There’s honest and then there’s Steve Spurrier Honest. After bringing in three new assistants this week, Spurrier was forthright with local reporters in outlining what he looks for when hiring coaches. As first reported via Twitter by Josh Kendall of The State, Spurrier said he wanted non-smokers, “Because it’s stupid; smoking is stupid.” He also doesn’t want “fat, sloppy guys” on his staff. And he prefers married men, because “having a guy downtown in bars telling women that he coaches at USC isn’t a good idea.”
This last item may raise some eyebrows because South Carolina law forbids the University from making employment decisions based on “familial status,” and the school’s own non-discrimination policy states hiring cannot be based “on the basis of personal characteristics that are not relevant to individual’s abilities, qualifications, or job performance.” Actually, this standard arguably forbids all of Spurrier’s conditions.
I’m not trying to get the Old Ball Coach in trouble here. I actually applaud his candor. Spurrier has been a head coach for over 20 years and obviously he’s developed a set of criteria for hiring staff. It’s ludicrous to think any head coach wouldn’t have such standards. Most coaches wouldn’t share those standards with the public, however, because then you’ll get folks arguing it’s unethical or even illegal.
In a world dominated by human resource managers and lawyers, employers are never supposed to say there are any relevant qualifications beyond the stated job description. But we all know better. A word you always hear in relation to football is “chemistry.” Well what is chemistry? It’s a set of intangible, interpersonal relationships that defy quantification. And on a football team, the most important relationships are between the head coach and his staff.
It may strike us as arbitrary and capricious to say “I won’t hire a smoker,” but all that matters is that it’s important to Spurrier. He can’t have assistants he doesn’t trust, and Spurrier doesn’t trust the intelligence and judgment of guys who smoke, period. Different coaches have different standards. Last year, former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy raised eyebrows when he said he wouldn’t hire someone like New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan because of Ryan’s excessive profanity. Chris Chase complained at Yahoo’s Shutdown Corner blog:
If Dungy doesn’t want to curse, fine. It’s worked for him. But to impose his beliefs on everyone else is holier-than-thou nonsense. Why does the Tony Dungy way have to be the only right way?
Again, this misses the point. Dungy didn’t call for Ryan’s excommunication from the coaching profession. He merely stated what he looked for in an assistant, just as Spurrier did. It would make no sense for Dungy to hire a coach who behaves in a manner that he judges unprofessional. The coaching staff, like the team, has to reflect the personality and standards of the head coach.
Now as I mentioned earlier, there are anti-discrimination laws and policies that can come into play if a coach is too vocal about his hiring criteria. I don’t think Spurrier crossed that line. But what makes his comments noteworthy is that few coaches ever discuss this subject, in part I’m guessing because university officials have advised them not to. Anti-discrimination laws don’t prevent discrimination so much as force employers to hide their discrimination better.
Spurrier’s revelations are an important reminder that coaching hires aren’t just about statistical measures — how high was this coach’s defense ranked, how many five-star recruits did he sign, etc. — but interpersonal value judgments. Even if legal and bureaucratic fears didn’t deter a more open discussion of hiring standards, most head coaches are far too skittish when it comes to public relations to ever discuss their thinking on such matters.