It's business first for today's ADs
Posted July 17, 2014
Updated July 18, 2014
If there was a defining moment in the direction of the leadership of modern collegiate athletic administrations, it probably was Aug. 5, 1987.
That was the day Notre Dame not only shocked the sports world but re-invented an important and time-honored template by hiring a corporate big wheel to replace Gene Corrigan as the school’s director of athletics.
Dick Rosenthal, then 54, was a former Irish basketball star and had been a faithful, enthusiastic supporter of Notre Dame teams since his mid-20s.
But when Corrigan left South Bend to become the ACC commissioner, Rosenthal had absolutely zero experience as an athletic director. He had no coaching experience of any consequence. He certainly had never hired one or fired one. He’d never arranged football series.
Until that day in 1987, Rosenthal had been a banker. But not just any banker. He’d been one of the successful and influential commercial executives of the century in greater Chicago, and the entire country for that matter.
In economic circles, he was a cross between Corrigan and Moose Krause, Corrigan's predecessor and Notre Dame’s athletic director for more than 30 years.
Rosenthal had some of Corrigan’s charm and knack for networking and some of Krause’s determination and commitment to the institution.
But most of Notre Dame’s previous ADs had been some of the famous football coaches in the sport’s history – Knute Rockne, Elmer Layden and Frank Leahy.
Rosenthal, by his own description, knew little about the fine points of football. But he knew a hell of a lot about making money, and, more importantly, finding folks with money. He was completely comfortable hammering out high-dollar televisions contracts and endorsement deals.
The message Notre Dame sent with the Rosenthal hiring was clear: the business side of sports had changed so much in such a short time that athletic directors needed a gift for financing more than coaching strategies. And where Notre Dame goes in sports, many other colleges follow.
The Triangle has become a perfect example. Duke even went so far as to hire Kevin White, who once occupied the same Notre Dame position as Rosenthal.
UNC brought in Bubba Cunningham from Tulsa, a former Notre Dame golfer and associate AD in South Bend.
N.C. State’s Debbie Yow had some coaching experience but made her reputation for directing Maryland out of a financial quagmire.
Like N.C. Central’s Ingrid Wicker-McCree, Yow has a doctoral degree. Before UNC Charlotte hired Judy Rose in 1990, there had not been only two major college females AD anywhere.
At Thursday’s 99.9 FM The Fan Town Hall program in Durham, these four ADs likely will spend as much time discussing contracts, fund-raising projects and financially motivated conference realignments as how many games they think their 2014 football teams will win.
The days of “retiring” the famous old coach to the athletic director’s office are gone, never to return. Coaches will still become ADs, of course. But it will happen only after they prove themselves as capable in financial forecasting as they were at game planning.