Maryland's athletic department spent $51,588.30 in consulting fees and expenses to a search consultant to assist in the hiring of head football coach DJ Durkin last year, according to two invoices obtained by Testudo Times via a state public records request. The story was first reported by the Baltimore Sun Wednesday evening.
The school paid Charles M. Neinas a $50,000 fee, as well as an additional $1,588.30 for expenses incurred by Neinas relating to two trips he took from Colorado to College Park in November and December. Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson signed off on the payment.
Maryland announced the firing of then-head coach Randy Edsall on Oct. 11 but didn't meet with Neinas in person until Nov. 2 – or, if it did, didn't pay anything for it. That initial meeting lasted through Nov. 3, according to the invoice.
Neinas returned to College Park on Dec. 1, one day before Maryland officially announced it had hired Michigan defensive coordinator DJ Durkin to replace Randy Edsall. Durkin's introductory press conference took place on Dec. 3, two days after Neinas' last meeting with Maryland.
Neinas is the president of Neinas Sports Services, which describes itself as providing "a wide range of consulting services, primarily related to intercollegiate athletics." It's a search firm, and search firms have a pretty long history as inefficient cash drains in college football coaching searches. They're often not really necessary:
There is a convenience factor to having somebody else handle this research, but it isn't a cost-effective one. You're not replacing a big-time college coach out of the blue, so that should've already given the athletic department plenty of time to conduct that research on its own.
One of the reasons you'll hear a school defend using a search firm is confidentiality. Discretion can be important in reaching out to candidates who are already employed, and using a third party can provide plausible deniability. Plus, it can help schools avoid those pesky FOIA requests from nosy reporters. This is a reason why competitive industries like finance and tech often use search firms.
But colleges already have built-in networks of third parties. They have boosters. In the event that a coaching search required in-person contact before a more formal interview, an enterprising AD should not lack for competent third parties willing to represent the school. Apple doesn't have a booster club it can use to grab a new executive, but Alabama does.
It's also worth noting that keeping this entire process in-house can help an AD keep greater control and limit leaks. You never know if somebody from that third party is leaking something to a friendly reporter over a few drinks. You can at least control your own people.
Neinas' service also notes it "has been retained by colleges and universities to evaluate athletic and/or football programs and to assist with future planning, to identify and assist in the employment of athletic administrators and coaches, and to provide support in television negotiations."
While Neinas is president of Neinas Sports Services, the invoice submitted to Maryland came directly from Neinas himself, not from Neinas Sports Services. So Maryland didn't technically hire a search firm, but that's merely a bureaucratic distinction.
The athletic department achieved basically the same effect. It's interesting, especially because Maryland also put together an in-house coaching search committee, which included top Anderson lieutenant Damon Evans and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank.