By Ryan McNeill
While reading through Michael Litos book “Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball” this winter something that stuck out was when he talked about a group called “Villa Seven Consortium.” What is this group and why should you care? Well, the basic premise behind this group is that it allows the athletic directors for mid-major schools like George Washington or VCU to meet with talented assistant coaches during a weekend long conference that has been given the label “Villa Seven Consortium.”
Sounds like another lame business related weekend for coaches, right? Nope!
This is the largest networking weekend of the year for assistant coaches and athletic directors because it allows Athletic Director’s to meet some of the brightest minds in college basketball and get a feel for whether an assistant would be a good match for their respective schools. Then, when an opening comes up because their coach is too successful and gets hired by a major they already have a handful of coaches to call for interviews. This cuts out the need for athletics directors to rely on word of mouth or by hiring search firms as they have already met a handful of possible replacements.
Litos explained the history and evolution of the conference in his book when he wrote:
Jim Larranaga’s career path – successful and respected assistant coach to head coach at a mid-major university – is almost the “market approved” path these days in the coaching profession. The list of current coaches that ok such a route could fill many pages in this book. A hurdle in this path, historically, was that these assistant coaches weren’t sure how to get on the train, nor did they really now people outside their own circle of friends.
Athletic directors are in the same boat. As their coaches succeed (or fail, as is the case), they need to find quality replacements. Sure, they can spend thousands of dollars hiring search firms to help weed through candidates, but in the words of VCU Director of Athletics Dick Sander, “What do they know that I already shouldn’t? It seems like a waste of time and money to me.”
This scenario is precisely why VCU, through it’s postgraduate sports management program (SportsCenter), created the Villa Seven Consortium. The consortium is a group of mid-major athletic directors and administrators whose goal is to jointly discuss and resolve the issues facing their programs. Created by VCU in 2004 and named after its first home at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, this forum is being used as a philosophical summit to gain national consensus and problem solving among mid-major universities.
Importantly, the progression and development of the meeting’s agenda has become two-fold and clear: stage a reception in which thirty-five o the best and brightest assistant coaches from around the country are given a chance to meet, greet and mingle with the athletics directors of mid-major universities. It’s kind of a job fair, only without the stress of immediate needs. Secondly, utilize the benefits of getting so many colleagues together in the same place to hold a discussion on the issues and possible solutions of being a mid-major.
The idea is probably most brilliant via sheer simplicity. If an athletic director has already met and is aware of an young assistant who can take over his program, and conversely a young assistant feelds he carries a good rapport with an athletic director, then when the time comes for a school to hire a new head coach, both parties have a short list.
Remember the words of Bill Hogan, AD at San Francisco. So much of the success of many of the athletic directors is based solely on who they hire as head coach. It is in their best interest to already have a knowledge of the market. This way they don’t have to trust some outside source that, really, doesn’t know any better.
Like Larranaga with Marist, if the coach doesn’t feel the opportunity is what he desires, he can pass as well. Simply, it just makes everyone more knowledgable of the market. This way they don’t have to trust some outside source that, really, doesn’t know any better.
To fully realize the potential of the idea, however, the consortium had to become much more than appetizers and an open bar for a couple of hours. So in May 2005, th Villa Seven Consortium, for it’s second meeting, selected thirty-five of the top men’s basketball assistant coaches to attend what they called “an educational sypmosium” in Charlotte. The event featured coaches such as Bobby Cremins and Morgan Wooten discussing the business side of coaching, while also serving on a panel to help the assistant coaches glean a better understanding of their profression.
Frank Haith, who had just completed his first year as a head coach at the University of Miami, shared his thoughts on the first one hundred days on the job as he transistioned from respected associate head coach under Rick Barnes at Texas to head coach in the ACC. Coaches who had just finisihed their second and third seasons were on hand to talk about their maturation and transition.
Fran Fraschilla, former NABC Coach of the Year and currest ESPn college basketball analyst, also lent his perspective. ESPNU was there to discuss television’s impact on the future of college basketball. The meeting was a partnership between the VCU SportsCenter, Nike and Daktronics and was hailed as an absolute success for all who attended.
“The programs help break down a barrier and cut down a little on the anxiety you may have toward this process,” said Tim Moore, an assistant coach under Jim Calhoun at Connectictut. “You hear the names of these athletic directors and conference commissioners, andyou think of these people as very professional and maybe even larger than life and unapproachable. It makes the process a little less daunting, and that’s the case even if a particular athletic director wasn’t there.”
It is these aspects, not x’s and o’s of being a coach, that are the focus of the meetings and the crux of what Villa Seven is built upon. The ground understands it is accelerating the process of searching for coaches, and it helps potential coaches handle visibility and success.
Specifics such as building a staff, interacting with the athletic director, and dealing with the media are covered. Because sitting athletic directors are involved, the viewpoint is direct and legitimate, not theoretical.
It’s success has been quick and obvious: of the thirty-five assistant coaches invited to the initial Villa Seven meetings, eighteen already have head coaching jobs.
If you want a book to read this summer that will change the way you look at NCAA Hoops I’d like to recommend that you purchase the book “Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball.”