Quality-of-Hire Quandary of 2009: What Went Wrong With Notre Dame and Charlie Weis?

Josh Letourneau Uncategorized

With last week’s announcement that Notre Dame will fill its recently vacated Head Coaching position with Brian Kelly of the University of Cincinatti, this begs the question: What ever went wrong with their selection of Charlie Weis?

From a Quality-of-Hire standpoint, Charlie Weis was perfect when he accepted the position of Head Coach five years ago.  His accomplishments included three Superbowl Championships as Offensive Coordinator of the New England Patriots.  Further, his success at the professional level followed success at both the high school and collegiate levels as well.  Charlie came in a winner, flashing his rings at his new-hire press conference, shortly thereafter proclaiming to his team that for each and every game, they would enjoy a “decided schematic advantage.”  Translation: Even Charlie was drunk on Charlie Kool-Aid!  (Oh, and I’d be remiss to not mention the ultimate cherry on top: Weis was a Notre Dame alumnus.)

It started out wonderfully – in his first season as ND’s Head Coach in 2005, ND attended its first Bowl Game (which it lost), and Weis was named “Coach of the Year.”  In addition, he was offered a 10-year contract extension worth an estimated $30 to $40 million.  Despite the bowl game loss, ND was ranked #2 going into the 2006 season.  (As an aside, you might find it interesting, however, that Weis didn’t recruit the players that stepped on the field during his inaugural 2005 season; rather, Tyrone Willingham did, but that’s a story for another day.)

However, in 2006, the wheels started coming off.  By 2009, they were off completely.  Weis finished a dismal 35-27 despite all the 5-star recruits, all the donors and booster monies, all the football facilities, the prestige of “the program”, etc.  Sure, ND won its first bowl game in 9 appearances versus a highly inferior University of Hawaii team last year, but that didn’t get Weis off the hot seat.

So, what happened?  Weis came in a bonafide 5-star Quality-of-Hire employee with an impeccable track record, so why the mediocre results?  If it is, in fact, true that “the best predictor of future performance is past performance”, then wouldn’t Weis have been successful?

So, today, I’m on record questioning one of the most widely protected sacred cows in the talent acquisition world.  I don’t believe that past performance is always the best predictor of future performance, and there is no number of PhD dissertations or theses that can wholeheartedly prove this myth.  Hypothesize they may, but prove, they cannot.  And if you’re already in the camp that agrees, you likely know that testing and assessment vendors have a wealth of their own commissioned research scurrying to prove otherwise.  However, the tides may be shifting as Jeremy points out in his blog, “When Good HR Metrics Go Bad.”  He cites a study published in Organization Science by 3 ‘rogue’ PhDs’ suggesting that predicting performance based on experience is more akin to a “ricochet shot” than anything else.

And, since it’s the end of the year, let’s take this a step further: I am also on record that this sacred cow of “past performance as the best predictor of future performance” is a cop-out.  Why?  Because it allows us to say that a candidate isn’t right because they don’t have a track record of success doing exactly what we need done.  Yep, it takes us off the hook for having to put our neck out and vouch for a candidate despite the fact that we tacitly and instinctively believe the candidate would be successful.

Today, take pride in the fact that you’re a finely honed tacit and instinctive machine; take pride that you’re not afraid to make a match when “the match” might not be immediately apparent to the ‘naked eye’ (i.e. the non-recruiter).  Oh, and by the way, don’t be afraid to keep your own track record on-hand so that when a Hiring Manager asks you where you’re coming from, you can inform them that you have a substantial history of success making matches where they might not immediately be apparent (wink, wink).