Jim Hackett, as Michigan's interim athletic director, has had a busy month on the job.
Since being appointed by university president Mark Schlissel after Dave Brandon's resignation was announced Oct. 31, Hackett has fired a football coach and is searching for the next one to try to return the Wolverines to Big Ten and national championship contention.
But he won't technically conduct the search all on his own, although he will make the final call.
Hackett fired Brady Hoke after four seasons on Tuesday, three days after the Wolverines lost at Ohio State to finish the season 5-7 and ineligible for a bowl game.
And now there's the search, which Hackett described in generalities during Tuesday's news conference. Hackett, a former Michigan player and CEO of Steelcase, said he has a timeline in mind that he chooses not to share publicly and will utilize a search firm to assist in the process. Hackett said he will reveal the name of the search firm at some point.
"Part of the choice there, by the way, is to find somebody I don't have to spend a lot of time brining up to speed on what Michigan's all about," Hackett said, referring to the head-hunting firm. "The type of firm I'm picking is someone who knows us because you're paying for that consulting time, and you want to make sure that money's directed toward finding the coach, not me teaching them about Michigan."
Gone are the days, mostly at big-name schools, of launching unassisted coaching and athletic director searches.
Head-hunter firms, which can charge up to $250,000 if not more, have been used before by Michigan.
Michigan alum Jed Hughes, an assistant coach at U-M under Bo Schembechler in the mid-1970s, was the lead head hunter for Spencer Stuart and assisted then-president Mary Sue Coleman in identifying a new athletic director. That's when Brandon was hired.
In a press release in 2012 announcing Hughes' move to Korn Ferry, among the "high-profile placements" listed were Hoke to Michigan in 2011. Hughes is vice chairman global sports executive consultant for Korn Ferry.
Search firms alleviate added stress on the athletic director after getting a feel for what type of coach the program is seeking. They can quietly reach out to potential candidates to gauge interest and after vetting those candidates, present the information to the athletic director or individual making the decision.
And by going with an outside firm instead of doing things in-house, schools can eliminate the possibility of information leaking and records requests. Confidentiality is an enormous part of the process.
When former Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi, who spent a decade in that role before transitioning to a position as assistant to the university president, was early in his career, he considered himself a conservative spender who figured he could do everything on his own, including conducting coaching searches.
"I do think search firms today have the ability to find out who's interested and who's not without violating an unwritten code of calling and talking to coaches who already have jobs," Maturi said. "I would never have been able to hire Tubby Smith without a search firm. I didn't know his agent personally, but I'm sure I could have gotten this information. I tried to keep the conduct appropriate. I flew to Atlanta twice to meet his agent before I met with Tubby Smith, upholding the integrity of the search process."
Maturi thinks Hackett's decision to use a search firm is sound, in part because he is new the world of athletics administration.
"He probably needs one more than a person who has been in this type of job for 20 years -- that's no offense to him," Maturi said. "He's an M-man and a business man, but this is not an exact science, as Michigan and Florida and a lot of top-level programs have found out."
Michigan and Beilein
Eddie Fogler, the 30-year Division I basketball coaching veteran and a former National Coach of the Year, created Fogler Consulting in 2006 to assist in national basketball coaching searches. He worked with former Michigan athletic director Bill Martin when he was looking for a basketball coach. Martin eventually hired John Beilein.
"The way I view it, who knows coaches better than an ex-coach?" said Fogler, whose last two coaching stops were Vanderbilt and South Carolina. "Michigan is going to make a huge investment in the next coach. Who gives them the best information on potential candidates on personality, character, style of play -- who gives an AD better information that's for them?
"(Regarding a search firm), you're looking for someone who knows the coaches personally, if possible, and knows the game. There are a number of search firms -- and I only do basketball -- that don't know the coaches and, quite frankly, don't know the game. You want someone to give you the accurate information that fits the profile of the university."
Fogler and Maturi made clear that the job of the search firm is to identify candidates and their interest, and that's it.
"Could I have hired (current Minnesota football coach) Jerry Kill without one, maybe," Maturi said. "Some people talk about the search firm being too powerful. But they don't make the decision, I make the decision. They've never told me who I should hire. That's an unfair criticism of the firms."
It is a point that Fogler, whose consulting firm consists only of himself, stresses.
"It's not what I want, it's what you want," Fogler said. "I've done 20-something searches, and I've never picked the coaches. I look at myself as a vetting service where I can say to the athletic director, 'With your input and my input, let's do some cross-checking. These people are really good at what they do, they fit the university, therefore you pick.'"
Search firms aren't cheap and range in price. But their jobs also include, Maturi said, arranging for meeting places between athletic director and candidate and, often, hotel rooms reserved under fake identities.
Is it worth paying for the service?
"Let's face it, what are they going to pay the coach, $3 million, $4 million?" Maturi said. "I mean, what the hell is $100,000, $150,000 if you're paying a boatload of money? You better get the right guy.
"In retirement I've been teaching sports management and I told them when I hired Tim Brewster (to coach Minnesota football), he took the program in the wrong way. I used the same process to hire Jerry Kill, and we are going in a different direction. It's not an exact science; I'm sorry it isn't. You have do all you can to be as diligent as you can in your information gathering, but there are no guarantees."