A man in a black suit wearing an Arizona logo on his lapel met Kevin Sumlin at the Tucson airport Monday night. The same man with the Arizona lapel pin was at the side of Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke on Tuesday at Sumlin’s introductory press conference.
This man, Glenn Sugiyama, is a Michigan State grad who lives in Chicago. He doesn’t have Arizona connections. He doesn’t send a big check to the Wildcat Club every year.
His children attended Notre Dame and USC.
Yet Glenn Sugiyama of the DHR International search firm recently wore an Oregon State Beavers lapel pin while helping OSU hire new football coach Jonathan Smith.
And isn’t it ironic that Jeff Brohm, the man who coached Purdue to a Foster Farms Bowl victory over Arizona last month, was the man Sugiyama hand-picked for the Boilermakers a year earlier?
Most schools like Arizona pay about $200,000 to a man like Sugiyama to assist in the identification, pursuit and vetting of a head football coach, but c’mon, half of the people in the Wildcat Club and your next door neighbor knew Kevin Sumlin was the Best Man Available to be Arizona’s football coach.
Was it money wisely spent? I’d vote no, even though DHR boasts that it screens each candidate three times and that it offers lock-down confidentiality.
Is getting the right coach really so tricky that it requires a spy-vs.-spy mentality and a six-figure check?
A lot of people say an athletic director’s career is defined by the coaches he hires. Horsefeathers. The ranking athletic director in the Pac-12 in terms of service and national respect is probably UCLA’s Dan Guerrero.
His last three football hires were Karl Dorrell, Rick Neuheisel and Jim Mora. That’s a bust times three. Guerrero fired all three of them.
If Heeke deserves any applause for his recent work, it’s that he was quick to identify a decaying culture inside the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and had the backbone to fire Rich Rodriguez.
After just eight months on the job, Heeke was decisive and insightful in making the most expensive personnel transaction in UA sports history.
A lot of important people applauded, even if you didn’t hear it.
Art Luppino, the Cactus Comet, one of the school’s football legends, weighed in from his home in Kerrville, Texas.
“There are many pleased ex-footballers across the country knowing they can come out of the closet,” he told me. “Now I can start using my UA golf bag again.”
The money spent on a search firm is a tough sell to those who’ve followed college sports for a few decades. Only a few ADs were “defined” by hiring a coach, among them Arizona’s Cedric Dempsey, who went solo in pursuing and hiring Iowa’s Final Four basketball coach Lute Olson in 1983.
That transaction changed the reputation of both Tucson and the UA athletic department. Dempsey hired Olson in three days, start to finish. The impact of those three days are still felt in Tucson.
There are very few in college sports history who have had Dempsey’s acumen for hiring the right person; it was on his watch that Arizona hired Mike Candrea and Frank Busch. To cap his career, Dempsey recommend the hirings of Arizona ADs Greg Byrne and, yes, Heeke.
On Tuesday, Heeke was wise to acknowledge he had discussions with Dempsey before hiring Sumlin.
“Let me be clear: The president and I make the decision,” Heeke said. “I make the decision on who the head football coach is.
“Search consultants provide an opportunity for conversations, help us vet candidates and bring people to the table who might be interested in the position. It’s our job as administrators, it’s my job as athletic director to determine who the next head coach will be. “
None of Heeke’s UA predecessors hired full-blown search firms, although they periodically paid a much smaller fee to someone to help in the acquisition of a coach. Jim Livengood acted alone to hire Sean Miller. Byrne used those on his senior staff to help in the process of hiring women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes.
It’s not hiring the next Secretary of Defense.
In college sports, the best use of a search firm might be for lesser-known coaches in non-revenue sports. Perhaps a search firm and its vetting process could’ve helped Arizona avoid the hire of Wisconsin swimming coach Eric Hansen, who had some personal issues that ultimately blew up the UA’s long-proud swimming program.
While Heeke sat next to Sumlin on Tuesday morning, one of the best QBs in Arizona history, Eddie Wilson, Class of ’62, sat in a sofa-chair and smiled.
Wilson, who spent his post-UA days on the coaching staffs at Georgia Tech, Army, Florida State, Wake Forest and Duke, told me he drove from his Scottsdale home expressly to support the hiring of Sumlin.
“I was hoping they’d do this,” he said. “I liked him from the start.”
No lapel pin necessary.