The six-member search committee charged with recommending to the chancellor a candidate to become Kansas University’s next athletic director can’t get caught up in worrying about the KU fan base’s gut reaction to the choice.
Here’s what that will be: “You’ve got to be kidding me. We settled for that? What a joke!”
Nobody will make the majority of fans happy initially. Rare is the athletic director who is a household name in any household but his or her own, so it’s typical for the reaction of fans proud of their university, any university, to think that their school is too big-time to take a candidate with whom so few are familiar.
One more piece of advice for the search committee: Don’t be so shallow as to dismiss candidates who are not from “football schools.” A smart marketer is a smart marketer, whether the product is basketball, football, pet rocks.
Starting with Al Bohl bringing back tailgating and continuing with Lew Perkins marketing the football program with enticing family season ticket packages, etc., and greatly upgrading facilities, recent athletic administrations have put a great premium on calling attention to football, the most significant source of untapped revenue. The next AD will keep the pressure on the staff to continue the emphasis on football.
The pool of AD candidates already has a serious factor threatening to shrink the candidates pool: Turner Gill’s five-year, $10 million contract. The whole thing is guaranteed. No buyout.
Any AD candidate who says that’s not a problem, scratch him off the list because it is a problem, a bigger one than having a bad football team for five years if Gill’s as overmatched as he thus far appears.
KU survived the most recent conference realignment by wisely attaching itself to Texas on its terms, but the 10-team Big 12 still has a bit of a shaky feel to it. The next time it becomes an issue, it’s imperative that KU’s football program is drawing large live audiences and television ratings. It doesn’t take long to sink in both areas. For example, the game at Iowa State one week from Saturday won’t be televised.
Because Gill’s contract is so steep and all guaranteed, Perkins put a great deal of the athletic department’s future stability in Gill’s hands. It was quite a gamble, one that pays off only if the head coach and his staff upgrade recruiting to the extent Perkins believed they would. Gill was making less than a half-million a year at Buffalo. Might he have taken $1 million a year with a $2 million buyout? Only if he believed in his ability to win big enough to get a big pay raise.
The combination of Gill’s massive contract and the threat of conference realignment in the not-too-distant future means Kansas must identify an athletic director who is a leader, not just a manager, one with deeply-rooted contacts among college athletic power brokers and one with a keen business sense, not necessarily one with a football background.
A man who, according to multiple people familiar with his work, fits that profile, is out there. I never have met him, and he wouldn’t know me if I asked him for a “no comment” on whether he’d be interested in the job. His name is Mike Bobinski, and he’s in his second stint as athletic director at Xavier University.
Bobinski so improved the financial outlook of Xavier’s athletic department in his first stint (1998-2004) that he was recruited to do the same for the university’s development office (2004-06). He returned to the AD job in 2006 and is two years into a five-year term as a member of the NCAA Basketball Tournament selection committee, along with seven other athletic directors and two conference commissioners, including Dan Beebe of the Big 12.
A magna cum laude graduate of Notre Dame in 1979, Bobinski played baseball four seasons at ND. A certified public accountant, Bobinski worked for Deloitte, Haskins and Sell and Arthur Young & Company from 1979-82 and then worked for the Walt Disney Company in Orlando (1982-84). From there, he returned to Notre Dame, where he was associate and assistant business manager for the university. From there, he became associate AD at the Naval Academy and then the AD at Akron before moving to Xavier.
On top of his business acumen, Bobinski has exhibited an exceptional feel for choosing the right coach. He hired Thad Matta as basketball coach, and when Matta bolted for Ohio State, Sean Miller, hired by Bobinski as associate head coach, was in place to take the job. When Miller left for Arizona, Bobinski picked the right replacement in Chris Mack. He also hired Xavier’s hugely successful women’s basketball coach, Kevin McGuff.
Forming an opinion on the right athletic director for a school is tougher than picking a coach because we can see a coach’s team play on TV. Nobody would watch an athletic director’s reality show because it would be too boring.
Even so, Bobinski sure seems as if he’s a candidate worth exploring. Why not find out if he’s interested?