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Big wheels turn slowly on AD search.

Byline: Ron Bellamy The Register-Guard

The official advertisement seeking candidates for the job of Oregon athletic director appeared Friday on the NCAA Web site, and will run Monday in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

It says that the "successful candidate" will report directly to the university president, will demonstrate leadership skills and will "have experience managing a complex financial organization and securing donations and other external support necessary to sustain a self-supporting budget and an innovative program."

Interestingly, the ad doesn't specify that Oregon's next athletic director must have held that post elsewhere or, for that matter, worked anywhere in athletics. On paper, demonstrated success in the business world would be just as compelling, in part a reflection of the big business that college athletics have become.

Then again, the ad also doesn't say that the "successful candidate" will inherit a bit of a train wreck, the demise of the Bill Moos era in a $2 million buyout.

It doesn't say that the "successful candidate," like a character in "Lord of the Rings," will be entrusted with the Thus Far Impossible And Yet Very Important Job of building a new basketball arena by quickly earning the trust of the single donor essential to making that happen.

Nor does the ad contain a warning label: "Fires burning; bring your own water."

Figure that the final few will know the score on the arena project - home team's trailing in quadruple overtime, time running out - and the other quirky, migraine-inducing challenges of a position they will, to a man and woman, publicly declare through gritted teeth to be one of the top jobs in the country.

Figure, too, that the Chosen One will have the ego to believe the flames can be survived and the dragon tamed, and the capacity to ignore the smoldering remains of the previous AD.

The job posting is a required legality, but its timing appears to be symbolic of a search process that's apparently on the verge of shifting from the research phase to the recruitment phase, with president Dave Frohnmayer's April 1 goal of naming Moos' successor - either a permanent successor or an interim choice - more than a paper target.

"The search team has developed an aggressive time-line and will accept applications and nominations until the position is filled," the UO ad states.

Allan Price, the UO vice president for university advancement who is chairing Frohnmayer's search team, said the other day that the group has met twice a week the last two weeks, and that he and Frohnmayer discuss the topic daily.

"We haven't talked in about an hour," Price quipped. "It's a pretty lively topic of conversation. He is personally very, very interested in this. It is getting his personal attention. It's a serious hire."

Price made it clear that the search team's role is to provide Frohnmayer with information about top candidates, and even that will be "a process of identifying the people we're interested in, more so than the standard search process, where you run an ad, and people apply, and you sort resumes."

The decision will be Frohnmayer's, and should be. In my view, at some point, after the groundwork is done, Frohnmayer needs to get on an airplane, or walk over to the Casanova Center, and come back with his arm around his choice. End of story.

That the process doesn't seem closer to that now is disconcerting, given that Frohnmayer and Moos were discussing exit strategies since early last fall, but perhaps that's the process-laden nature of higher education vs. the get-it-done pace of private business.

But there should be a sense of urgency now, a sense that each week that goes past is a week lost toward building a new and ever-more-expensive basketball arena. Price said Frohnmayer "wants to have the person named by April 1, and my goal is to have it done before that."

Where will the search lead? If there is a three- or four-person short list for Oregon - and Price indicated that the university isn't quite that far yet - then, in my view, it should include Tom Jernstedt, the Oregon grad from Carlton who is NCAA senior vice president, and Vin Lananna, the high-powered and visionary associate athletic director and director of track and field, and it would include the best sitting athletic director available, and perhaps an "X factor," if you will, an outside-the-box choice.

At this point, it seems unlikely that the list would include Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks, the former Oregon coach who also served two years as athletic director here. Brooks, who just led Kentucky to victory in the Music City Bowl, said Friday that he is "getting very close" to signing a new deal with the Wildcats that would add three years and a rollover clause to the year he has remaining on his contract.

Brooks, 65, has the nucleus of a good team returning, and he's just hired two new assistant coaches and promoted former Duck defensive back Steve Brown to defensive coordinator, and letter-of-intent signing day looms Feb. 7.

"I have a job to do here, and make sure that gets done," Brooks said, adding: "I have a lot of people who are counting on me here."

Brooks said he has "obviously very strong feelings for the University of Oregon, and I've watched their successes since I left," which was in 1995, after Oregon won the Pac-10 title and played in the Rose Bowl. "They've done some remarkable things. It's kind of got to the point where everyone expects them to win nine, 10 games (in football) and go to the championships and do that every year now.

"How things have changed."

Brooks said the Oregon AD position is "a lot different" than when he filled it, for an additional $20,000 per year while also serving as football coach, from 1992-94. "We were in very difficult financial times, with state-mandated freezing of salaries," Brooks said. "We had to get our athletic department out of the deficit, which we did in that two-year period, and built some substantial reserves. I felt like things were in very good shape when I stepped down. ...

"Obviously, there are different challenges now with the arena looming and the budget having been pretty much tripled since I left. It is, I would think, a very attractive job for an athletic director."

Some points:

Price said Frohnmayer is still open to the concept of an interim choice, but that would be defined as "someone who could come in and over the next couple of years make a huge difference," rather than a shorter period than that.

"If someone is going to be a one-year deal, what that would be is Dave wanting to give us more time to keep working on finding the next athletic director," Price said.

An interim choice would say that Oregon had parted ways with Moos without having a better plan, and that's a risky message to send at a time that Oregon needs long-term vision and stability. However, a strong interim athletic director might be necessary, to provide immediate leadership, deal with financial challenges, move the arena project forward and deal with coaching situations.

When basketball season ends, Oregon will arguably face decisions about both programs - whether to stick with women's coach Bev Smith, and whether to enhance the contract of men's coach Ernie Kent. Kent's contract wasn't rolled over after last season, but, given Oregon's success this season, he's marketable again and likely to attract interest from programs needing a coach.

Moos was earning approximately $550,000 per year, including bonuses and deferred compensation. "It's clear the market has moved up," Price said. "For people who are at the top of their game, it's going to be a sizable package, I would guess. ... There are certainly athletic directors that are making more than the package Bill currently has. Whether we'd offer that would be up to Dave."

As the Oregon job posting suggests, fundraising ability will be a key component in the background of any viable candidate.

"Fundraising is one of the critical attributes in a senior leadership position like this, just as it is for a dean and anybody in a senior leadership position of this sort," Price said. He noted that Frohnmayer has made it "very clear about his goals, and one of those is taking what is now a self-supporting athletic program and building it to the next level, which is a self-sustaining program.

"Some part of the key to that is the arena, and some part of the key to that is being able to continue to market the program, and some part of that is the ability to raise funds to support the program long-term."

What a huge decision this is, for Oregon athletics, the University of Oregon, and this community.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 28, 2007
Words:1469
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