Kansas University's senior associate athletic director Larry "Contrary" Keating, always eager to disagree with anybody, anywhere, any time, was busy finalizing details of the women's basketball schedule Tuesday afternoon. Athletic director Lew Perkins was in Rhode Island, schmoozing donors. Smart move. New England sports fans are in a great mood now, thanks to the remarkable revival of the Boston Celtics engineered by general manager Danny Ainge.
Now that the polls have closed for Time Magazine's online voting on the world's greatest sports executive, associate athletic director Jim Marchiony has more time on his hands. Finally, he pushed himself away from his computer. So the task fell on Marchiony to argue my contention that Ainge was the most deserving of the 35 candidates placed on Time's ballot. For the record, Perkins, a lifelong Celtics fan, placed first.
The case for Ainge: When Paul Pierce demanded a trade unless the Celtics could acquire winning talent to join him after a 24-58 record in the 2006-07 season, Ainge miraculously responded by acquiring NBA All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The Celtics went 66-16 and won their first post-Larry Bird NBA title.
The case for Perkins?
"He oversaw one of the great athletic years arguably in NCAA history with a BCS bowl championship and a national championship in basketball," Marchiony said.
Yet, Perkins hired neither Bill Self nor Mark Mangino.
"He made a serious commitment to Mark Mangino when the 'conventional wisdom,' in quote marks, questioned that," Marchiony said. "He has kept Bill Self. I also think that probably his history in college athletics had a part. He oversaw great programs at the University of Connecticut."
Again, Perkins inherited men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun and women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma. Perkins did hire successful football coaches Skip Holtz and Randy Edsall.
"You call Connecticut and talk to anybody there, and they'll tell you the championship atmosphere he fostered there, just like the atmosphere he has fostered here, is conducive to happy coaches and happy student-athletes," Marchiony said.
How do you make coaches happy, pay them well?
"And you try to get them the resources they need to be successful," Marchiony said. "The facilities. The number of scholarships. How you travel. There is more chartering going on now, for example. It makes it easier to travel, No. 1, and No. 2, less class time is missed, which makes coaches and student-athletes happy."
Time cited the large budget increase as a qualification for Perkins' inclusion on the list.
"Part of being a good athletic director now is fundraising," Marchiony said. "I think he's very good at delivering his message. He's got a vision that he explains well, and people buy into it because it makes sense."
Despite the basketball and football championships, KU finished eighth in the Big 12 overall sports standings. Wouldn't that be the equivalent of Ainge compiling a bad bench?
"Lew would tell you he's not happy with that, but steps are being taken to improve that," Marchiony said.
As for Ainge, Marchiony said: "I think Danny Ainge is a great second choice."