The pressure is immense on Holden Thorp to make the right hire for Carolina’s next Director of Athletics. Thorp remains under heavy criticism for firing Butch Davis a week before football practice began, and that scrutiny comes from wealthy donors who feel they were misled to average Tar Heel fans who want to win and saw Davis as their savior.
Thorp has support from the UNC Boards of Governors and Trustees, plus the faculty and many alumni who are embarrassed by how the football program was run in the Davis regime. This tug-of-war will continue through the 2011 season that begins Saturday, no matter how the Tar Heels of interim coach Everett Withers fare on the field. A forthcoming NCAA probation can only intensify the conflict.
I am wondering whether Thorp thinks his own job is in jeopardy over the football scandal, that he could actually be fired for firing a coach. That sounds absurd at a university priding itself on academic integrity and playing by the rules for a half century. But the news moves so fast, and now so viral, in big-time college athletics that widespread public discourse  has cost college presidents their positions, all the way back to when former UNC Chancellor Paul Hardin was fired trying to clean up the football mess at SMU in the 1970s.

I am also wondering if Thorp realizes he has begun the search for Dick Baddour’s successor completely wrong, that major college athletic directors and coaches are rarely hired away from schools by 12-person search committees that publicly screen search firms. They never expose themselves by “applying” for other jobs and never, ever agree to be interviewed by such committees. If you want one of them, you go get him privately.

So why are there a dozen disparate people on Carolina’s search committee, which by its very nature will slow down the process? It has taken nearly a month to assemble the members and hold their first meeting, and they are still crafting a job description so it can be posted – something Baddour could have done himself the day after he announced he was stepping aside.
And given that they are all in some way connected to the university, several of them to the athletic department, is there any surprise they spent the first half of their first meeting debating over whether Baddour’s replacement should be an “internal” hire? That absolutely cannot happen, based on what has appeared to go on in the football program and athletic department over the last year, and Thorp certainly (or hopefully) knows that.
UNC needs a major paradigm shift away from its long-time tradition of “promoting from within” on such major hires. Baddour, the former associate for compliance, basically learned on the job for 14 years, picked four coaches of revenue-producing sports that were fired and is essentially unknown and unconnected among his peer group in college athletics. And the search committee is even discussing if the hire should come from the people who worked for Baddour?
The new athletic director at North Carolina will be charged with the most important football hire in school history, possible conference realignment and being heard on the reform movement. He (or she) must be experienced in making hires, ultra-connected in college athletics and someone who will be on the forefront of changes ahead for UNC and the ACC. The new paradigm must move away from inside people fighting for their friends and colleagues to be promoted so their own futures will be safeguarded. Doing that, ironically, endangers the chancellor’s job.
That Thorp has asked his committee to give him seven names of candidates carries this paradoxical promise: None of those names will be the ones he wants or should have; they will consist of internal candidates, associate athletic directors at other schools and AD’s at mid-major universities. It will look like Carolina can’t get a big name or no big names want the job, (which is completely false) because searches for top athletic directors and coaches are well-kept secrets.

They are done by the school’s CEO dispatching one or two highly qualified and highly confidential head hunters to bring back the names of candidates that fit the qualifications he gives them. After getting those recommendations, the CEO decides who his first two choices are, has all the pertinent information about their candidacies, including how much it will cost to hire them, and then takes a private meeting with his first choice and offers the job. If No. 1 says no, the meeting never occurred and then comes No. 2. That’s how it is done today, and if Thorp is too naïve or inexperienced to know that, he needs to check with ACC Commissioner John Swofford and other college athletic heavyweights to confirm it.

Otherwise, UNC is not going to get what it wants and needs.  
Hopefully, Thorp already knows this, and the search committee is there to make sure the so-called Carolina culture is protected unlike it was with the arrogant and entitled Davis (disliked among most of the athletic department). If those who hired Davis in 2006 did not bother to impress upon him how things are done at UNC, shame on them as well as him.
Making sure the candidates get the word about Carolina’s culture is okay for the committee, but 12 people who have never hired a head coach or worked in athletic administration doing any more than that is illogical and, if so, they are destined to screw up the most important athletic hire Carolina has had since Roy Williams saved the basketball program in 2003.

Already, the public process of interviewing two search firms is ridiculous. Bill Carr, the former athletic director at Florida, is a relic of the business, who is known to find his prospects by using the opinions of other AD’s and coaches rather than his own knowledge or due diligence. Carr supposedly “found” Dr. Kevin White for Duke, when it was more of White finding Duke because he was losing traction at Notre Dame over his hiring, giving a 10-year contract to, and then firing football coach Charlie Weiss. Paying Carr anything to produce names is as silly as UNC handing Chuck Neinas $75,000 in 2006 to tell Baddour that Butch Davis was looking for a college coaching job. I would have done that for 75 cents, it was so well-known. 

Todd Turner is a UNC grad, and the former athletic director at N.C. State, Connecticut, Vanderbilt and Washington who might even like a fifth chance at his own school. He is far more connected than Carr and is capable of researching two or three candidates among the dozens of sitting athletic directors who would want one of the best jobs in America. But, if he is selected, can he do it now that his cover has been blown by the UNC committee?

Interestingly, Turner has connections to two men who should be on anyone’s preliminary list. He is friends with veteran South Carolina Athletic Director Eric Hyman, the former UNC football player who worked for Turner at N.C. State and has pulled off tough rebuilding jobs at TCU and USC, and the cousin of VCU’s Norwood Teague, who has been a successful AD for five years and is widely known to covet a return to his alma mater.

Before disbanding, the committee can give Thorp a list of questions and concerns to make sure the person he chooses understands and will embrace the Carolina Culture so we won’t wind up with another Davis debacle. After that, they can all go home for good.

Discussing whether it should be Larry Gallo, Beth Miller or Rick Steinbacher is a monumental waste of their time and energy. Every reasonably knowledgeable person of the situation understands that the next AD here must already have hiring experience, great gravitas and established relationships. Whether the committee “knows” or “feels comfortable” with any of the candidates is totally irrelevant to getting the right person in place.

It has to be YOUR call, Chancellor. Do your diligence on the multiple blown hires we’ve had in the past, seek the counsel of athletically connected advisors who fully know the field and have UNC’s best interest at heart, and find the money to hire the most qualified person and best fit, who can then hire the next football coach and fix whatever is broken in the athletic department — so you can go back to your real job of running the university.
That’s the way it is done in college athletics today, or you wind up settling. And you and Carolina cannot afford to settle on this one, because you could be out of a job by doing so.

Do you agree with how the athletic director’s search is being handled?