Rick Dickson explains the process of hiring an NFL coach in college football
Posted by: Chris Vannini on November 23, 2012
When going through a coaching search, there are always many factors.
If you go after a college coach, you usually have to wait until the end of the regular season, or possibly even the bowl game. But if you go after an NFL coach, you may have to wait even longer.
Bill O'Brien didn't arrive at Penn State in a full-time role until the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs, which happened to last all the way to the Super Bowl last year.
Tulane athletic director Rick Dickson dealt a similar situation when deciding to hire Curtis Johnson - the receivers coach for the New Orleans Saints - a year ago, although he did have some unique circumstances, as Dickson explained to CoachingSearch.com.
"In our case, the unique aspect of ours was that we were five miles apart," Dickson said. "It's not like he was coach of the Raiders. He was five miles from us. Mickey Loomis and I have known each other for 20 years .... So we were able to talk through. They allowed him a lot of latitude.
"He was putting in double-duty; working here, driving over here at six in the morning and then being over there for their meetings and practices and then back here probably until the midnight oil. It was like we had him, even though Mickey was still paying him."
The Saints reached the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs before falling to the San Francisco 49ers.
Dickson says he never asked Johnson if he could leave the Saints early to join the Green Wave. It never got to that make-or-break point, but again, Tulane could still get a lot of work out of Johnson, given the proximity of things. Many athletic directors don't have that luxury when looking at candidates from the NFL.
That fact that Tulane had a good part of its recruiting class already committed was also a factor. Dickson told the prospective candidates they would honor the commitments under the previous coach, which meant the new coach would only need to sign five or six more kids. If your next coach can't come until close to signing day, and the school doesn't have many commits, that could be trouble.
"First and foremost, you have to assess your (priorities)," Dickson said. "After the season, what always takes precedence is recruiting. I would say that's going to be the driver. If somebody needs 90 percent of their class, that becomes priority one, two and three, and they need everybody full-speed just to fill out that year's class or else you risk losing a significant quarter of your program for the next four years. I think that's the first litmus test. What shape, what condition is your recruiting for that year?
"Then you've got to weight that against the long view. As much as we're allowed to look at the long view in college athletics, whether that's three, four, five years, you say, 'OK, however I'd assess this first concern, which is this year's recruiting, now, is this guy the answer for me for the next five years?' You've got to weight that against each other.
"I may go one half-step backward for a minute, but three years from now, five years from now, is my program going to be where I want it to be with this guy versus somebody that doesn't have this networking in the NFL?"
The Green Wave are 2-9 on the season, and have had to deal with a load of adversity, but the future is bright. Tulane has what many consider to be a pretty good recruiting class coming in, and an on-campus stadium is in the works.
A year since hiring Johnson, Dickson is excited where the football program is heading.
"All of a sudden, we've got a class ranked in the top 40 at this point. It's a new era for us," Dickson said. "It appears, less than a year in, that he's fulfilling the direction and outcomes that we believed he could. This is the first layer of it. It takes three or four layers to make it come together.
"The other part is, the guy is a really good coach. We've seen it with the adversity with this year's team. I don't think any of us anticipating what he would deal with or what we would deal with. The way he's done it has just been an extra blessing."
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Chris Vannini is the lead writer for CoachingSearch.com and has covered Michigan State sports for The State News, The Oakland Press and MLive.com. He writes a weekly column for the Detroit Free Press on behalf of SB Nation. Vannini lives in Big Ten country, so his foot speed is far from SEC caliber, but his pulse on coaches is hard to match. Be sure to follow @CoachingBuzz on twitter and send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org