Athletic directors in the Pac-12 used to be former football coaches, Olympians, shortstops, point guards and hometown heroes tasked with piloting $2 million budgets and administrative staffs of five or 10 people.
Bit by bit, since Arizona entered the Pac-10 in 1978, it has all changed.
Now the league’s ADs are grads of Harvard Law School, accountants from Ernst & Young and those who commanded troops in the Army and earned their AD chops at the Air Force Academy.
When USC and AD Lynn Swann parted ways a few days ago, it almost surely closed the Pac-12’s book on hiring athletic directors based on bloodlines and hero worship.
The league’s only old-school AD in office is UCLA’s 68-year-old Dan Guerrero, a former Bruins baseball player who never really left the neighborhood, learning the AD business at Cal State Dominguez Hills and UC Irvine.
There have been 59 ADs since Arizona was absorbed by the conference 41 years ago, roughly six per school from the original Pac-10. Arizona State, with nine ADs, has changed leadership more than any school, and it probably reflects why the Sun Devils have consistently been referred to as a “sleeping giant” rather than establishing themselves as a Top 25 program such as Oregon, which was a financially challenged bottom feeder in 1978.
It took the Ducks a while to figure it out, to put Nike’s money to work and change their image. The Ducks even hired football coaches Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti and noted donor-fan Pat Kilkenny to be their AD before hiring a financial expert, Rob Mullins, off the Kentucky staff. Bingo.
Most of those ADs on the job when Arizona played its first Pac-10 season were celebrities in the community with distinguished athletic backgrounds.
UCLA’s powerful J.D. Morgan had coached tennis legend Arthur Ashe and himself had been a Bruins tennis standout 40 years earlier.
USC’s Richard Perry had been a visible part of the Trojans’ physical education department, a Faculty Senate leader as well as a well-known baseball coach at nearby Long Beach State.
Oregon State’s Dee Andros, the Great Pumpkin, had coached OSU’s football team to national prominence in the late 1960s.
Cal’s Dave Maggard was one of the most-well known athletes in Berkeley, a former Golden Bears All-American shot putter who had competed in the Olympics.
Even Oregon, which went outside the UO neighborhood to hire John Caine, made sure it landed a big-name AD — Caine had played basketball for John Wooden at UCLA.
Over the ensuing 40 years, the hiring of athletic directors changed to reflect budgets that now soar past $100 million per school. A résumé sings when it is laden with business sense and not someone’s old football statistics.
It seems inconceivable that USC has been able to operate at a Top 25-level, ignoring the 21st century business model, when their last three ADs have been a Heisman Trophy running back (Mike Garrett), a star Trojans QB (Pat Haden) and Swann, a standout USC receiver with Super Bowl bloodlines.
Other than Guerrero, none of the other ADs from the original Pac-10 schools has a background at their school.
Washington’s Jennifer Cohen attended San Diego State and Pacific Lutheran. WSU’s Patrick Chun spent 15 years working his way up the ladder at home-state Ohio State.
More? Stanford’s Bernard Muir, who played basketball at Brown, served terms as the AD at Duquesne and Georgetown. Cal’s Jim Knowlton, who spent 20 years as an Army officer, arrived at Berkeley from his post as the AD at Air Force. Oregon State’s Scott Barnes, a basketball player at Fresno State, earned his reputation as a smaller-school AD at Utah State.
ASU’s Ray Anderson, a former Stanford baseball star, and Arizona’s Dave Heeke, a baseball player at Albion College in Michigan, have far different backgrounds.
Anderson graduated from Harvard Law School and served at the highest level of administration in the NFL. Heeke spent more than a decade as the AD at Central Michigan, near his hometown, spending two decades in the business before moving to Tucson.
My first relationship with an AD from a Pac-12 school came while working in Oregon, covering OSU and Oregon. Looking back, it’s shake-your-head stuff.
Jim Barratt was Oregon State’s AD from 1966-75, a Beaver to the core, growing up in tiny Hermiston, Oregon, earning his degree at OSU, working at the school’s newspaper and getting a job in the Oregon State ticket office upon graduation.
When I arrived in Oregon, Barratt had left the school to open a travel business in the Willamette Valley, and always arranged my travel with OSU football and basketball teams. He made a lot more money operating “Away Travel” than he did as OSU’s athletic director, but his perspective on college sports in the early 1980s fascinated me.
He told me he quit his AD job because Oregon State didn’t have the resources to properly fund Title IX, legislation that demanded women’s athletes be given opportunities available to male athletes.
“I got weary of fighting windmills,” he often said.
Oregon State developed a $130,000 athletic budget debt after Title IX was instituted. That was a heavy burden in the early 1980s. People at OSU refer to the resignation of the popular AD as “the day the rain fell.’
Oregon State spent 25 years in the Pac-10 basement, broke, busted and an easy out. The Beavers tried to replace Barratt with the football coaching legend, the Great Pumpkin, but that failed. After that came Lynn Snyder, Dutch Baughman, Mitch Barnhardt, Bob DeCarolis, Todd Stansbury and now Scott Barnes.
Except for their excellence in baseball and women’s basketball, the rain still falls in Corvallis.
The original Pac-10 school with the fewest ADs over 41 years, Stanford, probably has the No. 1 overall athletic program, men’s and women’s sports, in the NCAA. It reflects Stanford’s steadiness at the top.
Andy Geiger, a former rowing coach at Dartmouth and AD at Brown and Penn, oversaw Stanford’s department in the 1980s. He was replaced by Ted Leland, who got his doctorate at Stanford and, in my opinion, was the league’s most successful AD of the last 41 years. After 15 years, Leland was replaced by Bob Bowlsby, the AD at Iowa, who was so successful at Stanford that he became commissioner of the Big 12.
Now Stanford is guided by Bernard Muir, an Ivy League grad whose AD work at Georgetown and Delaware put him on every school’s radar.
Muir didn’t have a trace of Stanford blood when he was hired seven years ago. Many Stanford fans asked “who’s that guy?”
But in 2019, the business of being a college AD isn’t the name as much as it is the bottom line.