It was March 2008 and Brendan Bruss had just become the team president of the Green Bay Gamblers. Like most sports franchise leaders, the most important decision lay ahead of him: the hiring of the head coach. And it was no different for Brendan.
He and his team completed a typical search that resulted in three finalists for the position. The candidate pool included a coach from a respected Division 1 Program, a second well-respected and tenured coach, and a coach with much less name recognition.
After the last interview, Brendan feared that if the committee reconvened without a clear decision model, the group dynamics would not be unanimous behind the candidate that Brendan’s gut was telling him fit the vision for Gamblers Hockey. He was struggling with the decision so he reached out to SM Advisors to help him walk through a proven interviewing and hiring process.
The first step in any search is to define what you are looking for in the position – to establish a target. Job benchmarking defines what an optimum performer looks like in the position.
An optimum performer for the Gamblers head coach at that time was summarized as follows:
- Someone who knew the landscape of junior hockey.
- An identifier and developer of talent.
- A proven winner.
- The organization needed a new face. A charismatic leader that the players, the organization, the community and the fans could believe in and would follow.
Once we had the benchmark completed, we used three behavioral sciences to assess each candidate. We then used a gap report to compare each candidate against the benchmark.
After I had completed a behavioral analysis of each candidate, I held an assessment debriefing with Brendan. We discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate’s behavioral style and their fit to the benchmark.
The “safe” decision was to hire the experienced, well-known coach. But it became apparent the right decision was the coach who matched the job benchmark — and that coach was Jon Cooper.
Like most team presidents, the toughest decision became his first hiring decision. Based on the confidence he gained through the process, Brendan made the tough decision. He made the right hire, not the “safe” hire.
Brendan said the process really helped him gain confidence in his decision because it defined the traits they were looking for in a head coach. The process clearly identified which attributes were most directly related to success. “We needed to develop a culture of winning for the Gamblers. We needed a team with some swagger,” he said. “We could see from the analysis that Cooper was wired to be a persuader, a leader and a team builder. He was more than a technician. You can always get that with an assistant coach.
“When it came to making the decision with the hiring committee, we had the factual behavioral science evidence, not just the emotional feeling about the hiring of Coach Cooper. The process really confirmed for us that we were making the right decision.”
When the Gamblers hired Cooper, the results were immediate, posting the largest single season turnaround in USHL history, with a 26-win differential. The next season, the team had the third most wins in USHL History, they won the Clark Cup and Coach Cooper was named Coach and GM of the year. After his two highly successful seasons with the Gamblers, Cooper went on to be a head coach in the American Hockey League and then to the NHL. As you know if you follow hockey, his Tampa Bay Lightning team is now an elite team, after going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in a close, hard fought series.
Making the right hire the first time is essential to winning your Stanley Cup for your organization. Every business leader wants a winning team, and to do that you must know what attributes drive success in each position to make confident talent decisions. Like building a winning team, you must stick to those attributes and not allow justifying that you can adapt someone else to fit that role. That singular decision to hire the right coach and leader has led to the Green Bay Gamblers becoming one of the most respected hockey organizations in the league. Remember: Those who plan, profit!