I’m a planner. At times, I probably plan to a fault. Early on in our marriage, I usually ruined our vacations because I was so fixated on staying on schedule. The schedule that I had created and had no one to answer to if we didn’t follow it. It would greatly frustrate my wife, Heather, who is more of an easy-going, rest-and-relax kind of vacationer. I have good intentions. I want us to see all the landmarks and experience as much of the culture and traditions of a new place as possible. But sometimes, I get so caught up in my schedule that we don’t relax and enjoy each other and our time together.
I think I’ve improved over time. Heather has helped with that. Heather and I are opposites in a lot of ways. I believe God put us together to balance each other out. I have no doubt he sent her to me to settle me down and force me to relax every now and then. I have told her before that the best compliment I can give her is she makes every aspect of my life better. The highs are higher and the lows aren’t quite as low because she is there with me.
When Gene Steinmeyer told me in December that he was 100% confident in his decision to retire, I began my “planning.” I knew we would get some quality applicants when the job was posted, but I also knew it was wise to start developing a list. I worked hand-in-hand with Lori Hopkins to form our list. Ultimately, after the job was posted, the list grew to 25 from well over 100 applicants. I then tiered the candidates based on their success, experiences, references and their “fit.”
I use the term fit a lot during coaching searches so I want to pause for a minute to discuss what “fit” means to me. I think every job has a certain fit. Our best programs at Northwest have had a strong flavor of four or five-year players. All of our teams have transfers, but it seems like the long-term players are what has been our best foundation. We also are committed to leading the MIAA in student-athlete success rates. So our coaches generally take fewer academically questionable students. With that being said, a coach who has won at a high level but did so almost exclusively with transfers may not be the best “fit” at Northwest. I also think a coach has to be comfortable in a town that is pretty small and tight-knit. Maryville has lot to offer but it’s not a place that’s big enough to get lost in. By that I, mean I never go into a restaurant or grocery store without seeing someone who knows me and wants to talk about the Bearcats. Our head coaches are very visible in the community and everywhere they go in town, they are assured to be recognized. It is part of what drew me to Northwest, but for some coaches it might not be what they want. So I almost always try to determine early in the process if a candidate is a fit for the job AND if the job is a fit for the candidate.
Ultimately, after we tiered the candidates we began the interview process. Lori and I conducted most of the initial interviews off-campus. Most successful coaches don’t want their interest to be public because it could jeopardize them with their current administration and team if things don’t work out. To maintain as much confidentiality as possible, we conducted neutral site interviews. Lori and I racked our brains to call references beyond what the candidates gave. We called administrators, coaching colleagues and in some cases players who had played for the candidates.
After a couple weeks, we focused on a single candidate. After visiting campus, that candidate accepted the position. We worked out details over the next three or four days. Finally, we made the announcement. Everything seemed to have worked according to “my plan.” As most of you know, 24 hours later the candidate backed out. I was reeling for a couple days because the plan, my plan, had unraveled.
Toward the end of day two, I decided that we weren’t going to settle. All my life, I’ve prided myself on one thing: I am a fighter. And when I get knocked down, I get back up. I met with Lori and we decided to reopen the search. I am thankful that Lori was there to be a resource during the process.
One of the candidates I had very strong interest in early on was willing to talk to us. After visiting our campus, Mark Kellogg and his wife, Trisha, fell in love with Northwest and Maryville. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he was the best candidate for the job. It didn’t go exactly as I had planned, but it happened like it was supposed to.
Which brings me to my final point. I believe there is a plan that is greater than my plan. It was drafted long ago from up above. And although we don’t always understand that plan in the midst of turmoil, it always works out exactly like it was supposed to. I am thankful for the master planner.