Lew Perkins’ tenure as Kansas athletic director comes to a sudden conclusion — months ahead of schedule

KU’s athletic director abruptly retires

Kansas University Athletic Director Lew Perkins participates in a public interview regarding his career in sports administration Tuesday at the Dole Institute.

Kansas University Athletic Director Lew Perkins participates in a public interview regarding his career in sports administration Tuesday at the Dole Institute.

September 7, 2010


Lew Perkins retires

Former KU athletics director Lew Perkins announced his retirement Tuesday, effective immediately. Perkins oversaw many positive changes in KU sports during the past seven years.

Athletic Director Lew Perkins

KU Athletic Director led the Kansas Athletic Department for seven years and retired on Sept. 7, 2010. Look back at his time at KU.

The buzzer has sounded on Lew Perkins’ tenure as Kansas Athletics director.

Perkins on Tuesday abruptly retired his post — effective immediately — accelerating his previously announced retirement by a full year.

Left behind is the aftermath of a ticket scandal that has spurred a federal investigation, a state ethics probe over an alleged improper gift of exercise equipment, and now a $600,000 retention bonus that KU will pay Perkins even though he did not stay on until its 2011 triggering date. In total, Perkins will receive from KU about $2 million post retirement.

Sean Lester — associate athletics director who came to KU with Perkins from Connecticut — has been named interim athletics director. However, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said Tuesday that Lester will not be a candidate for Perkins’ job.

Gray-Little praised Perkins seven-year tenure.

“There is no question that Kansas Athletics has benefited from Lew Perkins’ leadership,” said Gray-Little in a release. “One need only look at the academic success of our student-athletes, at KU’s trophy cases and at our state-of-the art athletic facilities to see those benefits. I appreciate his service and understand his decision.”

KU leaders characterized the early retirement as a mutual decision, but at least one Kansas Board of Regents member said the move was needed.

“It is an end of an era whose time has come,” said Ed McKechnie, vice chair of the board of regents.

McKechnie said he expects Perkins’ $2 million payout — none of which will come from taxpayer or tuition dollars — will spark criticism, but he praised Gray-Little’s work in dealing with a difficult issue.

“If she would have just fired him outright without cause — and she didn’t think she had cause — it would have cost a lot more,” McKechnie said. “I think a lot of credit has to go to the chancellor for being firm, for not being reactionary, and for driving this to a reasonable conclusion. But I understand reasonable is in the eye of the beholder.”

When news of a ticket scandal broke this spring, Perkins was under contract through June 2015. But KU leaders said Tuesday the contract term had since been reduced to Sept. 4, 2011.

McKechnie said he believes KU will gain something valuable from the transition.

“The most important thing for everybody to remember is that the chancellor of the University of Kansas is in charge of athletics,” McKechnie said. “That point had become lost and this chancellor has worked very hard to make that point clear.”

Reaction across Lawrence was mixed Tuesday. Mick Allen — the grandson of legendary basketball coach Phog Allen — said many KU fans had been waiting for Perkins to step aside or be removed.

“I think this was inevitable,” said Allen. “But he did exactly what he was hired to do. He raised a lot of money, but he alienated a lot of people in the process.”

Early in his tenure, Perkins implemented a controversial points system for Allen Fieldhouse seating, which caused many longtime donors to lose their seats or be moved to less desirable seats. Allen was among longtime ticket holders impacted by the points system, but he said his concern with Perkins stems from more recent controversies.

The points system rankled longtime faculty members, many of whom also expressed dismay at the ongoing erosion of the relationship between academics and athletics.

Bill Tuttle, a retired KU history professor, was serving on the KU Athletics board at the time the points system was installed, and he recalled he was the lone vote of dissent.

“I’ve always been proud of that vote,” he said. “It was all about greed. It’s all about money for everybody.”

Though Tuttle said Perkins, in a way, did what he was hired to do — improve KU’s fundraising, facilities and bottom line — he said it was difficult to look past what Tuttle said was an atmosphere of greed that permeated the department.

“I don’t think KU will miss him,” Tuttle said.

A report commissioned by the athletics department found that at least $1 million in men’s basketball and football tickets had been misappropriated by a consultant and athletic department employees who Perkins had either hired or supervised.

Perkins also has become the subject of an investigation by the Kansas Ethics Commission, which is determining whether Perkins violated a state ethics policy by accepting the free use of exercise equipment from a vendor who did business with KU athletics.

Several KU boosters, though, said Perkins had enhanced the prominence of KU athletics in Lawrence and beyond.

“He did some wonderful things and brought some awareness to the programs that we just didn’t have before,” said Rob Farha, owner of the college bar The Wheel, 507 W. 14th. “The question now is whether we can hold onto it with everything that has happened in the last few months.”

Supporters pointed to improved athletic facilities, larger football crowds, and Perkins’ behind-the-scenes work to help keep the Big 12 Conference largely intact. The KU football team won the 2008 Orange Bowl and the men’s basketball team won the 2008 national title under Perkins’ watch.

