Korn Ferry Tapped by Vanderbilt to Find New Athletic Director

October 10, 2018 – Universities continue to turn to executive search firms to find new athletic directors. With the announcement that Vanderbilt University’s current AD, David Williams, plans to retire in May, the school recently turned to Korn Ferry to find his replacement. Jed Hughes, who leads Korn Ferry’s sports practice, is heading the assignment alongside senior associate Kyle Bowlsby.

“A core value of this great university is a steadfast commitment to listening to, and learning from, a great diversity of perspectives to help drive us forward,” said Nicholas S. Zeppos, chancellor at Vanderbilt. “To that end, today and over the next several weeks I will undertake a variety of initiatives designed to gather input and spark dialogue about Vanderbilt athletics and what is needed to continue our progress.”

The university seeks a proven leader committed to build upon its foundation of creating an outstanding student-athlete experience grounded in rigorous academics and highly competitive athletics, said the school.

Among other efforts, Vanderbilt developed a new website designed to collect feedback from its community on what it wants in the new AD. “We are looking for someone to build on David’s legacy — someone who understands the value of learning and discovery and how that drives our mission of preparing student-athletes for success on and off the field,” Mr. Zeppos said. “Key to our choosing Korn Ferry to assist with our search is the firm’s demonstrated ability to recruit a pool of candidates with diverse experiences and backgrounds.”

The Search

Mr. Zeppos is embarking on a listening tour with coaches, students, alumni, faculty and staff, and the larger fan base. He is also scheduling a series of small-group meetings around the country with former players, longtime supporters of Vanderbilt athletics and other alumni leaders. All information gathered will inform the search process and provide information for the new athletics director.

Mr. Hughes, of Korn Ferry, is renowned for identifying, assessing and developing leaders for sports organizations. His relationships within sports and intercollegiate athletics are extensive, having spent 20 years coaching in professional and intercollegiate football and working for five Hall of Fame coaches. Jason Belzer of Forbes has called Mr. Hughes the most valuable connector of the sports industry. Mr. Bowlsby is also experienced in managing high-profile executive transitions at the collegiate level, joining Korn Ferry’s global sports practice in 2015.

Sports and Entertainment Expansion Elevating Search Business

Over the last quarter century, the sports sector has grown into a formidable global industry. Historically, professional sports teams operated on a relatively modest level, with league officials, team owners, managers, and coaches surrounding themselves with people they knew and trusted from their own small worlds. College sports teams relied on in-house search committees and word-of-mouth recommendations. Much of that has forever changed.

Teams with tremendous followings like the Dallas Cowboys, Real Madrid and Manchester United have seen their valuations soar into the billions of dollars. That’s attracted search firms – big time. Seasoned recruiters now provide strategic planning advice, in addition to talent identification services, with the capability of applying their findings to speed along the process in the hunt for talent. Here’s some further reading from Hunt Scanlon Media.

Recently, Korn Ferry placed Carla Williams as the director of athletics at the University of Virginia. She becomes the first female African-American athletic director at a Power Five conference school and is the fifth active female AD at that level.

AD Searches

Athletic directors are playing an increasingly vital role at colleges and universities across the country. With the expansion of athletic departments and, for the larger schools, the infusion of big dollars for sports, more schools have turned to search firms when such positions become open. Too much is at stake, they feel, to go it alone. What’s more, the AD job has come to demand greater business and management skills than the typical academic search.

AD searches are some of the most prolific assignments for recruitment firms in the sports sector. Here are some recent AD assignments from the Hunt Scanlon Media archives:

Eastman & Beaudine recently placed Michael Kelly as the new athletic director of the University of South Florida (USF). Mark Harlan stepped down from the post this spring. Mr. Kelly most recently served as COO for the College Football Playoff, where he directed the organization’s day-to-day operations and was instrumental in launching the playoff.

In June, Ventura Partners recruited Mark Harlan as the new director of athletics at the University of Utah. Chad Chatlos, sports practice leader at Ventura Partners, led the search. Mr. Harlan previously served in the same role at the University of South Florida.

Turnkey Sports and Entertainment has placed Damin Evans as the new AD of the University of Maryland. Founder and CEO Len Perna, as well as managing director Gene DeFilippo, formerly Villanova’s athletic director, led the assignment. The previous AD, Kevin Anderson, took a six-month sabbatical and then resigned in April.

Korn Ferry recently assisted in the recruitment of Vince Tyra as the new VP for intercollegiate athletics and athletics director for the University of Louisville. The former business executive becomes just the third athletics director for the Cardinals in the last 38 years. The previous AD, Tom Jurich, was fired in the wake of an FBI investigation into recruits being secretly paid to …

Witt/Kieffer recruited Victoria M. Chun as the new director of athletics of Yale University. Witt/Kieffer’s sports leadership practice recruits leaders for colleges and universities, sports foundations, alumni associations, governing bodies and sports federations, professional leagues and teams, and other non-profit charitable organizations.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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