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Key Considerations in Making the Right Head Coach Hire

According to Sportsology Group research, the average tenure of a Premier League head coach is now just 1 year and 4 months. When measured against the same job security of coaches in the NFL, NBA, MLS and MLB, the Premier League is bottom of the pile by some distance – MLS coaches get an average of four months longer in post, while an NFL coach can expect to get 2 years and 3 months.

Coaching or managing in the Premier League is a volatile occupation, never more so than during the current 2022-23 season, which has seen a new record set for the number of coaches who have left their posts. Fourteen head coaches / managers have been replaced – some clubs have fired two coaches in the same season.

But despite the increasing regularity of change, the two longest-serving Premier League managers – Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) and Pep Guardiola (Manchester City) – just happen to be the most successful.

Since arriving at Liverpool in Oct 2015, Klopp has overseen success in the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, EFL Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, while Guardiola went into this season having won nine major trophies since taking charge in July 2016. With a month of the 2022-23 season to play, City were still on course to win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League – the Treble – in the same season.

So getting a head coach hire right is crucial. No owner or CEO wants to change a coach – stability and longevity are often key factors in success, so how does a club make the right hire and give itself the best chance of success and avoid the risk of change and instability?

It is also an expensive business to hire and fire a coach during their contract. Over the past five years, ESPN reported that NFL teams have spent over $800 million on fired coaches and front office executives.

Managerial and coaching dismissals in the Premier League have seen some clubs in recent seasons spend in excess of £15 million on compensation to fired coaches and their staff.

When hiring a coach, a club should first try and understand what they are looking for – identify what is important to their specific club, culture and vision. Do you know your non-negotiables?

Sportsology Group’s Head Coach Analysis & Search offers an initial data-driven assessment of prospective coaches in the global market, benchmarked against key criteria such as whether they have over-performed based on wage bill budget. But this is just 50% of the story, the other 50% is capturing the all important qualitative market intelligence on the candidates.

Using our extensive network across sports in tandem with comprehensive research, we collate intelligence on each shortlisted candidate, which includes factors such as contract and remuneration, character and working style, peer review, interaction with internal management and the media, key staff, language skills and highlighting key success and failure factors.

Our filtering methodology allows us to drill down a search from over two hundred potential candidates to the 3-5 names most suited to the head coach role at a club. We also evaluate their academy and youth focus, player development history and style of play.

It is a long list of important factors, but coaching is about more than getting the team to perform on the pitch. The right coach must also be able to communicate internally and externally and successfully deal with off-field issues.

The central element of a coach hire is to analyse the whole market and gather the data to understand key trends, but also to ensure that your club’s non negotiables are addressed.

For any owner, CEO or sporting director, the hiring of a coach is one of the biggest decisions they will make, so treat it with the importance it deserves.

Build a longlist and a shortlist of candidates, don’t be afraid to re-evaluate during the process and be evidence-led. The human element should not be overlooked, but trust the data.

There are fundamentals to the coach hiring process, but are clubs using the same rigor when recruiting a head coach as they do when scouting a player? A whole department is assigned the role of player evaluation, but who is responsible for tracking and hiring head coaches?

And is there a correlation between quick hires and short tenure? Over the past 5 seasons, the average time to hire a Premier League head coach is 17 days – much shorter than the NFL (31 days), NBA (55), MLS (58) and MLB (50).

It is crucial to engage in a rigorous and prepared process when hiring a head coach. A more thorough, detailed process helps avoid the impact of constant change and also avoid the perception of it being a frantic search played out in the public domain.

Assess the impact of change before making it. Will it work and what will it do for the culture of the club?

Timing is also important. A study by our research group covering the past 10 years in the Premier League, showed that a head coach hired after 1st February only saved 52 per cent of teams from relegation, with 48 per cent being relegated despite hiring a new coach.

This season, Crystal Palace, Wolves and Aston Villa have pulled clear of relegation trouble by changing manager mid-season, but others including Southampton, Everton and Leeds United have seen little change in their prospects under a new head coach. Chelsea, meanwhile, are heading for their worst Premier League season this century after firing two head coaches.

Hiring a coach is a decision which sets the tone of a football club and can be the one, more than any other, which dictates the likelihood of success or failure. That’s why it needs time, expertise and planning to get it right.

Steven

By Steven Houston

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