Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Enthusiasm? I'd rather see cautious optimism.

"I'm really excited about this job. Hurry up and pick me."

How would you feel if a candidate said that to you? A bit...confused? Well that's essentially what Paul Westphal told his new bosses in winning his bid to become the Sacramento King's new head coach.

Granted, Westphal had several things going for him:

1) He has been an NBA coach (Suns, Supersonics).

2) He's led a team to a winning season, something the Kings sure could use.

3) He's coached at the college level and also been an assistant coach; this should add some depth to his experience.

4) To his credit, he seemed to know what his new bosses wanted--i.e., enthusiasm and a reasonable salary. This could pay off in terms of his ability to get along with management (more about this below).

So what's the problem? Several, potentially. Here's how the article summed up the selection: "Westphal won the job largely on his NBA experience and enthusiasm for the job itself."

Here are my concerns:

1) Enthusiasm is not a proven predictor of job performance, yet his active pursuit of the job seems to have been a deciding factor. We know pure interest in the job does a horrible job of prediction. Pure experience isn't a great predictor either.

2) The search, according to the article, took only 47 days (which sounds quick to me). Yet apparently, "Westphal had grown impatient enough that sources say he was close to pulling out of the race." What does this say about an applicant? Maybe nothing. But it could signal something about personality (or desperation).

3) The screening seems to have relied primarily on interviews and "reputation." Is this the best way to pick a coach? What else might we do? (simulations, role plays, talking to previous players, etc.)

4) There's a big assumption being made here: that he was solely (or primarily) responsible for the wins of previous teams he coached. As we know, team performance doth not lie with leader alone. As one article commenter noted, the General Manager may be the common denominator leading in recent years to less-than-stellar team stats for the King. Will a new coach solve the real problem?

To be honest, I don't really want an applicant to be off the charts enthusiastic. It suggests overconfidence, a frightening lack of self-insight, or an attempt to snow me. Are there times where the enthusiastic candidate is the right one? Absolutely. All I'm suggesting is that we be wary. Personally, I'd rather see cautious optimism, which indicates an understanding that what they bring to the job is only part of the equation.

But heck, enough with the negativity. Here's hoping the Kings make it to the finals next year!

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