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Archive for Saturday, May 17, 2003

Mayer: KU’s next AD? Just hire, baby

May 17, 2003

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What's this obsession Kansas University seems to have about landing a boffo, high-profile athletic director? You know, some kind of miraculous messiah?

KU went that route the last time and paid a bungling headhunter organization about $75,000 when there was a terrific local committee which, gratis, could have done much better, given free rein. Kansas wound up with Al Bohl, a smoke-and-mirrors hustler and all his Fresno State baggage. At $255,000, yet, the highest basic salary of anyone in the state.

KU figured it had to pay Bohl $5,000 more than Kansas State had just paid Tim Weiser for the same job. Wasn't long before the fecal matter began to hit the fan -- here, not KSU.

The way KU is dragging it out, you'd think the new director needs the wit of Johnny Carson, the entre-preneurial skills of Bill Gates, the financial acumen of Warren Buffett, the looks of George Clooney and the charm of Oprah Winfrey or Phil McGraw. At $255,000, you never know.

Lordy, folks, there are some really good folks to be had, real quick, yet the forest keeps getting in the way of the trees.

When Roy Williams left the basketball job, there was fear that KU would have to go through one of those drawn-out equal-opportunity want-ad campaigns. You know, where it's blatantly clear the job is open to anyone of any sex and any social persuasion, minority or majority? Any more, when there's an opening, you have to make sure everyone knows that theoretically the interviewees could include Jesse Jackson, Geraldo Rivera, Emperor Hirohito, Roseanne Barr, Vijay Singh, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong and maybe Martina Navratilova.

Fortunately, interim AD Drue Jennings, who made Kansas City Power and Light a utility giant and led to a cleanup at Westar, didn't diddle. He quickly landed Bill Self, who seems increasingly a terrific hire.

Then there's the full-time athletic director. Who gives a doggone about profile if he, she or it can hire winning coaches, make the cash drawer a glossy green, run the department harmoniously and stay out of the way -- as the abrasive Bohl didn't.

Stop and think about it. When a school has excellent basketball and football programs, the way Michigan and Ohio State once did and Oklahoma and Texas do now in the Big 12 Conference, anybody really know, or care, who the director is? The person doesn't need to come in plunking a banjo with cymbals on his or her knees, garters on striped sleeves and wearing funny hats.

Hire the coaches, help them win, raise money, enjoy the trips and cocktail schmoozes and disappear!

OK, people may know that Oklahoma's AD is Joe Castiglione, because there was such a to-do when he left Missouri for Norman because of a $100,000-a-year salary hike. Old Joe must be worth it, however, since he has the Sooners on a roll in the two highest-profile sports.

At Texas, you probably know the AD is DeLoss Dodds, a onetime Kansas State track star who wound up as KSU's director before he fell into the money pit at Austin. But you hear a lot more about football coach Mack Brown and basketball boss Rick Barnes. All Dodds does is orchestrate an operation with something like a $45 million annual budget. KU should be so lucky as to have such an invisible man.

(As for money, the average assistant football coach at OU gets $48,000 more a year than a full professor; at Texas that difference is about $43,000; at Kansas it's around $25,000 -- something like $80,000 per prof and $105,000 per grid aide).

Back to Dodds, he had to fire Abe Lemons as Longhorn basketball coach, apparently because of a difference of philosophy and not enough victories. Asked about the ouster, the inimitable Abe snorted: "Imagine being fired by a damn track coach! All they do is tell their guys to keep running to their left and get back as soon as they can."

My point is that you don't need an athletic director who comes riding into every event like King Rex during Mardi Gras. He can run the machine, keep things in perspective, get people to respect and even like him and keep the line moving for ticket sales and contributions, which sometimes can be one and the same.

Who needs another banjo-player? Even if it's Steve Martin wearing a Jayhawk cap.

Who ya gonna call? Well, I have in mind somebody who would do fantastically well as the KU athletic director (since Drue Jennings says he's off the 24/7 grind for sure). But I don't dare tell you who it is.

For various reasons, some legitimately, I'm not in particularly good standing with some of the suits and skirts in Frank Strong Hall. All I'd have to do to assure somebody would NOT be the new athletic director is to suggest him or her. Talk about a kiss of death.

Reminds me about one time Kansas State was all upset about losing in football. It was setting the stage to can athletic director Thurlo McCrady to take "a new direction." Kansas basketball whiz Phog Allen was a good friend of McCrady but was generally hated by folks and fans in the K-State family.

Doc called up Thurlo and asked him what he might do to help. "The best way to help me is don't help me," McCurdy told Doc. Then they cackled over the obvious perils of Allen support.

So I don't dare even hint who I think would make a good Jayhawk AD.

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