Bowl post right fit for Shelton

Talk with headhunter, timing lead to Arizona president's job switch
2011-06-15T00:00:00Z 2011-06-15T06:18:10Z Bowl post right fit for SheltonBy Patrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 15, 2011 12:00 am  • 

SCOTTSDALE - Robert Shelton's move from the University of Arizona's 19th president to executive director of the revived Fiesta Bowl took about three weeks.

After speaking to a fellow university president, Shelton contacted Parker Executive Search, a headhunter, in late May.

Shelton, the only Arizona-based finalist from a 150-person field that included Fortune 500 and Olympic executives, was introduced Tuesday at the Ziegler Fiesta Bowl Museum.

Recommendations came from, among others, Penn State President Graham Spanier, who chaired the Bowl Championship Series Presidential Oversight Committee that fined the Fiesta Bowl $1 million after a political contributions and spending scandal.

On the phone from Thailand, he endorsed Shelton to Duane Woods, the Fiesta Bowl's chairman of the board of directors.

Shelton, a Phoenix native who said he tended to switch jobs every five years or so, figured the timing was right.

"These are challenging jobs at universities," Shelton said Tuesday. "At some point, you have to let somebody new come in with a new sword that's sharp and a new shield that hasn't got a lot of holes poked in it and try his or her leadership style."

Shelton said he "hadn't even thought about" whether he would have remained at the UA beyond 2012, when his contract was set to expire.

The 62-year-old seemed like a perfect fit, Woods said, for the game and its title sponsor, Tostitos. The Fiesta Bowl runs its own bowl, the Insight Bowl and about 40 other events.

"You think about everything we were looking for," Woods said. "And he's from here. And he has a passion for it."

Shelton is familiar with the challenges faced by the Fiesta Bowl. He was a member of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee. Shelton recused himself from the investigation because he was from Arizona, but he was briefed on the findings.

Former executive director John Junker was fired in March after a task force found he had made improper political contributions and threw lavish parties paid for with company dollars.

The game was allowed to remain as part of the BCS and kept Glendale in the four-city rotation as a host for the national title game.

"A very small number of people felt that they were bigger and more important than the bowl itself," Shelton said. "And that's a recipe for problems wherever you are. … You can fall quickly, and it takes a long time to get back up."

He called his own hire an important step in the Fiesta Bowl being fiscally forthright, as "there's probably no organization that's more scrutinized" than a public university.

Shelton, who said he wants to work another five or 10 years, said he was "very impressed" by the changes made by the Fiesta Bowl over the past year.

"I would not have taken the job had I felt otherwise," he said.

Woods said Shelton's interest was piqued "when he realized where we're headed" and has "a chance to save something really important to the state right now."

Shelton will make $455,000 per year plus incentives over four years and starts the job Aug. 1.

Wearing his new Fiesta Bowl faint-yellow jacket, Shelton said he hoped his UA legacy would be defined by "the way we kept the research mission strong (and) the way we've defined what a public land-grant means in this era," given a tight budget.

"I hope they'll remember me as somebody that was transparent, that was open," he said, "That dealt with people fairly and honestly with integrity, and made hard decisions to move the university forward."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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