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Examining the role of the search firm in KU's quest to find its new athletic director

Just inside the front doors of Allen Fieldhouse on the University of Kansas campus. The Booth Family Hall of Athletics is home to KU's national championship trophies, the KU Athletics Hall of Fame and other exhibits.

Just inside the front doors of Allen Fieldhouse on the University of Kansas campus. The Booth Family Hall of Athletics is home to KU's national championship trophies, the KU Athletics Hall of Fame and other exhibits. by Sara Shepherd

National search firm TurnkeyZRG, one of the powerhouses in assisting and facilitating the hiring process in college athletics, has officially listed the open athletic director position at the University of Kansas on its website.

Turnkey has been involved with the search since the early stages of KU’s quest to find a replacement for Jeff Long, but the actual job listing has only been on the site for a handful of days.

The listing, which provides background, a mission statement and the core values held by KU, indicates in bold print that interested applicants should contact TurnkeyZRG directly.

“Contacting the University of Kansas will delay your consideration,” the listing reads.

If that does not provide a clear indication of the role that the search firm has played and will continue to play in this hire, perhaps learning more about the company will.

Specializing in the areas of college athletics, sports and entertainment and media and tech, TurnkeyZRG aims to use analytics, decades of real-world experience and a hands-on approach to deliver results.

Because of its long client list and aggressive approach to rounding up candidates that fit the culture of the school searching for a new coach or administrator, the company indicates that it typically needs less than four weeks to deliver a slate of quality candidates and that same amount of time to complete the hire.

KU Chancellor Douglas Girod — who is leading the search for Long’s replacement, with the help of a panel of alumni advisors Linda Ellis Sims, Ray Evans, John Ballard and Wayne Simien — indicated on March 10 that he hoped to hire KU’s next AD “within the next few weeks.”

That makes next week noteworthy and the next 10-14 days potentially very important, as the search committee and Turnkey continue to plow through the heavy lifting of identifying the best candidates for Kansas.


Official Job Listing for KU AD on TurnkeyZRG website


According to Turnkey’s website, the trio of Chad Chatlos, Gene DiFilippo and Katy Young Staudt oversees Turnkey’s intercollegiate executive and coaching searches.

Chatlos has 15 years of experience in sports marketing and event management and has helped lead searches in all of the major professional sports leagues as well as college athletics.

DeFilippo has 20 years of AD experience at Boston College and Villanova and, prior to that, spent another 20 as a college athletics administrator. According to his bio, he has placed ADs at Alabama, Georgia Tech, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, the University of Southern California (USC) and other Division I institutions.

Young Staudt, who is listed as one of the company’s four vice presidents, has 16 years of experience in these types of searches, having supported the hiring process for more than 150 Division I head coaches, athletic directors and administrators.

The company touts itself as being uniquely qualified to lead a successful search because of the team’s hands-on experience in college athletics.

They also pride themselves on “managing a quiet search and guiding search committees toward the best results.”

Their role in the process includes facilitating meetings, introducing qualified candidates to the right people and vetting those candidates, as well. And their connections and constant work in this area help expedite the time it takes for universities to conduct these types of searches.

Universities that have used Turnkey for athletic director hires often also have employed the firm’s services in coaching searches, as well.

Because KU will wait for its new AD to evaluate and determine the direction of the football program, it’s not yet known how a full-time replacement for Les Miles will be found. But if there’s a national search that takes place, before, during or after the 2021 season, it’s likely that Turnkey will be involved in some manner because of its familiarity both with KU’s athletic department and the school’s new AD, whoever he or she may wind up being.

“We’ve placed head coaches across all sports,” the company boasts on its website. “Our extensive and current work in this space allows us to start your search “on second base.” We know how to get to the right people and get to them quickly.”

As for the specifics of the KU search, the listing on Turnkey’s website notes that KU is looking for “an energetic leader” to lead KU’s athletic department into the future.

Specific traits that are important include: Visionary and Inspirational Leadership; Consensus building and collaborator skills; Strong Business, Revenue Generation and Fundraising Acumen; and Credibility and Passion for the Student-Athlete and Academic/Athletic Excellence.

While the rest of the listing, including the responsibilities of the job section, are pretty standard and emphasize the importance of fiscal responsibility, strategic skills and both short- and long-term strategic planning in running the department and fundraising, there’s a section that is labeled “Additional Qualities & Desired Traits” that includes a couple of notable bullet points.

First, KU is seeking someone with the “highest levels of personal and professional integrity and trustworthiness.

Second, the job posting indicates that an “appreciation of the University of Kansas culture and the ability to navigate the balance between athletics and the core missions of the uni-versity” is also important.

Finally, there’s also a line that reads, “Proven experience and a strong personal commitment to advancing all aspects of di-versity, equity and inclusion; understanding of gender equity in athletics and Title IX compliance.”

As expected, things have remained pretty tight-lipped and there have been very few, if any, leaks about the candidates involved or the search itself.

While Turnkey is in place to do a lot of the legwork and heavy lifting associated with the process of identifying the top candidates for KU, it seems as if the input from the four-person alumni panel will play a significant role in the final decision, which makes this search different from the one KU conducted a few years ago that led to hiring Long.


Brett McCabe

Interesting stuff. Thanks Matt.

Because I’m antsy about this situation, I was hoping for a relatively quick process. But given the ineptitude of Zenger and the egomaniacal blindness of Long and the creepy behavior of Miles, slow and steady probably wins the race.

We desperately need to get these two hires right.

1 year, 6 months ago


Tony Bandle

Brett, I totally agree. I too thought that we need to act fast but, as you pointed out,
KU has swung and missed three times. God help me, I would kill for a .500 football team and an AD who is honest and can do a decent job. Is that so much to ask for?

1 year, 6 months ago


Robert Brock

Just find someone who is reasonably competent.

1 year, 6 months ago


Edward Daub

Question - Why does KU need to hire a "search firm"?

Answer - We can blame "S.F." if the next A.D. is another mistake.

Girod (and Committee) needs to hire Mike Harrity ASAP!

We need a Jayhawk running Jayhawk business.

1 year, 6 months ago


Dirk Medema

While there is some transfer of liability when hiring an outside firm for anything, the real reason you hire professionals for a job is because you recognize the significance of the job and your own limitations. The athletic department is worth how many millions annually? Probably 5 - 10x more than the annual budget when considering the full impact. We badly need to get this right.

1 year, 6 months ago


Ray Winger

Energetic Head Football Coach: Like, 'Pepper Rogers?'

1 year, 6 months ago


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