Congratulations, my friend. Or condolences. Not sure which. You say you like tough jobs. Well, you have one.
My first thought when I learned you were a finalist for the athletics directorship at IU was that you have virtually no experience in intercollegiate athletics.
But my second thought was, intercollegiate athletics at the NCAA's Division I level has all but ceased being about athletics. In fact, even the title "athletics" director is something of a misnomer.
These days, the job is about money, management, money, business, money, rules adherence, money, public relations, money, marketing and, oh, did I mention money? Then as long as your teams win and all your student-athletes graduate, you will do fine.
Yep, tough job.
There's also this consideration. The last two true hires for athletics director (I don't count Terry Clapacs, who served in an interim role) at Indiana were Michael McNeely and Rick Greenspan, both of whom had backgrounds in college athletics.
McNeely was a disaster, there and gone in 16 months. I wouldn't put Greenspan in that category because he has had some accomplishments, including hiring Terry Hoeppner, having the fortitude to support Bill Lynch after cancer claimed Hep, bringing Tom Crean in to salvage men's basketball, and getting the ball rolling on much-needed facilities upgrades.
But Greenspan's inability to prevent the hiring of Kelvin Sampson and then keep tabs on the cell-phone-loving men's basketball coach ultimately led to university disgrace and his demise.
So, Fred, I hope you asked this question of the IU hierarchy during the interview process and received an affirmative answer:
Will they let you do the job you have been hired to do?
Not that you won't have accountability, but it need be delivered only to the Bryan Hall office of President Michael McRobbie.
I hope the trustees and influence-buyers will butt out. They are part of the reason IU got into this mess.
And Fred, I also assume you determined that you, not the basketball coach, will be the real athletics director. This is nothing against Crean — I love the guy. But men's basketball cannot be the tail that wags the dog. An athletics administrator whom I respect highly recently told me one of the biggest challenges an "outsider" stepping into big-time college athletics faces is dealing with the so-called "power" coaches.
"They're all ego-maniacs," he said.
That said, I wouldn't put Bill Lynch into that category and, beginning Jan. 1, no one will need your support more than he. Certainly, you have the good sense to allow this man — with but one recruiting class under his belt — to be given at least one more season to prove or disprove himself. This will be your first opportunity to show that you won't be rushed into attempting a quick fix.
At some point repairs may well involve Lynch. Football needs to be addressed on multiple levels: resources, butts in seats, student involvement and, of course, wins and losses. There are many ways autumn Saturdays in Bloomington could be improved.
As an IU guy, I know you bleed crimson, and you'll need to show it. Cheerleading and accessibility are also among your duties, something your recent predecessors didn't seem to grasp. You've grown up with IU, earned your degrees from there, met your wife there, sent your children there. It's part of your DNA. I'm confident you will let the alumni and students know this isn't just a job, it's a calling.
Another question is whether you're there for the long haul, provided the president remains satisfied with your leadership. The revolving door has to stop spinning. There needs to be consistency and direction. IU athletics needs to speak with one voice, and it's yours.
The biggie is this, and I was glad to see you emphasize it at the news conference. Indiana can never allow another coach, his/her assistant or anyone with a connection to IU athletics to cause so much as a raised eyebrow within the NCAA. No matter how the NCAA punishes Hoosier basketball, or even if it allows the self-imposed sanctions to be punishment enough, there's an indelible stain. Fred, I know you as a man of character and integrity who will demand that Indiana does its business the right way.
Re-establish that benchmark first. We'll worry about the wins and losses later.
In the meantime, this friend and fellow Hoosier wishes you nothing but the best. IU athletics has never been in more need of inspired leadership. Please be the person who provides it.
Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.