January 4, 2018 – Korn Ferry has been chosen by the Houston Texans to lead its search for a new general manager. The assignment comes in the wake of Rick Smith’s decision to take an extended leave of absence from the team to help care for his wife, who recently was diagnosed with breast cancer. Jed Hughes, a Korn Ferry vice chairman and global sports sector leader, is heading the search.
Korn Ferry is no stranger to the team. In 2013, the search firm assisted the Texans in the hiring of coach Bill O’Brien.
New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio and director of scouting Monti Ossenfort are on Houston’s radar as potential candidates, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
While Mr. Smith plans to return, he said it was up to team owner Bob McNair to decide if the team would hire a new general manager. Mr. Smith retains his role as executive vice president of football operations.
“If we hire a GM and have a guy to run the personnel, then we’ll do that,” said Mr. Smith. “So, again, it’s a fluid process, but I absolutely intend on coming back.”
Korn Ferry’s sports practice is led by Mr. Hughes, who is well known for identifying, assessing and developing leaders for sports organizations. His relationships in sports and intercollegiate athletics are extensive, having spent 20 years coaching in professional and intercollegiate football and working for five Hall of Fame coaches. He also led the development of psychological testing, competency development and structural behavioral interviewing for the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. Jason Belzer of Forbes has called Mr. Hughes the most valuable connector of the sports industry.
Korn Ferry’s other past work in the NFL includes placing Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, former New York Jets general manager John Idzik, Green Bay Packers team president Mark Murphy, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
Just recently, Korn Ferry recruited John Dorsey as the new general manager of the Cleveland Browns. Mr. Hughes also led that assignment.
The general manager role may be the toughest job in professional sports to fill. In the last decade, as the four major North American professional leagues — Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League — have seen revenues and profits soar, the role has become more complex, more challenging and exponentially more stressful, according to a report issued by the Korn Ferry Institute. Increased media attention, fueled by the 24-hour news cycle of cable television, the internet and social media, has put general managers under intense, and unprecedented, scrutiny.
Sports Recruiting Finds Its Own Field of Dreams
Sports teams, from the professional level on down to college athletic programs, all now require a strong professional talent base. It’s not surprising that dozens of search firms compete hard for every plum assignment that surfaces.
The GM post, once an unheralded backroom post handled in relative obscurity by former players, is now tracked and analyzed with such precision by fans and the sports media that job security has dropped precipitously. High turnover has heightened the work of recruiters.
“The general manager has to be smart, self-confident, both publicly and privately with owners, have an academic orientation, but also be telegenic,” said Billy Beane, the longtime general manager of the Oakland Athletics. “The individual has to be able to build an all-encompassing vision.”
But the general manager position is also evolving, and that’s adding complexity to the role. The influx into some sports of highly educated, versatile, data-driven young executives is reshaping the job in dramatic fashion, according to the Korn Ferry report. New general managers who emerge as winners, it said, will be those who are self-motivated, intellectually curious, have a non-stop work ethic, the ability to evaluate talent and a leadership style that can inspire individuals both inside and outside of their organization.
“In the past, the GM needed to have played the games, bloodied their knuckles and bloodied their nose,” said John Schuerholz, president and former general manager of the Atlanta Braves. “The GM job today is much more sophisticated. It involves player analysis, a statistical component and softer skills such as getting a feel for the players. It’s also essential that GMs have a lively intellect.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media