Search firm accepts blame for Haywood recommendation
Dan Parker has had better New Year's Eves than this past one, but likely none worse.
"I canceled my plans," he said Friday. "We had plans to go out with friends, but I was sick about it. It was the first time I hadn't seen the new year come in in over 45 years."
On Dec. 31, Parker learned police arrested Michael Haywood, Pitt's new football coach, for assaulting his 21-month-old son's mother in South Bend, Ind.
Haywood was among five top candidates that Parker's Atlanta-based firm recommended to Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson to replace Dave Wannstedt. After extensive interviews, Pederson hired Haywood, formerly the Miami (Ohio) head coach, on Dec. 16. He was fired Jan. 1.
"We take ownership," Parker said. "It happened on our watch."
Immediately questions surfaced. How Haywood could be recommended so highly by a company, Parker Executive Search, whose purpose is to identify the best coaching candidates who presumably won't be arrested two weeks into their new job?
Among the curious was Parker himself. He said nothing like this has happened in his company's 26 years of existence. "I went to work New Year's morning asking the same thing," he said.
Pitt's board of trustees had questions, too. Parker, 63, flew from Atlanta to meet with the board Thursday and detailed for more than an hour the services his company provided.
"I told them I went back through the checklist and found there wasn't anything different we could have done on (Pitt's) behalf," he said. "It was one moment in a person's life, nothing historical we found that indicated this would occur."
Since expanding into college sports about 10 years ago, Parker said his firm has helped place two NCAA presidents and about 100 coaches, athletic directors and other administrators. He said he first heard from Pederson on Dec. 1, who indicated he was "thinking about the possibility" of a coaching change.
Working with Kroll Inc., a security firm that bills itself as "the world's leading risk consulting company," Parker Executive Search conducts extensive background checks on possible criminal, civil and credit issues.
To be included in his firm's coaches database, Parker said, prospective candidates must provide Social Security and driver's license numbers and sign a "potential issues statement" swearing that nothing damaging will be revealed. The company performs a through media review, including YouTube, he said.
On the performance end, Parker said coaches are evaluated by factors such as their records, and graduation and academic progress rates. Each school's recruiting budgets, facilities and how much it is willing to pay also are monitored so coaches know what they're getting into.
"We learned what we already knew, that Pittsburgh was in great shape and could respond and answer favorably to coaches requests," Parker said.
Pederson and other Pitt officials independently gathered their own information, he said.
"The chancellor (Mark A. Nordenberg) made calls, Steve made calls, we made calls. Everything was considered," Parker said. "Steve could not have been more thorough."
Parker said he and Pederson initially spent six hours examining 450 candidates — college and pro, head coaches and assistants. Eventually, Parker's firm produced two lists of five candidates — college head coaches and assistants. Pederson said he wanted to hire a sitting college head coach.
"Our job is to advise and facilitate," Parker said. "My responsibility is to put in front of him coaches who can do this job and who have a clean background."
Pederson has formed a three-member search committee, which includes himself, to hire Haywood's replacement. He again is using Parker's firm to vet candidates.
"This is an art," Parker said, "not a science."