Candidates surface for IU's athletic director job

July 7, 2008

Well-known names are bubbling to the top as speculation heats up about who will replace embattled Indiana University Athletic Director Rick Greenspan and how much money the job will command.

Greenspan announced June 26 that he'll step down at the end of the year. The decision came after the NCAA added to the list of charges facing IU's men's basketball program over rules violations under former Coach Kelvin Sampson.

IU leaders hope to have a search committee put together this month to help identify the school's next athletic director and anticipate having Greenspan's replacement hired well before he leaves.

Former IU basketball player and current Senior Associate Athletic Director Chris Reynolds, IU Varsity Club Director Scott Dolson, former IU football star Harry Gonso, former IU basketball player and TV commentator John Laskowski and well-known Indianapolis sports attorney Jack Swarbrick are the names with the strongest local ties that have surfaced.

Tom Jurich, the highly regarded University of Louisville athletic director, is the first and most prominent within the AD fraternity to surface. He certainly won't be the last. "This opening will get the attention of every athletic director in the country, and certainly all the top associate athletic directors," said Clarence Doninger, a local attorney who was IU's athletic director from 1991-2001. "There will be no shortage of candidates for this job. It's still one of the tops in the country."

A top athletic director won't come cheap. While Greenspan made $300,000 annually, that's not considered top-tier money for the position. Hiring someone like Jurich would require more than $500,000 annually. Some schools--including the likes of LSU, Florida and Texas--pay their athletic director $750,000 to $2 million annually.

A call to ante up

Some IU supporters think it's time to step up.

"If you don't want to ante up in the poker game, get out of the game," said Bart Kaufman, a local financial adviser who earned an IU undergraduate degree in 1962 and law degree in 1965. "If IU doesn't want to get a big-time athletic director, they need to consider getting out of the Big Ten."

Cathy Langham, a 1980 IU graduate, would support hiring a highly paid athletic director, but she wants accountability built into the contract.

"I would be open to a pay structure that is competitive, but part of that compensation has to include an incentive package based on meeting certain goals and criteria," said Langham, president of a locally based transportation and logistics firm of the same name.

This may be the athletic department's most important hire in almost 50 years--the last time the school found itself in violation of NCAA regulations.

It certainly comes at a critical--some would argue perilous--time for Indiana's sports program. The transition will be the subject of much scrutiny by the national sports media. Even the normally gushing ESPN analyst Dick Vitale called Greenspan's ouster long overdue.

For all the criticism that's been heaped upon him, Greenspan has made some important gains at IU that the school's trustees and president will want built upon. He took over an athletic department in September 2004 that faced a $3 million deficit. It now has a small surplus. He oversaw improvements to football, baseball, softball, field hockey, basketball and administrative facilities during the last four years. He made several important hires--including the women's basketball, football and baseball coaches--besides the men's basketball hire that did him in.

"This is a complex job and requires someone with very good business--among other--skills," said Patrick Shoulders, who has been on the IU board of trustees since 2002 and was re-elected to a three-year term June 30. "This is a very big and very demanding job."

IU leaders have largely maintained their support of Greenspan, which makes the upcoming search all the more intriguing.

"You're not going to get me to say anything bad about Rick," said IU trustee Philip Eskew Jr. "I think he did a great job. But I understand his position, that he was becoming too much of a focus here ... and he just felt it was time to move on."

Bearing heavy burden

The new athletic director will have far more to deal with than whatever sanctions the NCAA imposes on IU's men's basketball program. He or she will need to form a bond with new basketball coach Tom Crean and work effectively with new football coach Bill Lynch while trying to increase revenue and profitability in that sport. Also on the to-do list: following through on fund raising and facilities improvements that affect at least a dozen sports and rebuilding good will with IU alumni.

"Like it or not, this hire will define [IU President] Michael McRobbie's career, Kaufman said. "This university can't afford another disaster. If he blows it, it will set the university back another 10 years."

McRobbie, who departed the country for a planned trip shortly after Greenspan's resignation was announced, is expected to make the final decision himself. He hasn't said how the candidates will be identified, but sources within the university's athletic department expect him to take one of three routes.

The most likely process would mirror the one McRobbie used to hire Crean. He formed a search committee to identify two or three finalists and made the hire after conferring with IU's nine-member board.

Or he could seek the services of an executive search firm or consultant to identify the best candidate. McRobbie could also dispatch a lieutenant to talk with NCAA higher-ups to get their input and advice.

Kaufman has urged McRobbie to enlist Cedric Dempsey, a former university athletic director and NCAA president, who is now a consultant specializing in these matters.

Whatever the course, sources close to the school expect the trustees to play only an advisory role, with McRobbie making the final call. Some of the school's supporters want a speedy resolution.

Kaufman, a major IU donor who endows the William Oliver Chair at IU's law school, called for the firing of Greenspan in February, and wonders why it took so long for the university to rid itself of the departing athletic director. Greenspan announced his resignation only after the NCAA ruled that IU had failed to adequately monitor Sampson and his assistants.

Hiring an IU guy

As with almost any IU opening, there are those clamoring for "an IU guy" to get the post. In the wake of Greenspan and his predecessor Michael McNeely, who were criticized for their inability to identify with the Hoosier culture and their unwillingness to react to it, that school of thought is becoming fortified.

"I didn't formerly subscribe to hiring an IU guy," said Mike Pegram, who has operated a Web site dedicated to IU sports since 1998. "But now I do. I just think now it's so important to nurture the Indiana culture--emphasizing playing by the rules, graduation, doing things the right way. I think having the kind of sensibility that will come from someone with Indiana ties is now more important than ever."

Others argue that only a Hoosier can heal the rift that has been tearing at IU supporters since the departure of basketball coach Bob Knight in 2000.

"They need a Hoosier through and through," said David Ridpath, a professor of sports administration at Ohio University and past president of The Drake Group, a not-for-profit that bills itself as a watchdog for academic integrity in the face of big-time college sports. "They need not only someone that has the best interest of the school at heart, but they need the school's supporters to believe that they have someone who has the best interest of the school at heart."

Bob Kennedy, a former all-American cross country and track runner at IU and a 1992 graduate, isn't so sure an IU person is a necessity.

"We have to keep our horizons broad and get the best possible person," said Kennedy, who owns a chain of central Indiana running stores and was recently elected to the IU Varsity Club board of directors. "It's up to the president and trustees to define a culture and hire people best able to nurture the culture you want."

While IU trustee Eskew likes the idea of having an athletic director with Hoosier roots, he said there's much more to consider. His list of qualifications include someone with the ability to manage the department's $45 million budget and a growing list of facilities, in-depth knowledge of NCAA rules, a skilled communicator and fund-raiser, and someone "absolutely committed to restoring the integrity of the department."

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