Commentary

What makes a good job opening? Money, tradition to start

Updated: December 10, 2007, 6:13 PM ET
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

Michigan fans are baffled. Arkansas supporters are irate and UCLA fans are skittish. Who will be their new coaches? Nobody knows at this point. The most intriguing thing in all this is that it's probably been a trickier proposition to target the right guy than any of those schools anticipated. They all seem like glamour jobs, but apparently not to many coaches. This week's list is the 10 biggest factors on what makes a great coaching job.

1. Financial commitment: The old adage 'You get what you pay for,' isn't always true, but it's close. Having the resources to pay a head coach is key. However, it's also vital to ensure the opportunity to bring in a talented staff as well as having a recruiting budget to travel, evaluate and chase talent. On top of that, it is a must to keep up with your competition.

Pete Carroll
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswirePete Carroll was able to turn USC around quickly thanks to a fertile recruiting ground and the Trojan tradition.

2. Tradition: Two of the coaches I consulted actually had this near the bottom of their lists, but I disagree. There's a reason why many of today's elite programs were also the powerhouses from the '70s and '80s. It's why it didn't take Bob Stoops or Pete Carroll very long to take middling programs back to the mountain top in the last decade. It's also why Notre Dame and Miami can go through disastrous seasons and still be putting together top-10 recruiting classes. It's also why Michigan doesn't need to be in such a rush to name a head coach while other programs frantically try and line up a guy to close ground on the recruiting trail.

3. Conference appeal: The difference between being in a BCS conference and a non-BCS conference is eye-popping. Bowl money, bowl tie-ins and TV exposure are the start, followed by the appeal to sell recruits on the lure of playing in the SEC or Big Ten as opposed to Conference-USA or the MAC. In essence, even if you're at a second-tier BCS conference school, you can tout playing against your league's superpowers as a draw.

4. Recruiting base: Everything starts with recruiting, and if you have players in your backyard, you have a chance to build something. Miami had virtually none of the other factors on this list, but because the program sat right in the heart of fertile recruiting soil, the Canes built a powerhouse after Howard Schnellenberger coined his "State of Miami" by drawing a line across the lower portion of the state of Florida. Of course, you can still thrive far from a big population base (Boise State is a great example), but it is very hard.

5. Stability of the administration: You can usually trace success back to the top. Smart, confident leadership lends itself to sound decisions. And the inverse is also true. Sketchy ADs make bad, short-sighted decisions. The schools that are quick to hit the reset button tend to be mired in a constant state of mediocrity. Virginia Tech became a powerhouse only after the Hokie brass was patient and gave Frank Beamer some time. Rutgers is no longer a laughingstock because the Scarlet Knights didn't pull the plug on Greg Schiano in his first five years.

6. Facilities: You can win without fancy indoor practice facilities, or a sprawling new weight room or posh players lounge or expansive, glitz stadium, but it ain't easy. Miami and USC are probably the best examples of doing without, although both of them sit in the heart of prime recruiting soil. Everyone else is trying to lure kids by outdoing their neighbor. Often the first question before any coach takes over a program is about what the school is planning on doing to upgrade the facilities.

7. Admissions Flexibility: Private schools often get hit harder by this than state schools although don't say that to UCLA coaches. Admissions flexibility varies greatly not just from school to school but really from year to year at a given school. For instance, the academic environment Pete Carroll lives in is different now than what it was five years ago. Such "presidential" exemptions can explain why some schools are doing well with a blue-chipper while your school might not be able to talk to him.

8. Campus feel: It might be sad to say but very few people I spoke with listed this one high on their list. The reality is most top recruits, even the ones who are strong students, realize they are picking a school first based off the athletic program. If they don't like the direction of the program, the coaching staff, etc., they don't care how nice the quad is. It can help on an official recruiting visit, but probably not as much as a fancy indoor practice facility.

9. Fan sanity: One assistant I spoke with Sunday night said this factor probably has jumped on the board in just the last few years, pointing to a school like Southern Miss dumping perennial winner Jeff Bower after 17 seasons. Thanks to talk radio, 24-hour sports channels and above all, message boards, fans and boosters feel more powerful than ever before. How realistic a fan base is something many coaches should be thinking about, argued the assistant.

10. Climate: Two different former head coaches I consulted raised this point, saying that people forget "that families have to adjust, too." On top of that, a favorable climate makes it easier to recruit junior college kids and also can help you recruit assistant coaches -- and their families -- easier.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting," is on sale now.