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ADiR: Nevada’s Knuth on Hiring Coaches, the Future of Technology & his Reading Habits

By Doug Knuth
10 min read

You’ve hired a number of highly successful coaches in a relatively short period of time. If you had to teach a young administrator three critical things to remember during a coach search, what would they be and why? Equally, what are your keys when trying to retain a head coach who may have another offer on the table?


A lot goes into a search process for any position – administrator or coach – and I imagine the secret to success is a little different at every school. In our case at Nevada, I lean heavily on the following elements:


Know who you are: Defining reality is a big part of the AD role and, especially important in the hiring process, it is vital to know what is important to your president, your community, and your athletics program. At Nevada, our mission is clear about academic excellence and that starts with our president – I would not hire a coach who did not understand the importance of academic excellence and high graduation success. A connection with our community is also important – I like to find coaches who excel in community engagement activities. Lastly, for our department unity, I try to find coaches who fit our culture on a personal level – are these people you would want to spend 8-10 hours a day with, solving problems and growing the program.


Broad support: Hiring cannot be a one person activity. I always include a diverse group of people in the process. These trusted people are advisors in the process and provide important feedback on the candidates. Selecting the right people for this advisory role is incredibly important, but if you have the right people involved, you will find a great coach.


Work tirelessly: There is almost nothing more important in the AD role than hiring coaches. During a search process, focus your time and energy on this activity. To the extent you can, it is important to defer or delegate other activities while you manage the search process and candidates.


Retaining great coaches is another tough challenge that is made more challenging when you have very limited resources. I think the secret to retaining great coaches begins with the initial hiring process. If you can hire someone who has a long-term plan to stay at your school – maybe personal connections to the school or geographic area – then you have a better opportunity to retain the person when other people contact them about jobs.


Chris Hill is a living legend at Utah, is there anything you observed while working for him that helps you in your current role?


I learned a lot from Chris while working for him. Now that I am in the AD role at Nevada, I am experiencing how hard the job can be and have a new appreciation for Chris and his success.


One important observation that I think about often at Nevada is Chris’ ability to retain successful coaches and staff. Retention of quality coaches and staff creates stability and provides an opportunity for long-term success in any organization. You can see that longevity in Chris’ coaches/staff and the subsequent success of his department over his long career.


I hope to build the same environment at Nevada.


Where do you stand on the debate circling the Mountain West on traditional cable TV exposure that comes with some late football kick times versus the possibility of moving more game inventory to totally digital platforms for more ideal start times?


There is too much information to answer this question succinctly, but the impact of late season (cold temperatures) and late prime kick times is clear. The Mountain West Conference does a good job working with our television partners to avoid too many late kick times for each school. I think our television partners understand the challenge as well and they are supportive partners.


The challenge is predicting the future of technology. I watch more traditional TV content on my phone or tablet today than I did three years ago and I am not an early adopter. If my habits have changed that much in three short years, I cannot imagine how we will watch sports in the next three, five or ten years. I know it is going to change and that is a difficult component in answering your question because we simply don’t know what the future holds. I hope future technology affords us the flexibility to play more afternoon football games.


What belief(s) do you hold about the future of college athletics that may be counter to what your peers or the media expound?


I am not able to comment on what my peers might believe about the future of our profession, but I do believe something that doesn’t receive much attention in the media. I firmly believe in the positive impact intercollegiate athletics has on young women and men. I am a former student athlete and I know the value and importance of an athletic scholarship. I wish the media, including our broadcast partners at every level, would spend more time telling this side of the story. There are many compelling stories to tell about the power and impact of an athletic scholarship that transforms generations of people in a family or helps an athlete launch a successful career. I hear these stories from grateful alumni athletes every day and it reinforces why I love this profession.


The NCAA does a lot of messaging around NCAA championships about the number of athletes who go pro in something other than sports (you know the message), but our fans are not getting the message because all forms of media are focused on the negative stories in our profession. If the positive message is ever going to stick, every one of us has to consistently share the message about the great examples of students earning college degrees as a result of their participation in sport. This is a powerful message and hard to ignore if we are all telling the positive impact story.


Rumor is you are an avid reader, which book had the most influence on you early in your career? What are you reading now?


I read 30-45 minutes every day. I am not sure that makes me an avid reader, but certainly I am someone who loves to learn. If you work in higher education, you have to be committed to lifelong learning. For me, lifelong learning includes daily reading.


I was not a regular reader until a dear friend, Tom Thomas from Cardinal Advisors, introduced me to the power of reading. And more importantly, Tom taught me how to connect with other people by sharing or asking for recommended books. Sharing a learning experience by reading a book another person recommends is a neat way to connect with people.


Early in my career, I was fascinated by anything written about Jack Welch (the former General Electric CEO). Mr. Welch was my business management hero – he was tough and single-minded in his focus on success. Today, in similar fashion, I will read anything written about Alan Mulally, Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Brad Smith and Elon Musk. I love to learn about people who made an impact.


Other must reads in my opinion are ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins and ‘The Advantage’ by Patrick Lencioni. I also highly recommend the easy to read leadership fable ‘LEAD for God’s Sake’ by Todd Gongwer. I am currently reading Jon Gordon’s ‘The Power of Positive Leadership’ and ‘Strengths Based Leadership’ by Tom Rath (second time reading this).


I also listen to a handful of interesting and educational podcasts which is easier to do when I can’t read (while running, riding a bike or driving). Some of my current interests are: Corner Office from Marketplace; Entrepreneur on Fire; SUCCESS Talks; SUCCESS Insider; Freakonomics Radio; and of course, 1.Question.