“He put the swagger back in,” said Forrest Hoglund, a KU donor living in Dallas, referring to a phrase Perkins used upon arriving in Lawrence. “At least for awhile.”

Regents chairman Gary Sherrer said that while the athletics department wasn’t necessarily facing a major crisis, fresh ideas and new energy should help the university.

“When someone makes the decision they’re going to move on, the sooner that happens, the better for them and the organization,” he said. “That certainly fits here.”

Dale Seuferling, president of the Kansas University Endowment Association, said Perkins’ prowess as a fundraiser will be missed. He said the events of the last several months have created some distraction, but he does not believe KU’s overall reputation has been tarnished.

But Farha and Allen both said they have heard from many KU fans who believe the reputation of the athletics department has been significantly damaged.

“Transparency is what I hear a lot about,” Farha said when asked what fans wanted in a new athletics director. “If they are going to be donating top dollars, they want to know that they are treated fairly in the pecking order.”

Allen said the issue is even broader.

“There is a considerable amount of trust-building to be done,” Allen said. “Whoever the next person is, that has to be their first and foremost task. A lot of trust certainly has vanished.”


Benjamin Roberts 7 years, 7 months ago

I wonder how many organizations pay out the contract when the employee chooses not to fulfill the time/terms of the contract?

bocktar 7 years, 7 months ago

Many. Especially when the resigning person is "convinced" by the employer that it's the right thing to do. It's a soft method of release and it ensures that the employer is not sued for breach of contract. It's the right thing to do in this situation, as we all need to move on and restore our greatness. Lew deserves that opportunity as well.

rgh 7 years, 7 months ago

Something fishy about this sudden of a decision based on his previous announcement of Sept. 2011. There has to be much more to this than what's on the surface.

commonsense1 7 years, 7 months ago

Wasn't the first time and won't be the last!

Maddy Griffin 7 years, 7 months ago

Waiting for the other shoe to fall.......

KEITHMILES05 7 years, 7 months ago

I bet the states ethic commission will return a verdict of guilty.

Steve Miller 7 years, 7 months ago

Because gill is not far behind big lew...

Douglas Garst 7 years, 7 months ago

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little , would be it to much to ask that one criteria of the new athletic director is the ability to count athletic tickets sold versus total athletic tickets available and above us the money?

ghostofrealityspeaks 7 years, 7 months ago

Bye bye you big ol lurch. Never liked you to begin with and you left in a mess. The fundraising you did is outweighted by all the negatives. Your failures are huge, good riddance!

commonsense1 7 years, 7 months ago

What did he do to you to make him dislike him?

foppa 7 years, 7 months ago

Oh yeah, he also took parking spots for students with his football practice field. Does anyone remember that at first he said that they will be replaced but months later he took it back? We lost a bunch of needed parking spots FOR STUDENTS because of practice fields that weren't used for a long time because people could see in. Then, they spent a bunch of money putting those trees in and you can still watch them with no problem.

Sparko 7 years, 7 months ago

His fund-raising was outstripped by profligate spending. The new scoreboard stands as his true epitaph. It will always read 6 to 3. Like a criminal verdict of guilty with a few reservations. . .

dontcallmedan 7 years, 7 months ago

Thank you, Professor Tuttle. You may be retired, but you're still teaching.

drnater 7 years, 7 months ago

what failures are those exactly? his negotiating to get KU into the Orange Bowl? The way he sat down and helped work out an agreement to keep the Big 12 intact? How about the ability to help get big name recruits by not only building state of the art facilities, but allow our teams to gain money by playing at arrowhead and the sprint center? Maybe, by keeping Bill Self here by signing him to 2 extensions, those being around 05, and after the national chapionship when his alma mater wanted him to come home? Funny that if he wouldn't have signed Mangino to his 1st extension we might not even have won the games to make the orange bowl. These are a few of the things that happened because of Lew. Im guessing you would have preferred the old AD better who somehow managed to allow the school to rack up 26 infractions within a 6 year span. However, if you look at Lews previous record at the last 2 schools he's been AD he has a combined 9 championships, if my mind serves me right. Plus a Time Magazine AD of the year award. So how do these allegations (which is exactly what they are) which none of, I remind you, has he been convicted of or linked to. I believe the court system is run as an innocent until proven guilty, and he's not guilty of anything except doin his job well. This is rediculous, nobody is speculating it could be due to deteriorating health, he does keep his personal life very quiet, which is what should be done. Get off his back and thank him for keeping the pieces together for us getting to celebrate championships! Hope your retirement is a great one! You've done nothing but further the schools you worked for!

walkingonwater 7 years, 7 months ago

Brom, I've noticed you tend to bring up Jesus quite a bit, does thou protest too much?

jhawkazmars 7 years, 7 months ago

What goes around goes around, MM is still laughing in Florida. He did not care about the university, fans, faculty or alumni, he only cared about m-o-n-e-y. Good riddance to the greed and lack of respect for those of us who spent our hard earned money to attend games. Even the grandson of the great Phog Allen was disrespected by him and his "point system" in Allen Field House. If that is not selfish greed, then I don't know what is. He doesn't know the meaning of Rock Chalk Jayhawk, nor does he care.

