Whatever role you’re recruiting for, you need to define what success looks like before you start. This is never more true than when your next hire could be the key to your team’s success next season, and yet, when it comes to Head Coach recruitment, success criteria often get lost, hijacked by emotion amidst a sea of names, experiences and character traits.

Head Coach Recruitment Myths

We’ve come across numerous myths from potential hires around what the criteria for a new Head Coach may be, a few of our favourites including:

  1. Results and winning are the only measure of success
  2. They’ve got to have experience in that league
  3. If they promise to get you promoted, they’ll get the job

Using any of these as the basis for a hire may seem like an obvious win, but in reality, it’s a shallow and short-sighted approach. If you want success, you have to think about what the key performance indicators (KPIs) are. Promotion might be the result, but it’s a purely binary outcome. You need to think about what will make someone a good fit for the role. What is right for your club’s performance strategic objectives?  How do you align these with a coach that can deliver those KPIs and culturally fit and strengthen your club’s environment?

Steve Cooper: A Successful Head Coach Hire

A great example of a successful head coach hire was Swansea City AFC’s appointment of Steve Cooper in 2019. With just two seasons under his belt in the Championship, this latest season was capped off with Steve leading his side in the Premier League play-off final against Brentford, having reached the play-offs at the first attempt last year too.

We presented Steve as the leading candidate for the coaching position at Swansea, despite not having any previous experience in the Championship. We identified him as the best person for the role because he fitted their criteria closer than anyone else: a proven track record of developing players, and a unique methodology when it comes to his coaching style and way of thinking.

Importantly, the success criteria for Steve’s role weren’t to get the team promoted. Instead, the KPIs were centred around youth minutes, using and developing academy players, returning to a style of play, and being able to operate on a budget knowing key players were going to be sold.

When we met Steve we felt straightaway he was the one.

Steve’s impact clearly had an effect on others in football. Young players such as Rhian Brewster and Conor Hourihane have publicly credited the Head Coach as their reason for joining the Welsh side. Upon his appointment, Leon Britton is quoted to have said “when we met Steve we felt straightaway he was the one”, and former Swansea Chairman Trevor Birch stated that Steve “is hugely organised, he has great empathy with people and he is very much a collaborative manager – there’s no real hierarchy.”

Evidence-based Approach

Which is why an evidence-based approach can have such an impact when recruiting for any role in sport, as it allows you to identify a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and set KPIs that are achievable.

In essence, it’s not about profile or experience in the league; it’s about being able to unpick the character and capabilities you believe is important to the identity of your club. Once you have these criteria in place, and select the candidate you feel best fits the role, you can then build the support team around your main hire, to ensure long-term success.

Steve Cooper has repositioned his club to be successful in the future. And although his side didn’t gain that Premier League promotion this season, he’s achieved what he was actually tasked with, and in our eyes… that’s winning.