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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Defensive Hiring

Parker A few months ago, Reed Albergotti wrote in the Wall Street Journal The Talent the NFL Turns Away.  His point was that for a given position, there is an effective height, weight, speed, etc. measure that, if a college player doesn’t meet, he has little or no chance of making an NFL roster.  Plenty of star NFL players (such as "too short" Willie Parker, left) initially were ignored because they didn’t meet the hiring criteria.

Why do coaches stick to rigid hiring criteria even if those criteria, empirically, are poor predictors of performance?  Albergotti explained that if coaches picked a player who met the hiring criteria but he turned into a dud, that was chalked up to luck of the draw, whereas if coaches picked a dud player who hadn’t met the hiring criteria, the coaches were likely to lose their jobs.  It was simple CYA.

This reminded me of a lot of faculty hiring.  We often are fixated on pedigree, but in reality many of these pedigree factors are not very effective predictors of success as a faculty member.  Perhaps we should re-think our hiring criteria.

Rick Bales

Posted by Workplace Prof on October 15, 2009 at 11:56 AM | Permalink


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"Plenty of star NFL players (such as "too short" Willie Parker, left) initially were ignored because they didn’t meet the hiring criteria."

But that same plenty made it in, right, and typically without requiring that the team spend a high draft pick? Win/win? Understandably, the article can't cite a great number of proven NFL talents who didn't make it into the league, so we have to speculate about whether many Parker-equivalents weren't given a chance.

If one takes the article, and the NFL, as instructive, here are a couple of other possible lessons: first, things work out even in systems ostensibly devoted to rigid criteria (or, more likely, it's impossible to tell from the exceptional cases whether they do or don't, so it's hard to evidence a warrant for change); second, the way these systems self-correct is through a capacity to fire, not just hire (e.g., the Steelers integrate low-pedigree free agents by relying on the ability to cut high draft choices).

Since these lessons may be kind of demoralizing for the professoriate, I'd add that the NFL keeps low job security from eating into the labor supply by conferring high salaries and great fame. Sounds good! Brain injuries too, of course, but we know all about that.

Posted by: Edward Swaine | Oct 16, 2009 9:35:04 AM

I am an extremely non-traditional hire and in my first year received unprecedented evaluations and had my first article published in a top 100 flagship Law Review.

Top 10 pedigree does not guarantee success in the classroom but I will concede that it probably is a safer bet than someone like me. I just hope that once someone like me gets in the door, my accomplishments will speak more than my JD and allow me to lateral. Here's to the hiring profs who have the confidence to stick their neck out for someone believe in, despite their JD.

Posted by: Contracts Prof | Oct 15, 2009 9:23:36 PM

But Willie Parker isn't really that good. For a couple years, he had a really nice offensive line that opened up truck sized holes for him. The one thing Fast Willie can do well is accelerate and blow by people. Since Pittsburgh's line got worse, Willie hasn't been nearly the same back (though, injuries have slowed him too).

This is all to say that Willie should push the argument about hiring criteria a little bit. He's a hire that can be very effective in just the right situation. Hires that meet more traditional criteria may be more effective in a wider range of situations where the moons don't line up quite the same way (for what it's worth, I don't really buy this in the legal academia field). If we're going to be real social scientists about this, we should probably think in a nuanced way not just about what criteria indicate future success, but about which kind of criteria indicate which kind of success.

Posted by: Ben | Oct 15, 2009 3:09:25 PM

Not only does Willie Parker fail to meet the traditional size standards for a running back, but he also did not attend a powerhouse football college, which makes him even more analogous to non-top-10 law school grad seeking a prof position. He went to UNC, and even there, he wasn't stellar, and the coach didn't play him that often.

Posted by: SLC | Oct 15, 2009 2:50:50 PM

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