Martin Shupert 7 years, 7 months ago

Okay, I just don't know enough to be negative. Maybe others do. I think it's time to turn the page and I hope the next selection does a very good job.

George_Braziller 7 years, 7 months ago

I knew he wouldn't last. and KU would dump him in an attempt to save face. He had too much scandal attached to him.

So long Uncle Fester. Good riddance.

jayhawks71 7 years, 7 months ago

"The KU football team won the 2008 Orange Bowl and the men’s basketball team won the 2008 national title under Perkins’ watch."

Yet, he did not hire either coach who accomplished those goals. Who has Perkins hired as AD anyway? Hendrickson and Gill? We have yet to see how his "prize hire" will do with the football team. It hasn't started out well, but at least we need to give him some time to right the ship. I stick with my comments during Gill's courting. I've still seen nothing to be impressed by. I hope that I will ultimately be wrong.

Haiku_Cuckoo 7 years, 7 months ago

Tuttle obviously didn't teach finance. I'm picturing a grumpy old man who is afraid of progress. Quite fitting that he was a history professor. That point system is used by many major universities. It's the smart thing to do when it comes to fundraising. KU was able to build some nice sports facilities as a result.

pizzapete 7 years, 7 months ago

I was hoping we could continue giving him like $50,000 a month to be front row center at every major US sporting event. Damn Lou, you owe me tickets?

Bob Forer 7 years, 7 months ago

hitme gets an A+++++++++++++++++++. Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto and ditto! .

matthewjherbert 7 years, 7 months ago

I guess he was tired of the Turner Gill era already.

purplesage 7 years, 7 months ago

Until this article, I hadn't realized or had forgotten Perkins was responsible for that point system. I voted in the letter grad poll yesterday, thinking he did OK earlier and not so well of late. I change that to an F.

Paying $2 million for work not done when the employee has botched things up like this is obscene. To did I say that - it is commonplace in the educational world to get rid of administration no longer wanted.

Match this payment with the inability to fund education in the larger sense, tuition increases at KU, etc.. Who gives a rip if tax payer money is used? It is KU money and KU is a public institution so . . . Perkins just got into the pocket of Kansas for $2 million bucks he doesn't deserve.

That is enough money to make many comfortable for life . . . this is just wrong.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Perkins did much good for KU. We need to remember that as he leaves. The search will be interesting to watch. If KU cannot attract a new AD as skilled as Lew, it will begin a long slide back to the middle of the pack, in facilities development, in fund raising and in other areas. Perkins leaves in unfortunate circumstances, but those who gloat over his demise need some ideas on how to move forward. Good luck to you, Sir.

CLARKKENT 7 years, 7 months ago


kujayhawk7476 7 years, 7 months ago

I think every supporter of the University of Kansas, Kansas Athletics as well as every member of the Board of Regents needs to be watching the actions of Chancellor Gray-Little very carefully over the next year. In my opinion, she is not a fan of athletics and may be leading Kansas down the path to athletic mediocracy or worse, the likes of which we've never seen. It may be necessary to cut our losses in more than one leadership position.

irvan moore 7 years, 7 months ago

i liked the part where the acting ad said he would like to be the ad and then in the paper this morning the chancellor corrected him by saying he said he had no interest in the job. hopefully the new ad will have the same kind of horsepower Lew had but maybe use it in a kinder gentler way.

Michael Bennett 7 years, 7 months ago

Lew is an !$#, but he made hard decisions and brought KU into the 20th century when it came to fund raising. The issue that befell Mangino also brought down Lew. Namely, when you are a !$!#$ people will put up with it until things start to go bad. When they go bad, no one will FIGHT FOR YOU. He deserved to go. His #$!# attitude that he was above the rules got him canned.

Wayne Propst 7 years, 7 months ago

Hemingway should have been fired when he took a $50,000 earmark from a KU donor..... Perkins should have been fired when he hired his 20 something son-in-law at $100,000 per year...........

Red_Forman 7 years, 7 months ago

It is easy to make lots of capital improvements when the banks will loan you anything you want because they know they will eventually collect from a state agency. Has anyone checked the amount of debt the department had pre-Lew and now?

missmagoo 7 years, 7 months ago

I think the best part of this article is finding out Sean Lester will NOT be a candidate for the next AD. Hopefully the next AD will get rid of him and the "Lew" era will offically be over!!! Marchiony too?! Okay, I won't get my hopes up too high...

ralphralph 7 years, 7 months ago

Some meddling kids will pull the mask off Lew to reveal ... David Wittig! ... and he would have gotten away, with it too ...

Kent Fisher 7 years, 7 months ago

Jonathan/Whitney, you have two headlines which state "athletic" director. This should read "athletics" director.

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