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Lessons from the NBA

The recently completed 2016/17 NBA season was the first to pass without a single head coach being fired since 1970/71. Given that the league saw 18 in-season sackings between 2012 and 2016, the current stability of NBA coaching jobs is unprecedented in the modern era. It remains to be seen whether 2016/17 will stand as an outlier, but the recent stalling of the NBA’s coaching carousel is an interesting phenomenon.

As of the end of the 2016/17 season, the median NBA coach had been in his job for 2.1 years, compared to just 11 months in England, Germany and Spain’s top football divisions. While the European leagues have the added threat of relegation, the longevity of many NBA coaches in similarly pressurised environments could be interpreted as a sign that franchises have improved processes regarding the recruitment and performance measurement of coaches.

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In football it can be easy to fall into the trap of expending a huge amount of effort ensuring that we get our player transfers right, only to fall short of the same standards when it comes to managerial appointments. Often we see clubs assemble expensive playing squads only to hire a manager who is a poor fit from a technical and philosophical perspective. If we don’t conduct the appropriate levels of due diligence when hiring a manager, then we are setting ourselves up for failure and a cycle of instability.

Southampton are arguably the best example of a football club that uses extensive due diligence to ensure continuity in its managerial appointments. Despite having managers poached by other clubs, Southampton have maintained a clear idea of the type of manager that fits their overall strategy and have been able to identify suitable candidates in advance by measuring their performance against relevant KPIs.

Asking even the simplest of questions can give us a better chance of finding the right candidates and avoiding purely reactive appointments. If we want to promote players from our academy, then we need to assess a coach’s track record in developing young talent. If we are committed to a particular type of football, then we need a manager who has had success with a similar style. Every piece of information we can gather, no matter how big or small, serves to validate our decisions and improve our chances of sustainable success.

Coaching stability such as that currently being enjoyed in the NBA is extremely rare, but we don’t necessarily have to keep the same manager in place to retain a level continuity. Sometimes poor results or the elective departure of a coach obligate change, but that shouldn’t stop us from sticking to our principles and using a comprehensive due diligence process to identify the managers most likely to deliver on our core objectives.

About Chris Mann

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