Lew Perkins conducted one of his trademark halftime ceremonies at a recent Kansas University men's basketball game.
UConn fans can picture the pageantry. During his 13-year tenure as UConn's athletic director, Perkins would routinely escort a coach, athlete or corporate sponsor to midcourt for a photo. An announcement would be read. A presentation would be made or a trophy hoisted. The ceremony would conclude with a handshake or hug, along with fanfare from the UConn band.
A similar scene played out Feb. 7 in Lawrence, but this time a $12 million check was involved. The gift was from the Ward family of Russell Stover Candies and anonymous donors. The money will be used to refurbish Allen Fieldhouse, the basketball shrine that will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, and to build a Hall of Athletics to display trophies and other memorabilia.
"This place was absolutely shocked, that in seven months I was able to bring in $12 million," Perkins said in a telephone interview from his office in Lawrence. "People don't invest that kind of money unless they think it's the right thing to do. And I think people now understand that we're doing business differently."
Kansas chancellor Robert Hemenway lured Perkins from UConn in June with a base salary of $400,000 and a package that reportedly is worth close to $1 million, more than double Perkins' reported annual income at UConn.
Hemenway said Perkins is doing exactly what he was hired to do.
"I have great respect for his judgment," Hemenway said. "One thing that I particularly like about him is that he has the courage to take on difficult issues, and he's very fair-minded. When I hired him, I asked him to think of ways that we could raise additional revenue, and he's been able to do that. The fact that the athletic department has received a $12 million donation is proof positive that our athletic future is in good hands."
Similar to UConn
The first few months have not been unlike his early days at UConn. Out with the old; in with the new. Perkins, 58, hasn't been afraid to show people who is boss. And if he tramples feelings along the way, Perkins regards that as the price of doing business.
"I think (Perkins) is the best at what he does," university professor Bill Tuttle said. "But I don't like what he does."
Asked how Perkins has been received, a one-time athletic department employee said there have been "mixed reviews." Not everyone agrees with the new approach.
A priority point system for tickets, similar to the one Perkins implemented at UConn, would drastically affect all sports, but it is men's basketball that has received the most attention.
Three longtime athletic department officials departed soon after Perkins arrived. The ensuing hirings by Perkins were scrutinized after he surrounded himself with former associates and his own son-in-law.
Then came a public relations gaffe -- the grandson of legendary coach Phog Allen lost control of the seats that had been in the family since 1955. He was moved to another spot in Allen Fieldhouse -- the building named for his grandfather -- and doesn't know what to expect next season.
Last month a lawsuit was filed by the Lawrence Journal-World, asking the university to disclose public records relating to the salary and benefits Perkins receives. The newspaper and a local television station argued that the university's repeated refusal to make the records available violates the state's Open Records Act.
Jim Marchiony, who left UConn to become KU's associate athletic director for external affairs, says Perkins has been resilient.
"Lew knows what needs to be done," Marchiony said. "He's not auditioning for his next job, so he doesn't have to care about outside opinion. If he didn't ruffle any feathers, he wasn't going to get the job done. This is a great place, and they've had a lot of success here. But the financial part is the thing that needs to be upgraded. They were a minimum of a decade behind."
Perkins said his first seven months on the job had been filled with creating "productive chaos."
"It's like anything else," Perkins said. "When I was hired, everybody was excited that I was going to come in and make change. But as soon it affected them, they didn't like the change. I don't look at it as a battle. It's just been a lot of education.
"At the end of the year, we'll have accomplished a lot. You would have liked to have taken your time and done it all slower. That's been the problem. But if we wait much longer on any of these things, we're dead."
The next item on his agenda is the future of women's basketball now that Marian Washington has retired for undisclosed health reasons.
Asked if he would try to bring in UConn coach Geno Auriemma to replace Washington, Perkins said, "No comment." KUSports.com, a website run by the Journal-World, described Auriemma assistants Chris Dailey and Tonya Cardoza as "likely candidates" to replace Washington.
Perkins inherited a department reportedly suffering from low morale. Other than men's basketball, the Jayhawks have struggled in the Big 12 and nationally. And in addition to the firing of athletic director Al Bohl in April, basketball coach Roy Williams made a dramatic exit for North Carolina, his alma mater.
But the fall had improvements on several fronts. After a 6-6 football season, the Jayhawks went to the Tangerine Bowl for Kansas' first bowl appearance since 1995 (a 56-26 loss to North Carolina State). The women's soccer team went 18-6-1 and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 where it lost to UCLA, 1-0.
Fund-raising is $2 million ahead of last season and Perkins said that doesn't include the $12 million. His staff is working on another gift that could be worth $20 million. The new fieldhouse seating plan and a 21-game home schedule next season will generate an additional $6 million-$7 million from men's basketball, Perkins said.
John Hadl, associate athletic director for development, was born in Lawrence and has been associated with Kansas since his days as an All-America halfback and quarterback in the early 1960s.
Hadl said he has never seen anything like this at Kansas.
"(Perkins) makes things happen," Hadl said. "The people who understand what was needed and what had to get done are supporting him to the fullest. The thing he has done is give great leadership. He has brought in guys who know what they are doing. They are pros, and they are getting things done on a daily basis.
"It's the best that it has ever been since I've been here. There were things that needed to be done and in my opinion, he made all the right moves. He's got us back on track."
Nepotism and cronies
But the Journal-World has been critical, beginning with the August hiring of Perkins' son-in-law, Brandon Macneill, as the department's strategic planner. Macneill, 32, who spent the past two years as associate AD for marketing and development at Princeton, is married to Perkins' daughter, Amy.
Journal-World sports editor Chuck Woodling has written many of the stories about Perkins, which has led to a cool relationship between the two. Woodling said Perkins became upset at the frequency of references to Macneill as his son-in-law.
"I don't think we can put our finger on how it's working yet," Woodling said. "Only time will tell. He has come up with that $12 million gift, and that's what he's here to do. He's supposed to generate revenue, and that's what he seems to be doing. That's his job.
"I don't think anybody dislikes the guy. He's just doing things in a way they're not accustomed to. It's just different. They're not used to the way he does business. But if his way produces winners, I guarantee you nobody will care."