This isn’t about search firms. They can serve their purpose in the hiring of college coaches and administrators, mostly by being a gatekeeper since job openings attract candidates, qualified and otherwise.
Drexel, searching for a new athletic director, has hired a firm, one of the biggest, Collegiate Sports Associates. Their listing of previous placements is endless. The business of college sports is conducted with search firms involved.
On this particular search firm’s web site, there is a section titled Current Opportunities. There you find a listing for Director of Athletics – Drexel University.
» READ MORE: Drexel women's lacrosse got its first-ever NCAA bid
We bring all this up because Drexel’s search for a new AD to replace Eric Zillmer after his quarter century in charge is in full swing.
Also, there is a layup of a candidate.
Fully acknowledging that I don’t know the field of candidates out there – that I’d never even heard of the ADs brought in the last time Villanova, St. Joseph’s, La Salle, or Penn hired from the outside – Drexel has an ideal candidate already in-house.
To be clear, deputy AD Nick Gannon did not solicit this endorsement or contribute to it. Nor did anyone else at Drexel. I’ve just been around enough to notice something there on Market Street. When this guy Gannon gets involved, smart things tend to happen.
The year 2021, for instance. A milestone year for Drexel athletics, despite the pandemic, overcoming the pandemic. Men’s basketball, NCAA tournament. Women’s basketball, NCAA tournament. Men’s lacrosse, NCAA tournament. Women’s lacrosse, NCAA tournament.
The administrator directly overseeing all four of those sports? Nick Gannon. (That’s very unusual, one person even being the direct supervisor of both men’s and women’s hoops.)
The administrator most heavily involved in hiring the men’s and women’s lacrosse coaches? Nick Gannon.
The administrator who gets raves from the basketball coaches, past and present, men’s and women’s? Nick Gannon.
We’re not saying Drexel can’t improve itself, starting with getting fans back inside the DAC for men’s hoops. We’ll just point out that you can’t market your way to a full building. You need success.
My comparison for Gannon is what Villanova did many years ago. They’d gone outside for an athletic director who brought in his successor. But the AD who really hit pay dirt, and the AD who hired Jay Wright, was the in-house choice, Vince Nicastro. To me, Gannon is Vince Nicastro, the guy who has the trust of people in-house but also presumably knows what needs improvement.
(Yes, Villanova has kept going strong under current AD Mark Jackson, who replaced Nicastro and presumably came to the school’s attention via a search firm.)
But let’s look at what the search firm says it is looking for in a Drexel AD, overseeing a budget of more than $17 million, “and a professional staff of over 100 … responsible for nearly 500 student athletes competing across 18 sports programs.”
There are bullet points for qualifications. Let’s match them up with Gannon’s bio.
7-plus years in athletics administration. “Nick Gannon has served in numerous leadership positions since arriving at Drexel in 1998. He was promoted to Deputy Director of Athletics in May of 2011 after serving as the senior associate athletic director for four years. He was previously associate and assistant athletic director at the school.”
Master’s degree or relevant professional experience that would equate to a master’s. “Gannon earned a master’s degree in athletic administration from West Chester University in 1998. He attended the University of Virginia as an undergraduate and was a letter winner as a goalie on the men’s lacrosse team. He graduated with a degree in economics in 1992.”
Proven management skills overseeing a large multi-faceted department. “Gannon oversees all of Drexel Athletics’ business and administrative operations, the day-to-day operations of the department and administers several of Drexel’s athletic teams.”
Possess excellent written, oral, and interpersonal skills. Hard to put that on a biography. We’ll just point out that Gannon tends to be the first and last person you see when you’re at the DAC for a game.
There are a few more bullet points, but you get the idea. Gannon checks the boxes. Thinking that he wouldn’t have new ideas to take the place to the next level seems like a mistake, a failure of creativity. Wouldn’t such a person know exactly what steps need to be performed next?
When Villanova was smart enough last year to take the layup and hire Drexel’s Denise Dillon as women’s basketball coach, Drexel was smart enough to take the layup and promote assistant Amy Mallon to the top job.
This is the same kind of deal. An open layup. A search firm worth its fee should recognize it.