Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Help Wanted

TigerBlog isn't sure when "at the end of the day" earned such superstar status among American catch phrases. It's certainly not something people said 10, 20 years ago, or maybe it was, and TB never noticed.

It's never been one of TigerBlog's favorite ways of punctuating a thought with great finality, and apparently he's not alone. TB much prefers to say "here's the deal" to "at the end of the day."

Still, it's such a normal part of speaking these days that TB has been known to thrown it out there as well, as in "At the end of the day, maybe the best way to measure a Director of Athletics is by his or her track record in hiring head coaches."

Princeton has seven head coaches who predate the current AD, Gary Walters. Of those seven, two (men's track and field coach Fred Samara and women's track and field coach Peter Farrell) predate the previous AD, Bob Mylsik, and were hired by Sam Howell during Ken Fairman's tenure.

Myslik hired five coaches who are still here, and all five are among the greatest coaches in Princeton history: men's squash coach Bob Callahan, women's squash coach Gail Ramsay, women's swimming and diving coach Susan Teeter, men's swimming and diving coach Rob Orr and women's lacrosse coach Chris Sailer. Myslik also brought legendary coaches like Bill Tierney in men's lacrosse and Glenn Nelson in volleyball to Princeton.

As for Walters, he has hired 41 head coaches in his 15+ years at Princeton, beginning with women's soccer coach Julie Shackford (the only coach ever to take an Ivy team to the women's soccer Final Four and a national Coach of the Year) in 1995.

To look realistically and honestly at Walters' record, only two of his 41 hires have not worked out at all: former men's basketball coach Joe Scott and former men's hockey coach Len Quesnelle. TigerBlog remembers the day Scott was hired, when almost every single person felt that Princeton basketball was headed to perpetual Top 25 status under the man who had such a great history at Princeton and who had taken Air Force to the NCAA tournament. TB remembers only one voice of caution, and it came from Brown SID Chris Humm, who suggested that it might not go as smoothly as everyone was predicting. Who knew the Hummer would be the one who'd get it right?

The hiring process at Princeton under Walters has been pretty standard, with only a few exceptions (men's basketball, mostly). A committee is assembled, comprised of athletic administrators, representatives of the sport itself and sometimes representatives of the University administration or faculty. The candidates meet with the committee as a whole, and the members of the committee speak freely about their own views about which direction they would go in once the final candidate has been interviewed.

TigerBlog's two questions about hiring at Princeton have always been these: Can you do the job, and can you do the job here? There are unique circumstances to coaching and working at Princeton and within the Ivy League, and it's not for everyone. Identifying coaches who buy into that and have a real understanding of what it means to building a program is as important as finding people who are great at X's and O's.

Walters has also proven himself to be willing to take a chance on younger coaches who might not have a great deal of experience but demonstrate in the search process that they have they're ready and the right fit.

Looking back at his track record, it's hard to argue with the success that Walters has had. Field hockey? Kristen Holmes-Winn had no experience coaching on the college level, as a head coach or assistant; she has taken Princeton to six Ivy titles in seven years and this past weekend to the NCAA Final Four. With its core of All-America freshmen and sophomores, Holmes-Winn has Princeton positioned to make a serious national championship run.

Baseball? Scott Bradley had almost no coaching experience - and none on the college level - when his Major League career ended. Today he's one of the best college baseball coaches anywhere.

Softball? Maureen Barron had one year's coaching experience and then led Princeton to four Ivy titles. Her replacement, Trina Salcido, has won another Ivy title in her two years as head coach.

Women's tennis? Kathy Sell was an assistant coach for one season before coming to Princeton. She left a year ago after winning the Ivy title - to be replaced by another up-and-coming coach, Megan Bradley.

Men's lightweight rowing? Greg Hughes had never been a head coach before; this past year he won the national title.

Women's open rowing? Lori Dauphiny had never been a head coach, and she has built a perennial national contender. Her 2006 team is one of the best, if not the best, in the sport's history.

Men's hockey? Guy Gadowsky was an unknown coach at a frozen school 5,000 miles away (Alaska-Fairbanks) before he came to Princeton and turned one of the worst teams in the country into a back-to-back NCAA tournament participant.

Women's basketball? Courtney Banghart had three years experience as an assistant coach. Now in her third year as head coach, she has Princeton moving from six wins to being the No. 3 preseason pick in the Ivy League with a young nucleus whose best days are ahead.

Men's baskeball? John Thompson was hired after having never been above the position of second assistant; he has turned out to be one of the best coaches in college basketball. As for the current coach, Sydney Johnson, everything that applies to Banghart applies to him as well.

That's just a sample of the coaches who have come out of Princeton's search processes. The result? An athletic program that continues to win the Ivy League's unofficial all-sports points championship (23 straight years) and produce quality teams and athletes (25 of 33 teams that compete in Ivy sports last year finished in the top three in the league; a total of 48 Princeton athletes were named All-America last year).

All of this, of course, brings us to the soon-to-commence football search. As everyone knows by now, Roger Hughes has been relieved of his duties as head football coach. It's easy to point to a coach who has been let go and suggest that it didn't work out, but that's not the case with Hughes: 10 years at Princeton, an Ivy title, continued improvement during his first seven years, a struggle the final three years that finally resulted in the need for a change.

As such, the same selection process that has built much of Princeton's athletic success begins again. Will it be successful?

At the end of the day, history suggests it will be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

May I add two more expressions to your list? "Going forward," and "Back in the day."