LINCOLN — UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman is turning to an international executive search firm to help find the school's next athletic director.
He said he won't reveal the names of any candidates until he has chosen a successor for Tom Osborne, who announced Wednesday he will retire at the end of the year.
To do otherwise, Perlman said, could scare away some of the best prospects.
“The search for a successor is important and is not one that can be done easily,” he said. “It cannot be done in the public eye.”
Perlman said public disclosure would discourage choice candidates from looking at Nebraska.
“You cannot be as effective in your (current) job if everyone knows you're looking elsewhere,” he said. “(We) would like to attract candidates who are doing a good job in their current position and who are not running from a current position. (But) those individuals would be vulnerable if it were known they had interviewed.”
Other universities have used headhunters to avoid disclosing the names of potential hires.
The University of Minnesota, for example, used a headhunter to hire Tubby Smith as basketball coach in March 2007. Then-Athletic Director Joel Maturi said he approached Smith, head coach at Kentucky at the time, through an executive search firm.
“I'm proud to say that until the day before we hired Tubby Smith that nobody knew we were going to hire Tubby Smith,” Maturi said at the time, adding he was sure Smith would have backed away if word had leaked he was being courted by Minnesota.
At the press conference announcing Osborne's retirement, Perlman said he began the search for a new University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletic director shortly after Osborne told him in August that he planned to step down at the end of this football season.
Perlman hired Jed Hughes with Korn/Ferry International, based in Los Angeles, to identify candidates for the post.
UNL is paying Hughes a standard $100,000 fee, Perlman said, adding that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany referred him to the headhunter.
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Though he declined to say who or how many, the chancellor said he already has interviewed some candidates and intends to speak with more. He has not ruled out hiring someone from within the department.
State law no longer requires disclosure of the names of those interviewed for a public job. It was changed in 2007, at the behest of the University of Nebraska, to avoid a repeat of a 2004 situation in which the Board of Regents was forced to reveal the names of several candidates for NU president who met with a search committee in Kansas City, Mo.
The law now requires disclosure only after applicants are designated as “finalists” for a position. If there are more than four applicants, at least four finalists must be disclosed.
Two key regents — Chairman Jim McClurg of Lincoln and Howard Hawks of Omaha — said they approved of Perlman's decision to use an executive search firm.
McClurg, a consultant in the pharmaceutical industry, said Korn/Ferry has a worldwide reputation.
“They (the search firm) can maybe open a door or two that, without them, wouldn't get opened,” said Hawks, a Husker donor who is founder and chairman of Tenaska Inc.
McClurg and Hawks emphasized that the regents play no formal role in the selection.
Perlman has formed an advisory committee of 12 to 15 coaches, former student-athletes, donors and community members but declined to identify them.
Korn/Ferry has offices in 75 cities and more than 2,600 full-time employees. It generated $790 million in fee revenue last year.
Hughes said company policy prevented him from discussing the search and the challenges of finding Osborne's replacement.
Hughes, a former football coach, joined Korn/Ferry in January to become its global head of sports practice. He spent two decades as a defensive coach, working for five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler at Michigan; Chuck Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers; Bud Grant of the Minnesota Vikings; Stanford's John Ralston; and Terry Donahue at UCLA.
Later, while working for a behavioral assessment company, Hughes led the development of psychological testing and assessment for members of the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers Super Bowl championship teams.
While working at another executive search firm, Hughes helped place Mark Murphy as chief executive officer for the Packers, Larry Scott as commissioner of the Pac-12 and Brady Hoke as Michigan's coach.
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