JMU hired Carr Sports Associates to do its search for a new football coach. Carr Sports is a consultant firm run by Bill Carr, a former college athletic director. This story, which ran Dec. 6, 2013, is about Carr and why schools hire consultants.
HARRISONBURG, Va. — To help find its new football coach, James Madison University hired Carr Sports Associates, the consulting firm JMU used to conduct its feasibility study on a move from Division I-AA to I-A.
Why? Essentially to filter candidates — and to keep their names secret, according to college administrators.
“Carr will be our screening agent,” JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said, “and they will act as the company that refers candidates to us.”
Consulting groups like Carr Sports — a Gainesville, Fla.-based firm founded by former Florida and Houston athletic director Bill Carr — have a hit-and-miss reputation in college athletics, where they have become commonplace for schools seeking a football or men’s basketball coach.
JMU fired its football coach, Mickey Matthews, last week.
Head-hunters don’t always have great reputations among coaches, who often view them with suspicion and disdain — superfluous middlemen who get only their guys hired.
“There are some head-hunters and consultants that have their clients and they’re not going to go beyond their clients,” North Dakota State athletic director Gene Taylor said. “If you’re not one of their guys, you’re not getting in, so that’s where the frustration is.”
Nevertheless, Taylor used Carr — and credited the firm with finding NDSU’s national-championship coach. College administrators say consultants are crucial because of the ever-prying media and because many coaches today have agents.
“It’s just the confidentiality of being able to talk to people,” said Jim Miller, the former athletic director at the University of Richmond, where he is now an assistant to the UR president. “And people have agents and attorneys — and your background checks, it’s a lot easier just to get involved with a search firm. The search firm rarely discovers people you’ve never heard of; it’s just a source that the potential coach can call and know that his name’s not going to get out.”
On occasion, hiring firms do find new names. If not for Carr, North Dakota State might not have Craig Bohl.
“Bill’s the one who brought the name to me,” Taylor said.
NDSU hired Bohl as its football coach in 2003 after he was fired as Frank Solich’s defensive coordinator at Nebraska. Taylor said he was initially skeptical about considering a fired assistant coach, but Carr was persistent — and correct.
Bohl has guided North Dakota State from Division II to I-AA, turning the Fargo school into a power. The Bison have won back-to-back I-AA championships and are a favorite to win a third this year. Bohl’s record at NDSU is 100-32, including a playoff win over JMU in 2011.
“He’d been fired,” Taylor said. “I said, `How’s that going to play out?’ And [Carr] said, ‘Gene, it’s at Nebraska. He didn’t get fired for any moral reasons. The head coach basically used him as a chopping block to save his job,’ which ultimately is what happened at the time. [Carr] said, ‘People will get over that.’ He really had to help me through that.”
Taylor said NDSU first used Carr, recommended by another college administrator, to study a move from D-II to I-AA, much like JMU hired Carr for its I-AA-to-I-A study. Taylor said he was so pleased with Carr’s work — the study, according to Carr’s website, lasted from Oct. 2001 to Jan. 2002 – that he retained Carr for the football coach search.
Taylor, NDSU’s A.D. since 2001, described Carr, who is in his late 60s, as “Southern,” “very gregarious” and “very, very intelligent.”
“He loves to use big words,” Taylor said. “We kind of tease him about that. He’s very private with his clients. He’s probably not going to spend a lot of time talking to the media because he really respects the privacy of those he’s working with.”
Carr’s firm — Taylor said he dealt with Carr “100 percent” of the time — brought new candidates, deflected the media and managed the process, which Taylor said, included about “50-60 voicemails a day” and about 75 applicants, not all of whom, he said, were qualified. Some were high school coaches.
Taylor said at times it was hard to keep his top candidates informed because of the volume.
“[A consultant] really allows the A.D. to weed through a lot of the riff-raff stuff that comes in,” Taylor said. “He’s going to get hundreds of resumes that make absolutely no sense. He’s going to get a million calls recommending this guy or that guy. There are people that you’re going to have to call back ’cause there’s going to be somebody that knows somebody that’s going to have [Nick] Saban call from Alabama — I was talking to guys from Michigan and Ohio State. But you’re not going to not call a guy back.”
Richmond used Carr in 2009 to provide a general assessment of the Spiders’ athletics program. While UR didn’t use Carr to hire coaches, it did use consultant Todd Turner, now of Collegiate Sports Associates, to hire men’s hoops coach Chris Mooney and football coach Danny Rocco.
But Miller said he didn’t just tell Turner — whom he worked under when Turner was the A.D. at North Carolina State — to find him a coach.
“I would hate to just turn it over to a search firm,” Miller said. “I think you need to partner with them because they bring a lot of experience and knowledge to the table, but it should be more of a partnership.”
JMU’s relationship with Carr, including how much the school is paying him, is unclear. But Taylor insisted that Carr isn’t a consultant who works only for his guys.
“Bill’s not that way,” Taylor said. “He finds out what you’re looking for and then he goes out and tries to match guys. He doesn’t have a list of 20 candidates — now, he knows a lot of people; don’t get me wrong. And he knows a lot of good football coaches out there, but he’s not afraid to bring someone in that isn’t on his — he doesn’t have a client list.”