If you’re curious about the likely direction and possible outcome of the Pac-12’s commissioner search, the university presidents dropped a major clue late last week.
Clearly, they aren’t messing around.
An hour before dawn on Friday, the conference revealed that TurnkeyZRG will assist with the process.
From the pool of executive placement firms the presidents could have chosen to handle outreach, background checks and initial vetting, Turnkey was, by far, the best equipped to help get this right.
And the Pac-12 must get this right.
“They are the most capable of conducting a thorough, quick search,’’ said an industry source familiar with the Pac-12’s challenges.
Turnkey is one of the top names in the college sports search space, having assisted Michigan, Alabama and USC on their athletic director searches over the years.
It has done football and basketball coaching searches.
It has worked with teams from all the top domestic pro leagues.
It has worked with media, technology and entertainment companies.
But the search with greatest relevance to the Pac-12’s endeavor came just a few months ago, when Turnkey helped the ACC presidents with their commissioner search.
That process was a resounding success, as the ACC selected Northwestern’s Jim Phillips, one of the top athletic directors in the country.
“Turnkey just delivered arguably the most highly regarded athletics administrator in college sports for the ACC,’’ another industry source said.
“(The Pac-12 presidents) recognize the importance of this moment for the league, and they want the best candidates. They’re not going to be influenced by politics or conference nepotism. It’s encouraging.”
The selection of Turnkey over the likes of Parker, WittKieffer, CSA and DHR makes sense on three levels:
No high-profile search is entirely free of leaks, but Turnkey has a well-established reputation for secrecy.
That’s suboptimal for fans and the media — including the Hotline! — but it’s essential to the integrity of the process. If preferred candidates are worried their names might leak, they won’t bother taking the first step.
Turnkey’s work on AD searches at Minnesota (Mark Coyle), Alabama (Greg Byrne) and USC (Mike Bohn) was done in the shadows.
And the ACC search was as airtight as the conference, and Phillips himself, could have hoped.
Turnkey spent months identifying and vetting candidates for the ACC. That legwork provides rocket fuel for the Pac-12 process.
“The work with ACC will translate,” a source said. “They don’t have to be the exact same people, but Turnkey can rely on some of the work they’ve already done.”
The Pac-12 presidents want a commissioner hired before Scott steps down at the end of June, to ease the transition.
With Turnkey’s running start, the source said, the search should take 60 to 75 days.
In other words: The end of April, at the latest.
In its current form, TurnkeyZRG is a combination of executive placement firms that possesses as many contacts as any search outfit in collegiate athletics.
As we see it, there will be four key players on Turnkey’s side:
— Gene DeFilippo, the former Boston College athletic director who fronted Turnkey’s work on searches with Minnesota, USC, Alabama, Michigan and Nebraska, among others.
— Chad Chatlos, who joined Turnkey recently from Ventura Partners, where he assisted Washington State on the search that landed football coach Nick Rolovich and Utah on the search that found athletic director Mark Harlan.
(Washington State president Kirk Schulz is on the Pac-12’s executive committee, which will lead the process.)
— Katy Young Staudt, one of the few female senior executives in the male-dominated world of college sports searches.
Staudt and Chatlos worked together at Ventura before joining Turnkey and, notably, her background includes time at WittKieffer, which is well regarded in higher-education circles.
(WittKieffer recently handled the Cal and UCLA athletic director searches.)
— Finally, there’s Len Perna, the Turnkey CEO, who has handled searches in all the major professional leagues for decades.
“Len has a Rolodex in the pro space that will allow him to gauge the interest level of leaders there,” another industry source said. “They will move quickly.”
As many readers know, the Hotline never hesitates to criticize Pac-12 leadership when we spot a misstep (and there have been a lot of missteps over the years).
But you won’t find a ounce of criticism here.
The presidents nailed this:
Because of its work with the ACC, the scope of its contacts and the insight of its senior executives, Turnkey was the right call.
Does that guarantee the search will land with the best candidate, that the Pac-12 will find its version of Phillips?
No firm is flawless and, don’t forget, the final decision rests with the presidents.
If they opt for the wrong model, if they lose sight of what’s important — hint: football is important; so, too, is football; oh, and also FOOTBALL — then the outcome could be suboptimal.
But the chances of the search getting sideways are greatly reduced with Turnkey involved.
Coming next: What should the conference look for in its next commissioner? We asked a former Pac-12 athletic director, and he was brutally honest: “Somebody who gets their ego out of the way.”