Josh McDaniels rejection of a head-coaching job shows why knowing your candidate inside out is critical to courting your new leader
By Darren Raycroft
Courting a new leader for your organization can be a lot like the search for a new head coach.
A great example of what to do – and what NOT to do – is the recent case of Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator of this year’s Superbowl runner-up, the New England Patriots.
The Indianapolis Colts were on a quest for a new head coach and McDaniels was their front-runner. All signs pointed to McDaniels signing as a certainty. He had verbally accepted the role with the Colts, his agent publicly said he was coming to the Colts and a press conference was scheduled for the Colts to announce McDaniel as their new top gun.
But less than 24 hours before the news Colts scheduled news conference, McDaniels made the decision to stay in New England. Let’s look at why McDaniels decided to stay and the lessons we can learn from it when searching for a senior new leader.
Lesson 1: Know & Address Your Candidate’s Personal Situation
A high performing executive with a young family will likely consider the ramifications for their family before making a move to a new organization and city.
Josh McDaniels has four children, ages 3-12. Moving to a new city would mean each child would have to adapt to going to brand new schools, new social networks etc. Sources say the Colts knew McDaniels was very concerned about this throughout the recruiting process. It was ultimately a key factor in his decision to stay in New England.
You must address your candidate’s personal drivers head on. In this case, take the candidate (and their family) out on a tour of top-notch schools in the area to showcase the community. Try to relieve any anxiety that might exist with the relocation. Set the candidate up for family success, which is the bedrock of professional success.
Lesson 2: Go the Extra Mile
ESPN reported McDaniels “had been vacillating on this decision throughout the interview process.” When a potential leader shows doubt or uncertainty, if you really want them, you need to go the extra mile.
For example, the Colts could have been making their case to McDaniels right up to and after the Superbowl. They could have flown in to spend time with McDaniels when they knew he was going through his exit interview with the Patriots – an emotional process. Be there for him, show him they care, take him to dinner, and do everything in their means to show how much they wanted him.
Psychologically, that effort would surely impact McDaniels and anyone else in this situation. To see that an organization is literally travelling hundreds of miles up to the last minute to woo you would influence a person’s decision.
Lesson 3: It’s Not Just About Being the Boss
McDaniels has been a head coach before. He was inches away from being a head coach again. But in the end, as one source said, “he’s always just insisted that everything be right, or he wasn’t going to leave.”
Like football teams, organizations often assume every senior leader is vying for the top job one day. But that’s not the entire equation, as McDaniels’ story clearly illustrates. Someone who is VP of Sales, for example, and is recruited to be a CEO, will weigh all kinds of variables before making a decision. Am I going to be set up to be successful? Is the company the right culture fit? Is the team I will be part of the right one for me? Can I make an impact? Is it right for my family? What happens if I am not successful?
Recognize that when an executive is comfortable and happy where they are, the top job elsewhere would need to be ‘just right’ for them to make the move.
Lesson 4: It Ain’t Over, Till it’s Over
Baseball icon Yogi Berra coined this famous phrase when the team he was coaching in the 1970s was behind in the race to finish first. The Colts found out how true this expression is and there’s an important lesson for all companies to learn from it.
McDaniels had not yet signed a contract, but the Colts went ahead with planning a news conference, ostensibly to introduce him as their new head coach. They tweeted about the conference, announcing the time it would be held.
This is a classic example of an organization letting their own timelines drive a process, and trying to write their own narrative without the candidate being a co-author of the story. The results were not only the embarrassment of having to last minute cancel the news conference when McDaniels opted to stay with the Patriots, but also potentially harms the new coach they hired, Frank Reich, who may potentially feel and be viewed as the “second choice.”
No matter how great everything seems to be going with your search for your next leader, don’t set yourself up to get burned the way the Colts did. In short, hold off on the touchdown celebration while you’re still on the one-yard line!
About the Author
Darren Raycroft is an Executive Search Partner with 12+ years of executive search and strategic consulting experience. His work for The Bedford Consulting Group focuses on clients in the Life Sciences, Manufacturing/Distribution, Private Equity and Consumer Products verticals in Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan.