Replacing Snyder: How to conduct a coaching search

Bill Snyder watches the field at the Sunflower Showdown football game between K-State and KU in Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 26, 2016. (Archive photo by Emily Starkey | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State football is not used to having to fill a head coaching vacancy.

Since 1989, K-State has had to hire a football coach only twice — once with Ron Prince ahead of the 2006 season after Bill Snyder’s first retirement, and again when Snyder returned for the 2009 season.

Since it has happened so rarely in Manhattan, it might be useful to go over what really goes into a head coaching search at the collegiate level, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the sport.

We will start with the obvious: An athletics department needs to have a vacancy or an anticipated vacancy at the head coaching position to begin searching for a new coach. In K-State’s case, they have a vacancy since former head coach Bill Snyder retired Sunday.

The next thing that often happens is the hiring of a search firm to assist in identifying, vetting and interviewing candidates.

In an experts’ roundtable on coaching series from, Memphis University Athletics Director Tom Bowen talked about search firms:

“The use of search firms is an important part of our business now, and they are involved in a number of different ways,” Bowen said.

Bowen went on to say that search firms have valuable connections and they are an outside entity, so schools can maintain anonymity and maintain the secrecy around their hiring process.

“Search firms also work behind the scenes in a way that athletic directors, especially ones at public universities simply cannot,” Bowen said. “If I pick up the phone and call someone, that phone call can be traced back by a member of the media through an FOIA request, whereas a search firm can speak to dozens of candidates and no one will ever know those conversations happened.”

Bowen said the biggest difference is that an athletics director a public university can call someone, but the phone call can be traced by the media, who can fill out a Freedom of Information Act request. A search firm, however, can speak to candidates without anyone knowing the conversations ever happened.

For K-State, there is not as much of a need to use a search firm for the purpose of keeping things secret. As an independent, nonprofit entity, the program does not take federal or state dollars and therefore has no obligation to grant a FOIA or Kansas Open Records Act request.

In Bill Snyder’s retirement press release, K-State Athletics announced that they would be using Ventura Partners, a Beverly Hills, California-based search firm, to help them find their next coach.

If K-State Athletics director Gene Taylor started working on finding Snyder’s replacement before the official announcement of his retirement, he likely would have worked primarily through Ventura Partners to keep everything secret.

Clemson University Athletics Director Dan Radakovich spoke to the quality of Ventura Partners.

“While the world of intercollegiate search is complex, Ventura Partners has created a model that serves as an extension of your department and your brand,” Radakovich said. “The key difference is Ventura works to know our unique culture. This differentiation will lead to more effective, efficient and successful searches.”

A search firm helps an athletics director identify potential candidates for the head coaching position. No information is known for sure who is being considered for K-State’s head coaching vacancy.

Potential coaches can approach the school about a vacancy or athletics directors can seek out potential coaches. In K-State’s case it is likely that both happened.

“We will attract some of the nation’s top coaches, and I look forward to introducing the K-State Nation its next coach in the near future,” Taylor said in a press release.

After potential candidates are identified, they are vetted and interviewed just like any other high-level job search.

In some situations, coaching positions have to be posted for a certain amount of time before a coach can be hired. K-State is not in that situation due to the legal status of K-State Athletics as a separate, private entity from the public Kansas State University.

When an athletics director has their candidate of choice — in most cases — they will get the approval of their university president. There is no real indication about how hands-on K-State President Richard Myers will be, but I would expect him to at least have a say and ultimately veto powers.

Finally, the details such as salary, contract length, buyouts and other contractual obligations are hashed out between the potential coach, his agent and the university.

Almost every aspect of the process to this point can be accomplished out in the open, or in secrecy and with or without an actual vacancy to fill. The actual firing or retirement of the current head coach can be announced at any point, as well.

Once the contract is figured out and signed, the new coach can be introduced via press release and press conference. If there is no vacancy yet, a memorandum of understanding can be signed until such a time arises that the coaching vacancy occurs.

A memorandum of understanding is a fancy legal document that indicates that two or more parties (in this case coach and school) intend to follow a shared line of action. It basically just makes an agreement more official.

This can be a long, messy process or it can be quick and easy. That depends on the athletics director, how strong of a candidate pool there is, and even — as evidenced by Tennessee’s search last season — the will of the fan base.

The professionalism shown by Taylor to this point leads me to believe that this process will be mostly a secret from fans and the media and that it will be fairly quick, but either way it is certainly an exciting process to keep an eye on.

Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, an alumnus from Olathe, Kansas. I graduated in spring 2022 with a Masters in Mass Communication, and I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. I covered K-State sports for the Collegian for four years.