Lew Perkins set to retire as Kansas University’s athletic director at end of 2010-11 school year

KU’s A.D. to leave beleaguered department next year

Kansas University athletic director Lew Perkins smiles as he is approached by media members Thursday in the parking garage adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse. On Thursday, Perkins announced his intention to resign from his position after the 2010-11 academic year but did not comment.

Kansas Athletics Director Lew Perkins — who on Thursday announced his retirement — will work on Mount Oread until Sept. 4, 2011.

And Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said his expertise will be needed as KU faces an uncertain future because of the anticipated breakup of the Big 12 conference.

“I believe that part of his decision to retire may have been to allow him to focus on the things that need to be done,” Gray-Little said. “I think the idea was that by making his plans clear at this time that he would be able to focus more clearly on the things that we need to do.”

Perkins and KU athletics have been mired in controversy in recent weeks, as it was revealed that five employees and a consultant allegedly had participated in a scheme to sell football and basketball tickets for personal gain. Federal authorities are investigating the cash-for-tickets scheme, as well as other allegations about irregularities with tickets.

Still, Gray-Little said she was surprised when Perkins told her Thursday he’d decided to leave.

“I had not asked him to retire, and I had not asked him to resign,” she said.

Self’s perspective

KU basketball coach Bill Self said he, too, sees Perkins’ leadership as key to the university’s athletics program during coming months.

“I knew that the day would come,” he said of Perkins’ planned departure from KU. “I think everybody knew it was coming. It was surprising it would come today.”

Self said he talked with Perkins on Thursday.

“He was in good spirits,” the coach said. “I think he has a peace about it. And regardless of what angle you’re taking, the man has been through a lot in the last couple of months.”

However, Self said Perkins’ decision to leave should not be equated with being forced out.

“He won’t walk away from any battle or fights,” Self said. “It was something he felt in his heart that was the best way to serve the university. … This guy has gotten some stuff done while he’s been here.”

Perkins would not comment on Thursday. However, in a statement he said, “At this time, my greatest priority is working on conference alignment issues, and as I’ve committed to the chancellor, I will work tirelessly on these efforts. Conference alignment is the biggest challenge we have before us as an athletics department and an institution.”

The timeline set for Perkins’ retirement would allow him to claim one last retention bonus from Kansas Athletics before leaving, according to his contract.

According to an amendment to his contract negotiated by former Chancellor Robert Hemenway, Perkins would be paid $600,000, tax-free, from Kansas Athletics if he is still serving as athletics director on June 30, 2011.

A $2.05 million retention bonus contributed to Perkins’ receiving more than $4 million in salary and bonuses in 2009. His base salary is $800,000 per year, and he earns an additional $100,000 for media relations work.

Unprecedented changes

Perkins arrived at KU in 2003 after a highly successful stint at the University of Connecticut. Perkins replaced Al Bohl, who left KU under turmoil after taking over for Bob Frederick.

“I am very proud of the academic and athletic success of our student-athletes during my time at KU, and I will forever treasure the friendships and experiences being a Jayhawk has brought,” he said. “Our supporters are among the best across the nation, and I could not be more pleased with how much we have accomplished together.”

Perkins turned 65 this year and said it was “the right time” for such a decision.

During his time at Kansas, Perkins affected the growth of KU’s athletic department budget in an unprecedented manner. At the time of his arrival, KU’s athletic budget was $27 million annually. Today, KU’s annual budget has reached more than $55 million.

In addition, while at Kansas, Perkins oversaw a football team that won the first BCS bowl game in school history, as well as watching a men’s basketball program win its first national championship in two decades.

In 2008, Perkins was voted by a poll in Time magazine as the top sports executive in the world. He was the only college sports administrator to make the list of 35.

Challenging year

It’s been a difficult year for Perkins, who had to answer for fights between the KU men’s basketball and football programs, then had a lame-duck football coach, Mark Mangino, for the latter part of the season because of an investigation into Mangino’s conduct toward his players. Following that, five members of the athletic department and one consultant resigned under pressure or were fired because of a ticket-scalping scandal that cost the university millions. Finally, in recent weeks, Perkins found himself in the middle of a blackmail scandal involving exercise equipment provided to him for personal use.

A native of Chelsea, Mass., Perkins was inducted into his high school Hall of Fame in 1989. A highly recruited basketball player, he played at the University of Iowa (1965-67) for Hall of Fame coach and KU graduate Ralph Miller. Perkins earned his undergraduate degree there in 1967.

Perkins served as Director of Athletics (1969-80) and head basketball coach (1969-79) at the University of South Carolina-Aiken as that institution grew from a junior college to a four-year institution. He received his master’s degree in education (1975) from the University of South Carolina.

Perkins delivered the commencement address and received an honorary Doctor of Education degree at USC Aiken in May 2005. Perkins also has served as athletics director at the University of Maryland and Wichita State University, and associate director of athletics at the University of Pennsylvania.

At Connecticut, where he worked from 1990-2003, Perkins was instrumental in guiding UConn athletics to growth athletically, academically and financially. His leadership influenced six NCAA Division I National Championships at UConn.