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Haste hurts coaches

Billy Donovan is the latest college coach to change his mind after being forced into a quick decision.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:46 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In the 30 hours Creighton went without a men’s basketball coach, fans on Internet message boards buzzed that athletic director Bruce Rasmussen was taking too long to make a hire.

Rasmussen chuckled at the memory, but he understands how public scrutiny can pressure employers and candidates into rash decisions. Such haste contributes to sagas like Dana Altman’s, in which the Creighton coach left for Arkansas in April, only to change his mind and return a day later.

Now Billy Donovan is the latest to harbor second thoughts after accepting a job, amid reports that the Orlando Magic urged him to provide a quick answer when they lured him away from Florida.

College coaching searches seem to be moving faster than ever, Rasmussen said, as administrators try to remain secretive under the brightening glare of media coverage and Internet rumors. That increases the odds a coach will say yes before fully thinking things through.

“The time pressure is going to cause this to maybe happen more often,” Rasmussen said.

Donovan, Altman and Gregg Marshall provided the basketball world with three notable examples in the past year. Last June, Marshall returned to Winthrop a day after being introduced at the College of Charleston.

The hiring process was a whirlwind, Marshall said. He didn’t visit campus until the day he accepted the job.

“It’s hard to get a true gauge,” said Marshall, who spent another season at Winthrop before departing, for real, for Wichita State in April.

The president of a prominent search firm, Dan Parker, said he advises college administrators to take their time. Parker Executive Search worked with Arkansas after Altman reneged and also aided Kentucky and Minnesota in coaching hires this offseason. Parker tells clients to expect the process to last between seven and 14 days.

“Anytime anybody feels like they’re in a desperate situation and are pressed into a decision, it can turn into a wrong decision,” he said.

Parker’s guidance includes this simple but critical nugget: Hire a coach who really wants to be there. Better to find the best fit among several viable options than to fixate on one person who may harbor reservations.

“Rarely is there only one right candidate,” Parker said.

It’s not as though coaches never experienced a change of heart after agreeing to a job in years past, Creighton’s Rasmussen said. But a couple of decades ago, a candidate’s acceptance might not immediately become public. If he pulled out, few fans would realize what had happened.

Bobby Cremins’ about-face did make big news in 1993. He left Georgia Tech for South Carolina, for all of two days.

In a more recent occurrence, former Utah coach Rick Majerus, then working for ESPN, took over at Southern California in 2004 before stepping down days later, citing health concerns.

Cremins’ phone kept ringing Monday. Cremins, who in a twist of fate got the Charleston job after Marshall’s reversal, felt empathy for Donovan, but also relief for himself.

The next time a newly hired coach flip-flops, Cremins joked, “maybe they’ll call it ‘a Donovan’ instead of ‘a Cremins.’”


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