According to Marist athletic director Tim Murray, the process he uses to hire coaches is “unique.”
It’s a step-by-step process that takes months to finalize, which is why a search committee is necessary to help determine who gets hired. The committee consists of his administrative staff: associate vice president for academic affairs John Ritschdorff and at least one of three associate directors and one of three assistant athletic directors. At times he’ll ask a medical or training staff member to assist him. It’s never exactly the same people every time a coach is needed, which helps him get different perspectives on candidates.
Swim and dive team coach Anthony Randall still remembers who he met when he came to campus because he has it written down in his calendar.
“I met with Elizabeth Donohue, our strength conditioning coach [Aaron] Suma, Harrison Baker, Darren [McCormack], and Zach [Harkenrider] gave me a tour,” said Randall.
The first step of the process is advertising the head coaching opening.
“We do whatever we can to get as broad and full a pool of candidates that we possibly can, whether that’s through advertising, and I spend a lot of time on the phone talking to other people,” said Murray.
When Murray talks about a pool of candidates, he means coaches from different backgrounds, including those who don’t have any head coaching experience. For example, women’s soccer head coach Brittany Kolmel was only two years removed from playing professionally in the National Women’s Soccer League before she was hired in 2020. And before Randall got the head coaching job here last summer, he served as an assistant coach for five years at Fresno State before being promoted to associate head coach in 2019.
Then there’s women’s volleyball coach Sean Byron, who has gone through several head coaching processes from his stints at Springfield College, East Stroudsburg University, and Rutgers University before coming to Marist in 2018.
“Some [programs] were more intense where they bring coaches in and have them run a practice to see your coaching style instead of just sitting in a classroom and talking about it,” said Byron. “There was one place where the guy just called and said, ‘Hey, do you want this job?’ And I said sure, and that was it.”
One thing Murray knows they can improve on is diversity, and he takes race and gender very seriously when it comes to hiring a new candidate.
Once all the applications are in, Murray takes on the responsibility of screening the applicants, conducting background checks, looking over resumes, and holding an initial phone call interview.
In that interview, Murray makes it clear what the expectations are in that role – be in position to win the league in at least three to four years. He also informs candidates that the contract is on a year-to-year basis, not including men’s and women’s basketball. He also tells them what the college has in terms of resources, primarily in funding.
“I’m very upfront when I talk with coaches in terms of what we have to offer, and we have a lot to offer,” said Murray.
Above everything, the three qualities Murray looks for when hiring a new head coach are as follows: “You’ve got to go out and recruit, they’re effective in communication, and they have to be an effective coach, all in that order,” said Murray. “If you can’t communicate with athletes or recruits and motivate them and work with them, you’re not going to be effective.”
Once Murray and the committee narrow it down to four or five candidates, he asks them to spend a day on campus for a tour, lunch with current coaches, and interactions with athletes and asking for player feedback afterwards. Murray strongly believes in in-person interactions with those in the athletics department to make their one-day experience as authentic as possible, as it gives candidates a sense of what the environment is like.
Unfortunately for Kolmel and Randall, they didn’t have the luxury of meeting with players because they were hired during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which also made their process different from what it normally is.
“Because of the pandemic and because of COVID, the campus was kind of closed, so it was a unique process where a lot of things were going on virtually,” said Kolmel. “When I was hired, I called every player on the roster to get to know them and made sure that they had the comfort of knowing that a coach was in place and was really excited about the future.”
For certain head coaching openings like the one for men’s basketball’s John Dunne, Murray provided updates to former Marist president Dennis Murray because the basketball coaching position is a much “higher-profile position” than the olympic sports teams– swimming and diving, volleyball, track and field, and rowing. This means that the only time Marist presidents are involved is when a head coach for basketball, football, soccer, and lacrosse is needed because they’re much bigger sports.
Once Murray and the committee make a decision on who will become the head coach, Murray calls that candidate and tells them they got the job, eventually signing their contract.
So what makes coaching at Marist so appealing to candidates?
The one thing Byron, Randall, and Kolmel all said was that the people here were very welcoming and that Marist is such a tight-knit community. Players have strong relationships with one another, and coaches and administrators know each other by name.
It’s also Murray’s emphasis on player-coach relationships that appeals to candidates, especially because it’s he and his staff who are in charge of the financial aspects of the team like budget preparation, travel arrangements, and other “distractions.”. It’s less for coaches to worry about because he truly wants them to focus their attention on their relationship by ensuring they’re successful in classes and that their mental health is right.
Murray doesn’t see any flaws about his process because he believes he’s “hired some pretty effective coaches” during his tenure here. He won’t be changing the process for as long as he’s here.
Overall, Murray’s head-coaching hiring process is straightforward. He knows what he wants when looking for a new coach. And as much as the head coach is responsible for the success of the team, Murray is responsible for the success of the entire athletic program because everything starts with him.
Edited by Andrew Hard and Connor Kurpat
Image from Marist Athletics