In looking for a new football coach last winter, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SDSM&T) Athletic Director Dick Kaiser wanted a transparent hiring process that would also drum up some positive attention. So after whittling his list of candidates to four, he decided to place them in front of the media.
As part of a day-and-a-half interview, each finalist was asked to participate in a press conference with local reporters. The media event required candidates to prepare a short presentation then field questions from Rapid City-area reporters in a session that lasted about 45 minutes.
Along with giving Kaiser a great tool for evaluating each candidate's ability to handle the media spotlight, the process brought some nice coverage to the Hardrocker football program, which along with the rest of the athletic program, is in the process of transitioning into NCAA Division II from NAIA Division II. "We were also coming off of a 1-10 season, and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to fire up our fan base," Kaiser says.
For their presentations, Kaiser asked each coach to address four basic questions: Why he was interested in the position, how his background had prepared him, his experience in recruiting high-quality student-athletes facing high academic demands, and what he brings to the job that makes him special. "The prepared portion allowed each candidate to get comfortable before questions from reporters started coming their way," says Kaiser.
During the Q&A with reporters, the coaches fielded questions on topics ranging from offensive and defensive preferences to coaching philosophies. Then, they were made available for one-on-one meetings with media members. Along with the event being reported on by local media, video from the press conference was posted on the SDSM&T athletics Web site and YouTube.
"The media loved the format and so did our boosters and community," Kaiser says. "People were talking to me on the street saying, 'I saw the interviews on the Internet and I really liked this candidate or that candidate.'"
SDSM&T eventually named Stacy Collins as its new coach, and Kaiser says Collins's press conference performance went a long way toward him being chosen. "When we made our decision, a big part of why we picked Stacy was that he had a great energy level throughout the entire process--including the press conference," says Kaiser. "His presentation was top rate and very professional."
Collins, who has made a number of stops during his 14 years in the coaching profession, says he'd never experienced a press conference tryout before, and took time to prepare himself. "I contemplated what type of message I wanted to convey as the next head football coach at the School of Mines," he says. "Then I wrote down what I wanted to say, created a presentation that I practiced in front of the camera on my iPad, and watched it four or five times to see how I could tweak my message and delivery.
"I also had a couple people watch it with me to offer their critiques," he adds. "They gave me some great suggestions on how to make it better."
Kaiser says other schools have taken notice of the unique process, and he's fielded a handful of phone calls from athletic directors curious about giving it a try. "My biggest advice is to not make the press conferences complicated," Kaiser says. "Give the coaches a couple of scripted questions to help break the ice, open it up to the media, and don't try to control the questions they ask. Once it's rolling, just sit back and watch the show.
"The process really generated some excitement for both our new coach and our team," Kaiser adds. "Hopefully that carries over into the fall."
To view SDSM&T Coach Stacy Collins's press conference interview, go to YouTube.com and search: "SD Mines Head Football Coaching Candidate Press Conference: Stacy Collins."