AD Thomas would be wise to avoid a pair of hiring myths

As we reach the midway point of the Illini hearsay round robin, I am reminded of a particularly toxic and avoidable two-part myth that plagues most instances of selection in sports. As fans on message boards debate the candidates without end, two laws silently govern the discussion: Order correlates to success and peripheral traits (ties, pedigree, etc.) outweigh overall ability.

*Myth one: Order is absolute*

When Shaka Smart, Illinois’ No. 1 choice, said no to the school’s offer, he not only proved (laudably) that money isn’t No. 1 in his decision. He unwittingly sent the Illinois fan base into a tizzy. Such is the case with the status of selection in sports — be it hiring, drafting, signing. Smart was first on the list. Illinois didn’t land No. 1, therefore the fan base assumes Illinois will not receive the best value out of its hire.

Not so.

If the entirely subjective and mysterious ranking that goes on behind the closed doors of athletic directors’ and general managers’ offices were absolute and incorruptible, we’d be talking about how Michael Beasley hoisted the NBA MVP trophy last season or how Eric Gordon just signed a 13-year endorsement deal with Adidas worth a minimum of $185 million. Both were rated higher than Rose by both and coming out of high school.

And such a helter-skelter revisit of the class of 2007 is the rule, not the exception. The neat order that athletes fall into in drafts and the rankings and that coaches fall into when a job opens is far from a perfect correlation to success.

I had coffee with a friend while visiting Waco, Tex. this week, and in talking about Illinois’ vacancy the Columbia, Mo. native brought up a fitting anecdote about Missouri AD Mike Alden’s 1999 hiring process.

The way the story goes, Alden had two appointments with candidates one day. The first was with Quin Snyder, a young star in the James Franco mold — a 1995 recipient of a law degree and MBA from his alma mater of Duke, McDonald’s All-America in high school and Academic All-America while starting at point guard in college. Alden was apparently so blown away with the then-Duke assistant that he hired him on the spot.

The second appointment that day? A man by the name of Bill Self.

Smart may have been the most desirable candidate for the job. But he also may have very well been the fourth in terms of overall value. Or second, or sixth. If he was the lead-pipe No. 1 for the job, we’d all be wise to invest in a Mike Thomas lottery ticket pool. Or at least put every No. 1 seed in the Final Four every time we fill out a bracket.

Fans may be distraught that the perceived No. 1 candidate will not be on campus come November, but history says the No. 1 is no more entitled to success than Anthony Grant, Chris Collins or John Groce. There are so many quality “candidates” in the discussion that there’s no telling who will produce the greatest result.

Indeed, Thad Matta was at Xavier and hirable when Illinois signed Bruce Weber from Southern Illinois. Then-AD Ron Guenther made his decision and the rest is history.

Law: Quality matters more than subjective relation to one’s peers.

*Myth two: ‘Bonus’ characteristics matter*

We hear constantly about how a pundit’s preferred candidate has an “in” with recruits, came from a great coaching tree or fills a specific need of a job. Here’s something to remember: Great basketball coaches help programs. Not coaches with great attributes.

I concede fully that this next Illini coach will need to be bigger than the murky aura that surrounds the Chicago recruiting scene. But the notion that the coach has to hit the ground running with every connection already in place is a myth.

Look no further than a recent ESPN Chicago interview in which AAU magnate Mike Irvin told Scott Powers that he has warmed to Chicago outsider Oliver Purnell despite an initial feeling of distance.

Hiring quintessential Hoosier John Wooden to coach at UCLA made no sense background-wise. One-time hot commodity Dan Monson, a native of Spokane, Wash., who jump-started Gonzaga’s program before leaving for what would be an unsatisfying tenure at Minnesota, has a disjointed Long Beach State campus on the map thanks to his handiwork, not his ties. How does Billy Donovan, a Long Island, N.Y., native and Providence College alumnus, thrive in Gainesville, Fla.? Or an inner-city Chicago product like Mike Krzyzewski explode at a private school in Durham, N.C.? Quality trumps qualities.

To use the NBA analogy again, if need-based selection was the solution to a team’s problems, the Thunder would have an injured Greg Oden on their hands instead of supernova Kevin Durant and the Pistons would have been gunning for a second championship behind Carmelo Anthony instead of Darko Milicic.

The two myths serve to tell one lesson: Hire a coach with the potential to be great no matter the circumstances, not because of a perceived pecking order or because he happened to be born in a particular corner of the country.

_Gordon is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GordonVoit._