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Volume 22 No. 8

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Tampa Bay needs a replacement for Dirk Koetter.
Photo: Getty Images

Any team that hires an executive recruiter to aid the coaching search process can now expect to hear a lot of criticism, and that has certainly been the case this season despite the fact that only one of the eight teams in the market for a coach, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has disclosed hiring a search firm.

Many football insiders believe that only the front office should handle the hiring of a new coach. But Korn Ferry, a global firm based in Los Angeles whose sports practice is led by former college and NFL assistant coach Jed Hughes, has carved a niche as the go-to executive recruiter for NFL head coaching hires. The firm helped the Falcons hire Dan Quinn in 2015 and the Jaguars hire Doug Marrone in 2017. Prior to that it had been involved with Pete Carroll going to the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 and Andy Reid to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, though both were already well-known from previous coaching stints.

They have also been involved in some misses, including Hue Jackson to the Cleveland Browns, another coach let go this season, in 2016.

“There is no reason for a team to hire a search firm,” said Charley Casserly, the longtime Redskins and Texans GM who is now on the NFL career advisory committee, which makes recommendations to owners on head coach and general manager candidates. “Football is such a close community, and that’s where 90 percent of your coaches come from.”

His comment is soft compared to the bashing on Twitter that followed the Bucs’ disclosing they had hired Korn Ferry as they search for a replacement for the terminated Dirk Koetter. “Perhaps the biggest boondoggle in the business of sports,” tweeted former NFL executive Andrew Brandt.

And Rich Eisen, the omnipresent NFL Network host, tweeted, “Why does any NFL team need the help of a headhunting search firm to hire the right coach? It’s not like a team in need of a coach just got dropped into the league from another industry. Or another country.”

Hughes could not be reached for comment.

What is it about using a search firm that elicits such vitriol within the walls of the NFL? Part of the reason is that it represents an outsider coming into the cloistered world of pro football.

“My theory is people in business use them so that’s why they are using them in the NFL,” said Casserly, who consulted for the New York Jets on their head coach search four years ago that resulted in the hiring of Todd Bowles, who was let go last week.

It’s similar to how traditionalists responded to data analytics, the belief that those who deal with laptop strokes can’t understand the fundamentals of what goes into being a head coach.

Organizations often look to recruiters for help on the early parts of the process, including vetting candidates. Len Perna is the president and CEO of Turnkey Sports and Entertainment, which has a division that handles college coaching searches but has never done an NFL search, understandably supported the role a recruiter can play. “When a client hires a recruiter the process starts on second base,” Perna wrote in an email. “Recruiters are also privy to many more sources of intel on candidates than clients who are not constantly filling these kinds of positions.”

NASCAR has held its annual Monster Energy Series awards banquet in Las Vegas for the past 10 years.
Photo: Getty Images

Nashville is expected to become the new home of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series awards banquet, according to sources, adding to the Music City’s increasing importance for the sport.

 

NASCAR’s multiday event brings together hundreds of members of the racing industry and generates national media exposure for the host city. It would be another feather in the cap for Nashville’s ability to land big events.

 

NASCAR has held the banquet for the last 10 years in Las Vegas; New York City played host to the event for 27 years before that. NASCAR’s deal with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which included an annual $400,000 subsidy, expired and was not renewed for 2018 but NASCAR still returned there for the event last year as it plotted long-term plans.

 

Industry sources say Nashville is now the city closing in on hosting the event starting this year, though NASCAR and Nashville have yet to make a formal announcement because the deal isn’t finished. It was not clear whether Nashville would offer any financial incentives for the event.

 

The move comes amid talks between track operator Speedway Motorsports Inc., the city and a local promoter to bring NASCAR races back to Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway, which is adjacent to the site of the new MLS stadium being built. Given its status as the home of country music, the addition of races and an awards gala would quickly vault the city back into one of NASCAR’s most important markets.

