Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway sent a loud-and-clear message in June when he named Connecticut's Lew Perkins as the Jayhawks' 13th athletic director.
Perkins, 58, ranks in the upper strata of the nation's college athletic directors. He's been in the business for 35 years, including the last 13 at Connecticut. In 2000, Perkins was named the National Athletic Director of the Year.
"Why would I leave Connecticut?" Perkins said. "To be perfectly honest, when I met the chancellor, I knew I wanted to work with him. I'm excited about working with the chancellor and with the University of Kansas."
Perkins had to be excited, too, about feathering his nest. Perkins will receive a six-year contract at $400,000 a year. In addition, Perkins will receive an annuity and other perks such as automobiles, country club memberships, a term life insurance policy and travel and entertainment allowances.
"That probably positions us in the upper half of the Big 12," Hemenway said, referring to AD compensation around the league.
Perkins' salary at UConn was about $273,000 a year. The salary of Al Bohl, the man Perkins replaced, was $255,000 a year, and Bohl was the highest-paid employee on the Lawrence campus.
Hemenway said the funds for Perkins' salary would come mostly from athletic department coffers.
"There is a part of the salary paid by state funds," Hemenway said, "but it's not a large part."
Perkins, who reported for work July 7, was hired about two months after Bohl was fired. Bohl served only about 20 months in the post.
Hemenway and interim AD Drue Jennings had discussions with about 25 candidates and, according to Hemenway, had serious interviews with about a dozen.
Through it all, the chancellor said, "it became clearer and clearer we had a chance to hire one of the top athletic directors in the country."
Perkins is without question in the top echelon. The success of UConn's men's and women's basketball programs is well documented, and Perkins propelled the school into NCAA Div. I-A football. Less well-known is the fact that, under Perkins, UConn added three varsity sports at a time when many schools, including Kansas, were dropping them.
It has been speculated Perkins left UConn in large part because the school's football program was in jeopardy of being left behind in conference expansion on the East Coast.
Perkins denied UConn's potential no-man's-land status in football was a factor.
"I know there are doubters, but that had nothing to do with it," he said. "People who know me know I don't back away from a fight."
Perkins hinted the bottom line was simply it was "time for someone else to come in to Connecticut" and that Kansas was one of "probably three or four places I'd look at."
Perkins has made it a point this summer to stress he was committed to restoring swagger to Kansas University athletics, the cockiness he remembered Kansas had when he was AD at Wichita State in 1983-87.
"When I was at Wichita State, we hated KU," Perkins said, "but we hated them out of respect. I hope we can get that attitude back to where people are positively negative about us."
Men's basketball was the only KU varsity sport that captured a Big 12 Conference championship during the 2002-03 school year. No other men's team finished higher than eighth in league races. Among the women, no team finished higher than fourth.
"We have to do a better job," Perkins said. "We have to get that swagger back. I look at Kansas as one of the great universities in the country."