Wanted: Head Coach and Chief Marketing Officer

As a college football fan, I look forward to certain  happenings throughout the year that add to the enjoyment of the game. National signing day, spring games, preseason media days, opening weekend, rivalry week, and bowl games are among the traditions that contribute to the pageantry of college football. Unfortunately, there is one other event that has become tradition: coaching staff terminations. The conclusion of the regular season also marks the beginning of a period in which schools that are dissatisfied with the direction of their football program often fire their head coach and his assistants. As of now, thirteen NCAA football bowl subdivision (FBS) teams will have new head coaches in 2013 out of 124 FBS schools.

People have different opinions about whether we should feel sorry for football coaches who lose their jobs because of under-performance. The main argument for expecting results from head coaches is their compensation. A recent USA Today story reported that the average pay of a head coach at an FBS school is more than $1.6 million per year, easily making the head football coach the highest paid employee at many institutions. So, even if a coach gets fired he likely made a great deal of money while he was employed and should be set for the future, right?

The turnover in college football coaches parallels another employment phenomenon: the tenure of chief marketing officers (CMOs). Executive search firm Spencer Stuart tracks CMO tenure, and its research shows that average tenure of a CMO bears some similarity to the time frame given college football coaches to produce results. In 2011, CMO tenure averaged 43 months, which is comparable to the three to five-year window given to many college football coaches. Tenure length for CMOs has actually increased in recent years after bottoming at 23 months in 2006. CMO tenure varies by industry, with more turbulent industries like automobiles (25 month average tenure) and communications and media (33 months) being more unkind to CMOs.

If there are similarities between the tenure lengths of college football coaches and CMOs, maybe it is because the jobs entail similar responsibilities. Here are three characteristics the two positions have in common:
  1. Accountable for results - The number one reason coaches and CMOs lose their jobs is not meeting desired performance outcomes. For coaches, the primary metric is wins. CMOs are evaluated based on success indicators such as stock price and market share. If the results are not there, change is inevitable. The question is how long should a coach/CMO be given to instill the culture, recruit and develop personnel, and implement strategies.
  2. Face of the brand - The coach/CMO are the marketing leaders in their organizations. The transient nature of players, whose careers are four years or less, means that coaches are the constant personality around which marketing efforts can be created. Similarly, CMOs have the highest profile of any employee in a firm's marketing organization and is expected to represent the brand's interests not only internally but with external stakeholders including media and financial analysts. 
  3. Build a culture within a culture - Coaches and CMOs share the challenge of shaping a brand culture within their organization that is subservient to the brand culture of a larger organization. Coaches must build a brand that is congruent with the values of the institution brand. Likewise, CMOs are tasked with building great product brands that mesh with the corporate brand.
A results-now mentality held by many fans, alumni, administrators, shareholders - whoever the relevant stakeholders are - applies pressure to coaches/CMOs to deliver results quickly. We must not lose sight of the human side of this phenomenon. Coaches/CMOs invest themselves heavily in their jobs, as do their families. When a coach/CMO is fired it is not usually because they are bad people, it is a consequence of brand performance not meeting expectations. They did not rise to the level of head coach or CMO without knowledge and skills... they are not dummies!

Given the similarities in the two positions, college football coaches and CMOs can look to each other for inspiration in how to lead their organizations and how to cope with the stark reality of job termination.