 

NASCAR has a long history in Nashville, where the premier series raced at Fairgrounds Speedway from 1958 to 1984. NASCAR’s lower-rung national series, now known as the Xfinity Series and Gander Outdoors Truck Series, competed there until 2000 and later at the newer Nashville Superspeedway.

 

NASCAR declined comment, while a spokesperson for Nashville’s convention and visitors corporation did not respond.

 

One person familiar with the matter said that executives from the sanctioning body and the major track operators visited Nashville recently to meet with local leaders and tour possible sites for the banquet. The city’s Music City Center, which opened in 2013, would be the likely venue.

 

Charlotte was also thought to be in the mix to land the banquet, as NASCAR’s other national series, the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck series, host their annual galas in a dual event in Charlotte.

 

But Nashville over-indexes among NASCAR fan demographics, and it was one of the key markets the sanctioning body targeted last season for increased advertising because of the growth potential.

 

The banquet will be yet another big win for Nashville’s sports and convention business. The city will play host to the 2019 NFL draft in April.

After 12 years at New Balance, Rob DeMartini wanted a challenge that was “100 percent passion-driven,” so he’s taken on the top job at USA Cycling.
Photo: USA Cycling

USA Cycling was just starting to look for a new CEO when its search firm, Nolan Partners, called outgoing New Balance CEO Rob DeMartini for some suggestions.

 

They got more than suggestions. DeMartini wanted the job for himself after he finished his 12-year run at the shoe brand Dec. 31. Within weeks, he and the USA Cycling board had a handshake agreement, and the governing body will announce his hiring this week.

 

“Sometimes you just get lucky,” said board chairman and interim CEO Bob Stapleton. “I’d like to say we are geniuses, but it just came together.”

 

DeMartini, 57, has already moved from the Boston area to Colorado Springs, where he will officially start Feb. 20. He will lead a nonprofit that posted $15.3 million in annual revenue in 2017, a sum New Balance generates in just over a day.

 

But that’s the point, DeMartini said. Financially set, nearing retirement age and secure in his track record of tripling the size of an international shoe brand, he wanted a job “100 percent passion-driven.”

 

In an interview, DeMartini said he sees a chance at USA Cycling to build rapidly on strong fundamentals. Those include a large base of casual cyclists in the U.S., disciplines that range from youth-friendly BMX to high-earning road cyclists, and a good competitive outlook for the Olympic team.

 

“This brand has the potential to be significantly bigger than it is today, and yes, someday that will hit resources and the organizational side, but I’m really talking about what it stands for,” DeMartini said. “And to me, that’s very exciting.”

 

DeMartini will earn roughly what former CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall did ($429,000 in 2017, per IRS forms), Stapleton said. He has promised to stay in the job for an undisclosed minimum period of time, and otherwise adequately addressed some concerns board members raised about hiring such a prominent CEO with so much personal flexibility.

 

DeMartini acknowledged that his success and resulting compensation at New Balance — the company tripled its revenue under his tenure — allowed him to take a job at a massive pay cut.

 

Financially and organizationally, USA Cycling is stable. But its business success has come in spite of a multiyear decline in racing popularity and membership.

 

A frequent recreational cyclist himself who says he “collects” bikes, DeMartini said a key goal is to find a way for non-competitive and casual cyclists to want to join USA Cycling. He called road racing an “elitist” sport that could grow again by becoming more “approachable.”

 

He pointed to the New York City Marathon, which New Balance sponsors, as a property to emulate along with other running organizations that have embraced the masses. “We were just as interested in our share of people who finished in over four hours as the ones who finish in under two and a half,” he said.

 

However, DeMartini said, better serving existing members is also a top priority.

 

DeMartini said New Balance grew commercially by becoming more relevant to athletes and through top-notch brand storytelling, and USA Cycling can do the same by leveraging its own content better.

 

“USA Cycling has access to an incredible inventory of great personal and team-based stories that, if we tell well, can make the brand very relevant to people who have never been to a race before,” he said.