The Next Sharks Coach: The 1 Interview Question that Must Be Asked

The process for hiring a new head coach is not fundamentally complicated. The organization will sort through a list of things they want in the next coach. They will determine a budget and a few other basic things. Then they will assemble a list of qualified candidates. One estimate has that list already over a dozen and at least one candidate has been made public. Once qualified candidates have been determined, the team will contact the candidates to see about interest and if the feeling is mutual, an interview process will begin.

All of this comes with the territory. This is like any other hire for a position of importance within an organization.

As most people know, an interview focuses on determining if the candidate meets the needs of the organization. A lot of questions will be asked about the candidate. Some will revolve around dealing with the current Sharks personnel group, others will be about staff requirements, style of play, ability to develop players, handling the media, etc.

The Question

There is one question, though, that must be asked and the correct answer must be given. The question is not one that gets asked by anyone currently employed by the Sharks, it is a question the candidate must ask.

The question: If I want to move Brent Burns to forward, do I have that authority?

Brent Burns Sharks
The question involves Brent Burns, but it goes to larger issues. (Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI)

It is a loaded question and it goes much further than just a personnel move. The candidate is asking whether he would be able to move players into the spots that he thinks will give this team the best chance to win. In the bigger picture, the potential coach is asking for the power to decide what is best for his team’s success with the resources he has.

In essence, the question is the potential coach asking, ‘do I get to control my own destiny? I saw what happened to the last coach when that got taken away from him’. If the candidate is not smart enough to ask that question, they are not smart enough to become the next coach.

History Matters

It is important that the organization fits the candidate’s needs. This was perhaps the primary reason that former Head Coach Todd McLellan left the Sharks. The organization no longer met the coach’s needs. He was the fall guy for this season’s failure to make the postseason. There was a direct link between the failure to make the playoffs and the decision to move Burns to defense after being an elite winger the prior season. McLellan may have had no choice in that decision. Even though it became apparent that the decision was not a good one, it did not get reversed. Whether management stripped the him of the power to make a change or he feared to use that power is not clear. What is clear, even if he was not comfortable with the decision, he seemed powerless to change it. The next coach must understand what power he has, along with the limitations the organization places on him.

The Only Right Answer

Photo courtesy of MLSFAN 20
Welcome to the Shark Tank. Photo courtesy of MLSFAN 20

There is only one right answer to the question. You must give the coach that authority. If the answer waivers even a little bit, the coaching candidate should have only one response, “If I do not have that authority, I’m not coming here.” A team should want a coach who wants to be accountable for the team on the ice, not a coach that allows himself to be pushed around by the organization’s brass. A coach should have direct responsibility for the product on the ice and not allow that to be taken from him. Summarizing the the 2 scenarios:

Scenario 1:

Candidate: “If I want to move Brent Burns to forward, do I have that authority?”

Management: “Yes”

The interview can continue.

Scenario 2:

Candidate: “If I want to move Brent Burns to forward, do I have that authority?”

Management: Anything other than yes (most likely, a ‘we’ll discuss  it’ sort of answer)

Candidate: “If I do not have that authority, I’m not coming here.”

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A Lesson Learned

I learned this lesson a long time ago and here is that story (the names have been changed). I was listening to my GM, Rick, describing his own hiring process. During Rick’s interview, the CEO, Terry  said he had bad experience with a management tool. Terry did not want Rick to bring that tool into the company. Rick responded, “If I can’t use this tool, I’m not coming here.” The lesson is universal. Do not take a job unless you have the resources available to be successful. In that case, Rick, the candidate, made his requirement for the job clear. The boss, Terry, changed his mind on this. He accepted the requirement from the candidate and hired him.

The lesson I learned from my former general manager needs to apply to the Sharks next head coach. Get the resource he needs agreed to up front. For the Sharks head coaching job, a key resource is the authority to make on-ice decisions. The candidate needs to ask that question during the interview process.

I will not be long before we know what happened. Management put the prior coach into a dicey situation and he paid the price for going along with it. Whoever is interviewing for the job at the Shark Tank needs ask the question about Brent Burns. The answer will make it clear how management views the coaching job. And if the answer is not the right one, well, that candidate will not have the resources he needs to succeed. He would be better off finding another job elsewhere.