Examining the role of the search firm in KU’s quest to find its new athletic director

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Just inside the front doors of Allen Fieldhouse on the University of Kansas campus. The Booth Family Hall of Athletics is home to KU's national championship trophies, the KU Athletics Hall of Fame and other exhibits.

On national search firm TurnkeyZRG’s website, the listing for the University of Kansas’ open athletic director position has an instruction for applicants in bold type: “Contacting the University of Kansas will delay your consideration.”

In other words, applicants need to go through the search firm, not through KU.

That should make it clear that Turnkey will have a significant impact on who KU eventually hires to replace former AD Jeff Long. And since the job listing was posted on the site only a handful of days ago and the search process is likely to accelerate rapidly from here, it’s worth taking a closer look at Turnkey, one of the big names in college athletics executive searches.

Turnkey advertises that it typically can deliver a slate of candidates for a new coach or administrator in under four weeks, and that it takes a similar amount of time to complete the hire.

And because KU Chancellor Douglas Girod indicated on March 10 that he hoped to hire KU’s next AD “within the next few weeks,” that makes the next 10 to 14 days potentially very important.

The listing

In KU’s job listing on Turnkey’s website, you’ll see plenty of phrases that would show up on almost any job listing. The firm says KU is looking for “an energetic leader” with “Visionary & Inspirational Leadership,” “Consensus Builder & Collaborator” skills, “Strong Business, Revenue Generation & Fundraising Acumen” and “Credibility and Passion for the Student-Athlete & Academic/Athletic Excellence.”

But there are a few other criteria that seem more noteworthy and specific to KU’s situation:

• The firm says KU is seeking someone with the “highest levels of personal and professional integrity and trustworthiness.”

• One of the criteria is an “appreciation of the University of Kansas culture,” and it specifically includes “the ability to navigate the balance between athletics and the core missions of the university.”

• Another criterion is experience with diversity and equity issues. The firm singles out “understanding of gender equity in athletics and Title IX compliance.”

Who’s searching?

Turnkey’s website lists three people who oversee its college executive and coaching searches: Chad Chatlos, Gene DeFilippo and Katy Young Staudt. According to the site:

• Chatlos has 15 years of experience in sports marketing and event management and has helped lead searches in mulitple major professional sports leagues as well as college athletics.

• DeFilippo has 20 years of experience as an athletic director at Boston College and Villanova and 20 more years of experience in other administrative roles in college athletics. He has helped find ADs for Alabama, Georgia Tech, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee and the University of Southern California, among other Division I institutions.

• Young Staudt, who is listed as one of the company’s four vice presidents, has 16 years of experience in executive searches and has been involved in the hiring process of more than 150 Division I head coaches, athletic directors and administrators.

What’s Turnkey doing?

Turnkey’s role is part logistics and part vetting.

Like all search firms, the company has contacts with plenty of big names, and the idea is that the firm can contact prospective candidates and arrange meetings more quickly than the university could if it were working alone.

“We’ve placed head coaches across all sports,” the company boasts on its website. “Our extensive and current work in this space allows us to start your search ‘on second base.’ We know how to get to the right people and get to them quickly.”

As for the specifics of the search process — the candidates involved and the workings of the process itself — Turnkey has been tight-lipped. That’s expected from a search firm, and Turnkey even advertises on its site that its searches are “quiet.”

But while Turnkey will have a lot of influence over which candidates KU ultimately considers, there are plenty of KU stakeholders who will also play a significant role in the final decision. In particular, Girod has assembled a panel of alumni advisers for the search — Linda Ellis Sims, Ray Evans, John Ballard and Wayne Simien. Simien, a former Kansas basketball star, is a household name for Jayhawk fans. As for the others:

• Sims is a former sales executive with ExxonMobil, according to the KU School of Engineering’s website.

• Evans has worked in capital management and previously assisted with the search for former KU AD Sheahon Zenger, according to the KU Alumni Association’s website.

• Ballard is a principal with Property Specialists Inc. in Leawood, according to the KU Alumni Association’s website.

It’s also possible that the university could be working with Turnkey again in the near future. Because KU will wait for its new AD to evaluate and determine the direction of the football program, it’s not yet known how a full-time replacement for Les Miles will be found. But if there’s a national search, it’s likely that Turnkey will be involved in some manner because of its familiarity both with KU’s athletic department and the school’s new AD.


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