According to research done by Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, of the 28 head coaching openings in major college football this off season, 16 of them hired someone with the assistance of a search firm.
While 16 school reporting using search firms (UCF, Iowa State, Missouri, South Carolina, Rutgers, Memphis, Texas State, Maryland, UTSA, Georgia, Louisiana-Monroe, Miami, Tulane, Toledo, North Texas, and Virginia), only 11 - all but Miami, Tulane, Toledo, North Texas, and UVA - divulged how much they spent on them, and two of those hires (Toledo and Missouri) ended up being an internal candidate and another handful were the obvious favorite for the job.
The average price tag on the search firm service based on those 11 school who provided information on the cost is about $70,000. UCF was the highest at $120,000, while ULM shelled out the least at just $25k. Both those figures are small when you look at Texas, who paid $267k for the search that landed Charlie Strong, and Colorado State who spent $250k in 2011 to land Jim McElwain.
It's a growing trend in college athletics that isn't likely going anywhere. According to Solomon's piece, athletic directors who use the firms say "they're not outsourcing their work, but rather being smart to get extra help during a sensitive period."
In the case of South Carolina, athletic director Ray Tanner started vetting search firms indirectly through other people by asking questions because he knew Spurrier would be stepping away from the game sooner or later. When Tanner was asked why he relied on a search firm to do a job (or at the very least assist with a job) that athletic directors had done on their own for ages, he responded by essentially explaining the money spent is for peace of mind, and that times have changed.
"I need every moment and I wanted to exhaust every possible resource to feel extremely good about the decision at the end. They can do more in a short period of time and you can literally be on it around the clock."
"I think it's probably virtually impossible for an AD to be on it around the clock. I know the landscape has changed. If I went through this again, would I hire a search firm? Very likely. There's so much information out there and everything is time sensitive and confidential.”
Solomon has plenty more interesting stories, comments and thoughts on search firms, their effectiveness and rise in popularity among athletic directors in his article, which can be read here.