The coaching carousel can be an unforgiving beast. Each year, we watch it spin to life as schools around the country make changes around the first week of December. The changes are made for a variety of reasons that don't matter here. But how an athletic department handles its coaching search can say a lot.
In a search for a new coach, athletic directors have to be wary of pitfalls, false signals and potentially embarrassing leaks. Setting the bar too high, raising the expectations of the fanbase, comes with the significant risk of a letdown. Bringing in an unproven or unrecognized name risks not living up to even the most mediocre expectations. It's a game, and there's always a balance to be found.
A big part of any coaching search is setting clear goals, working with a narrow window of candidates, and building the proper relationships to understand which candidates are truly interested. Cast too wide a net and a search can quickly spiral out of control. Zero in on an uninterested candidate, or one looking for a raise at their own school, and an athletic director can quickly become stuck behind the eight ball.
Take a look around the Pac-12 for examples of coaching searches gone wrong. UCLA spent its time chasing pipe dreams, almost ensuring that no hire would be celebrated. Every single year, someone makes a run at Boise State head coach Chris Petersen, and every single year he brushes them off. He is the Mark Few of college football, content with his situation in Boise and unwilling to move anywhere, no matter the money tossed around.
Add in numerous other failed overtures -- reportedly Al Golden and perhaps Kevin Sumlin and Steve Sarkisian, among others -- to get an idea of the process at hand. In the end, UCLA chose Jim Mora, but only after publicly whiffing on multiple candidates.
UCLA was confident enough in its choice that the decision was leaked in the wee hours this morning, with a teleconference scheduled for the same time as another big Los Angeles event: the hugely attended press conference announcing Albert Pujols' signing with the Angels. Contrast the process with the one at Washington State to understand why this is all so odd.
At Arizona State, so many hands are in the kitchen it seems impossible the principles involved will ever agree on a candidate. At one point, Arizona State reportedly had an agreement in principle with June Jones. Everything appeared to be all done. And yet, the deal fell apart at the last moment in one of the weirdest situations I can recall. Booster pressure was blamed, but regardless of what caused the change of course, the Sun Devils will come out of this looking poor.
Elsewhere, Kansas hired Charlie Weis. That's all you need to know, so we'll just let this one hang (language warning, but it's glorious).
On the other side of the coin, three teams have excelled while working coach hunting season to near perfection. Many others have failed miserably, be it because the process or the end result were terrible. But those three teams all set about finding a new coach with a similar process that paid dividends in the end.
Ohio State made the most obvious hire this year, signing on Urban Meyer as its next head coach. Everyone expected it to happen at some point, and the Buckeyes came through. Meyer is, of course, a no-brainer hire. Ohio State was probably always going to be his next job, whenever he decided to return to the sidelines, and the Buckeyes set themselves up for long-term success by locking him down.
Lost in the shuffle of the last few weeks is Arizona, where athletic director Greg Byrne was decisive in his ways. He had a head start, sure, but Byrne kept everything about the search quiet before officially announcing Rich Rodriguez as the Wildcats' new coach. It was a solid hire, but the process itself was exemplary. Byrne refused to play the game, and came away with his man in the end.
Finally, there was Bill Moos and our own Washington State Cougars. By zeroing in on Mike Leach early, Moos was able to develop a relationship and avoid the treacherous coaching carousel all together. The "coaching search" lasted all of 24 hours, with Leach's hire announced the day after Paul Wulff was fired. There was no time for embarrassing leaks or false hope. Moos swiftly secured his man ahead of time, and hit a home run as a result.
Black Shoe Diaries' Peter Gray probably said it best.
Wazzu has decisively outflanked everyone. I for one welcome our new Coug overlords.
Bill Moos went around the edge and waltzed into the end zone untouched with an absolutely perfect hire. Leach brought the buzz, and national attention, back to Washington State, and Moos made it happen with a superb process. He laid the groundwork ahead of time and had a plan, then set about executing that plan when the time came.
You'll notice the parallels between the processes at Ohio State, Arizona and Washington State. Each school shied away from candidates already employed at other institutions, instead stepping outside the current landscape to hire coaches looking for a return to the profession. They refused to play a game where intentions -- be it an extension and raise or leveraging potential jobs against each other -- are rarely clear. And each school worked swiftly to secure its man.
Coming into this whole ordeal, who would've expected Washington State to be a big winner? As far as the offseason goes, the Cougars have already won. Whether any of these candidates will excel remains to be seen, but winning over the fans and donors plays a big role in the success of an athletic department. And Moos has done just that.