probably only a handful of poeple this could be an issue with. More a fun fact than anything else.

Ok that’s all I’ve got for now. Enjoy the rumor mill but don’t put too much credence in it.