What can managers learn from NCAA basketball?

An article in the new Spring 2009 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review examines Daniel Halgin’s research into the role that professional social networks play in the career moves of college basketball coaches.

Right now, fans of U.S. college basketball are focused on the final game of the NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament. What many fans may not realize is that there may be management lessons to be gleaned from NCAA  basketball -- or at least from NCAA coach employment patterns. An article in the new Spring 2009 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review looks at Daniel Halgin's research into the role that professional social networks play in the career moves of college basketball coaches.

This week, we asked Halgin to comment on his research and current basketball events. Here is his response:

"In addition to the excitement taking place on the court there will be a great deal of activity taking place off the court, with the annual flurry of coaches accepting jobs with new employers.  Most notable is John Calipari, formerly the head coach at the University of Memphis, who...[this week] formally accepted the head coaching position at the University of Kentucky.  This move, sparked by the firing of former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, will likely create a long vacancy chain of coaches switching employers to accept newly vacated positions.  But what determines which coaches are hired for newly vacated positions?  And what determines whether a fired coach will be rehired at another institution?

In addition to performance and social network ties, I suggest that a particular kind of social network -- ones in which people have a shared sense of belonging and identity that they retain through different career moves -- influences which coaches receive which jobs. Similar to former high-level managers of General Electric Co. who are often referred to as 'graduates of Welch U' (referring to ex-CEO Jack Welch), there are groupings of coaches with former working relationships who are referred to as members of 'coaching families' throughout their careers.

For example, a collection of coaches with ties to Louisville head coach Rick Pitino are recognized as members of the 'Pitino coaching family,' those with ties to retired North Carolina Coach Dean Smith are recognized as members of the 'Tar Heel family,' and those with ties to newly hired Kentucky coach John Calipari are recognized as members of the 'Calipari coaching family.'  I find that recognized members of these 'families' receive more prestigious jobs, and are more likely to find employment if fired, than nonmembers.  These benefits exist above and beyond actual performance.

As the coaching carousel continues to spin and as Memphis and other schools look to fill open positions, keep an eye out for how 'coaching family' membership influences hiring decisions."

You can read more about Halgin's research in "What Can Managers Learn From College Basketball?" in the Spring 2009 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.

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