Archive for Sunday, June 15, 2003

All new hires hyped; Perkins’ just latest at Kansas

June 15, 2003

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You know it'll never happen but, just for fun, suppose ...

The big, well-appointed room is brightly lit and full of people. Cameras are in place, microphones and tape-recorders are primed, notepads are displayed in great profusion. Seated in the audience are folks ranging in status from high-profile personalities and Big Cigars on down to talk-show and chat-room types. Lots of anticipatory chatter. How valid were all the rumors?

Several people enter from the side, things quiet down as they approach the podium, take seats in the proper pecking order and a designated spokesman steps up to the lectern.

Looking sheepish, the fellow begins: "I'm embarrassed by what I'm going to have to tell you. But today we're announcing the hiring of a coach (or athletic director) who is not the most heroic or successful person you can think of and who has accomplished very little (anything?) before coming here.

"We didn't have much of a choice and we could pay only so much in salary and benefits. Frankly, I have no clue if he can do better than the guy who just left (or got fired). We just grabbed the only poor soul we could lay our hands on. There was a square to fill on our personnel chart and this is what we had to settle for. Don't know much about his background or what he has to offer. You decide for yourselves.

"With that, I'll let him tell you about himself and what his goals, if any, might be for the job here, and whether he gives a good doggone about a team, its athletes or the school's reputation. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Sam Sausage . . . "

Stunned silence. So quiet you even can hear the cameras and tape recorders whirring as the designated turkey shuffles behind the mike, looking shabby, uneasy and totally unequal to the task, seemingly wishing he were anywhere else on earth. Same for the woman seated behind and to his right, presumably his significant other.

The new hire begins: "Well, it's certainly great to be in good old, good old . . . (turning to the spokesman) what's the name of this town and school? . . . and we already feel welcome here even if we're not sure where we are. Never heard much about this university, don't know much about what it stands for so I can't promise you that the heritage that I don't know nothin' about, man, I'm el blanko, can produce any miracles.

"I needed a job to stay off the welfare rolls and this one happened along so I grabbed it. Not sure what I'm getting in to. . . . "

You get the picture -- sort of like the ultra-reluctant door-to-door salesman who'd ring the bell, then mutter to himself, "Nobody's home, I hope, I hope, I hope!"

Get the contrast? When people are hired for athletic jobs today, they're introduced as some breed of golden-touch messiah. The audience is guaranteed by the chancellor or his representative that success is imminent. Everyone oohs, ahs and fawns all over the entourage in a euphoric atmosphere that will linger until the first defeat, athletic or administrative.

Spokespeople love to declare a hiree the answer to everyone's prayers, and cite statistics to reinforce that dream. Meanwhile, it helps if the spouse is in the forefront of a movement that soon will cure AIDS and conquer cancer and intends, after solving those problems, to locate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and discover where Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are skulking. Things look good, she admits with a knowing smile.

Meanwhile, the new guy's kids have advanced college degrees and labor incessantly on behalf of Habitat for Humanity, are out to defeat world hunger and are convinced there soon can be world peace.

It always sounds so good the day they take the lid off the new can. It can't ever be that lustrous, of course, but everyone gets a needed shot of adrenaline and is hyped about the future.

An ultimate in good will and glossy promise occurred when Kansas replaced Roy Williams with Bill Self as basketball coach. Further good cheer was injected onto the scene when Lew Perkins was named athletic director the past week. But bear in mind there were a lot of bells and whistles, smiles and rash promises when Al Bohl, the Slick Willie whom Perkins replaces, was hired from Fresno State.

You have to believe Perkins's pedigree has vastly more potential to give KU good football, much-improved women's basketball, solid progress in other fields of friendly frolic and maintenance of a great basketball program than Bohl's presence could generate. That's great, because KU desperately needs to get out of the bottom fourth of the Big 12 all-sports picture.

Then there's another welcome aspect of Lew Perkins that particularly rings a bell with me. Predecessors Bob Frederick and Al Bohl didn't discourage that "Dr." reference because of their Ph. D.'s. Lew doesn't have one. Groan! Former Iowa basketball coach Tom Davis is back on the scene at Drake; now we'll get a steady dose of "Dr. Tom."

Hell, guys, this is athletics, not academia or a hospital.

One often can take comfort from the track record of some critics, such as the boorish John Thompson who did such a great job of screwing up the 1988 U.S. Olympic basketball team. Upon the KU announcement about Perkins, Thompson on a talk show ripped Lew for cowardice for leaving Connecticut during the Big East-ACC hassle, and not standing by Bob Wade as basketball coach at Maryland. Wade, who's black, wasn't doing the job. Perkins hired Gary Williams despite static from some of the black community.

Guys like Thompson have perfected the art of playing the race card. In this case, Lew Perkins should be greatly encouraged by the caliber of the opposition.

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