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How Not to Hire UCLA Football's Next Coach (or, Chianti Dan's Criteria)

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Chianti Dan seems intent on bungling this coaching search worse than any other athletic director in the country. What are Chianti Dan's criteria for hiring the coach? What is Chianti Dan's process? No one knows for sure, except maybe his sommelier, but he appears to be focusing on NFL experience at this point. However, a Wall Street Journal report indicates what we all knew from anecdotal evidence: NFL resumes don't translate into success at the college level.

We looked at the head coaches, offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators for the 66 major-conference schools, plus Notre Dame, and found that with a few high-profile exceptions, NFL experience isn't a great recipe for success on Saturdays. Most notably, Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt, the former Bears and Dolphins head coach, resigned under pressure in December.

Those findings were replicated by Coaches by the Numbers.

So, of the thirteen "NFL Guys" in our system, 76.9% (10) had a negative impact on the winning percentage of their program compared to the five years prior to them taking the job.

What does this mean?

We will let you all draw your own conclusions, but if we were were consulting an Athletic Director, we wouldn't necessarily have NFL Guys at the top of the list.

Speaking of Chianti Dan, why does he do such a bad job hiring football coaches? Simple, the Warren G. Hardingeffect, famously described by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink.

The key is to rely on our "adaptive unconscious"--a 24/7 mental valet--that provides us with instant and sophisticated information to warn of danger, read a stranger, or react to a new idea. Gladwell includes caveats about leaping to conclusions: marketers can manipulate our first impressions, high arousal moments make us "mind blind," focusing on the wrong cue leaves us vulnerable to "the Warren Harding Effect" (i.e., voting for a handsome but hapless president).

In college football, hapless incompetent athletic directors like Chianti Dan focus on the wrong clues and make bad decisions, and that is why we need wholesale regime change in Westwood.

So what are the false or meaningless criteria weak, incompetent athletic directors consider when hiring a football coach?

Far too often head college football coaches are chosen because they look the part. In fact, from our observations, college football coaches are far too frequently hired using false and meaningless clues. Some of those clues include:

1. The school in question is their alma mater

2. They are from the same area of the country as the school in question

3. They are fit and attractive

4. They can "communicate"

5. They have "energy"

6. They have NFL experience

7. They are young

8. They just had a great year

9. They have a "plan"

10. They are a dynamic "recruiter"

11. They will be able to relate to the fans

12. Their interview went really well

13. They have "integrity" (Jim Tressel literally wrote a book on integrity. How did that pan out?)

14. They can "motivate"

From this list, number 2 is arguable, as there has been thoughful analysis from Smart Football that being familiar with the area is important. Obviously, being a good recruiter is also very important. Smart Football has some guesses at what might be important:

That's from the Wall Street Journal. I'd like to see what factors do predict winning, preferably by running a regression analysis of BCS conference coaches, with, Y, the dependent variable, being winning percentage (with, say, a minimum of three years coaching). I'm curious what Xs, or independent variables, would be statistically significant. A non-exhaustive list of candidates:

  1. Years of NFL coaching experience.
  2. Years of previous head coaching experience (any level).
  3. Years of coordinator-level experience (college or higher).
  4. Rank of offenses/defenses in scoring, total yards, and yards per play.
  5. Rank of offenses/defenses in rushing or passing, individually, in adjusted yards per attempt.
  6. Years of total college experience (proxy for recruiting experience?).
  7. Winning percentage at prior coaching stops.
  8. Rank of punting and kicking units in net punt averages and kickoff/kickoff return averages.
  9. Red zone touchdown percentage of offenses and defenses at prior coaching stops (use both regardless whether offensive or defensive coach).

But look down Coaches By the Numbers' list of false and irrelevant criteria and these are basically the criteria Chianti Dan used to hire Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel. Chiant Dan, this list is what not to do, not a checklist! So what is important?

So, the next time your school is in need of a new football coach, be sure the AD, President, and Board don't treat the decision making process like they are buying an ice cream cone. Demand that they look beyond the surface of how boosters or media will receive him and dig a little deeper to see if the guy can really coach or not.

In the end, if you want to please boosters, fans, and the media, all you have to do is one thing: WIN!