"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Why Cottingham?

Why Cottingham? Some will say why not. Some will say it's about time. Others will say why. Why? Count me as part of the last group.

Look, I have nothing personal against Cottingham. I worked with him a smidge while in the athletic department in the late 1990's. He's a very charming fellow, nice guy, solid lawyer. Overall, a solid guy, solid employee at MU (yes, he is a UW-Madison graduate leading the MU Athletic Department...makes you a bit squeemish doesn't it), smart fellow, understands the MU mission, has a strong legal background to navigate today's more complex collegiate athletic landscape, etc, etc. In today's college athletics world, that legal acumen will serve him well, especially with the potentially rough and tumble scenarios that could present themselves down the road with any potential Big East re-alignments.

Here's the one thing we don't know, and it's big. How is he at picking a coach? How is he at understanding that part of the job...the student-athlete and coaching relationship? Is that a learned skill that he can hone? Or do you just have it? Makes you wonder when 30 minutes ago someone like Kelvin Sampson was fired (according to Fox Sports) at Indiana. Hmmmm. As dominoes fall, will Cottingham be able to pick the right "next guy" if that decision came about?

Bill Cords, who I had the pleasure of working with for many years, didn't have Cottingham's legal background or some of those other business skills that are so badly needed in today's environment. I never felt he was comfortable at the fund raising aspect required today, either. But the one attribute that he had as a given was the coaching factor. Cords was a football coach for many years, he understood the recruiting process, the teaching process, the scheduling process, etc. That was a tremendous asset for him when it came to hiring coaches and dealing with them.

So, like many things in life, there are trade-offs. We now have an AD well positioned in some areas of the business, but there is that glaring unknown. For that reason I ask why. Why? Cottingham has been the interim AD for over a year...why now make him the AD? Was it based on his efforts over the last 14 months? Certainly plausible and perhaps likely. Or was it the inability to attract any other good candidates? On one hand, I'm thrilled we actually have an AD permanently in place, on the other hand it really makes one scratch their head that an outside placement firm couldn't find anyone else (nobody leaked anyway) with some serious AD experience as a candidate. Perhaps Cottingham just beat them all out. I don't know and doubt any of us will ever know what the "process" was in selecting the AD, but it always fascinates me when firms or schools have this much time and spend money on outside firms only to settle on an inside candidate. Sometimes it works out to be a terrific hire. Sometimes it's simply about settling. I hope it's not the latter.

One additional comment....how does this effect Crean? One could argue Crean has been a defacto AD for a few years now....certainly the CEO of the only product line in the athletic department that is profitable. That is to say, his voice is loud and is heard. Does this hire, especially with 14 months working with Crean, mean that it has Crean's blessing? Does this hire mean Crean is likely to remain at MU for many years to come as he continues to orchestrate from a top his perch? The implication by some, certainly, will be that Crean remains essentially in control of his domain while Cottingham runs "the rest of the department". Again, all just guesses and innuendo at this point.

I would argue that on one hand, the hiring of Cottingham may solidify Crean's tenure at MU even longer. It keeps everything status quo. In some athletic departments there is a strong AD organization, much like a strong Mayoral government system in some cities. While other departments or cities use a committee approach without a strong singular head. In this case, Crean remains the most important person in the MU athletic department and I don't see Cottingham as someone that equals that power. Sure, if NCAA transgressions were to occur on Crean's watch then that's a different story where Cottingham suddenly becomes the guy. But from my perch 2000 miles away, Crean is CEO of hoops with Cottingham as AD over the other sports and passive oversight over basketball. Not a bad setup if you have an ethical coach who runs a tight ship (which I believe we do), but it does allow for more freedom then some folks are comfortable with. I could be dead wrong on my interpretation, but that's my guess....Crean still remains essentially the guy.

On the other hand, some might argue that this is an AD that will function like other ADs across the country who will do their best to help their coaches and programs, but ultimately has the final word on everything...including hoops. I don't see that, but who knows.

Let's hope after a 14 month process they got it right....despite having him there all this time right under their nose...despite the fact he's a UW-Madison badger....despite the fact he's never been in an athletic department role other then the last 14 months....let's hope. Nothing in the previous 14 months screams he shouldn't have the job...then again we haven't gone through one of those pinnacle moments either.

Good luck. Fingers crossed. We want nothing but success for you and the department.


Unknown said...

I'm not terribly concerned about Steve making a coaching decision. Frankly, that's the type of thing that will be handled by a search team anyways.

To me, what happened at Indiana is further proof you want a guy like Steve with an impeccable legal background and knack for compliance issues.

Plus as in business, internal candidates always have a better feel for the organization, especially a thriving organization, like MU, and not one in peril.

I like the move and am surprised it took so long.

Gene Frenkle said...

I disagree with you, Matt. A "team" doesn't make a coaching decision. Usually, a "team" will be brought in to offer guidance and opinions, but the decision at the end of the day rests solely with the A.D.

It is the AD's job to always have a list of potential replacements for all coaching jobs, but most importantly for MU, its mens hoops team.

For MU, its athletics department's budget rests in the hands of Tom Crean's success. If he were to leave and there's no plan in place, it would be catastrophic for the program and would take years to recover. Obviously, nobody knows if Crean's going anywhere and I don't see him doing so unless an insane job comes up or MSU is available. That said, the AD had better have a back-up plan and while I'm sure Cottingham is a fine lawyer, I'm not comfortable with his lack of experience running the school's athletic department.

We're in the Big East now. Not CUSA. You're telling me MU couldn't afford/find someone with athletic dept. expertise?

Time will tell with all of this stuff but on the surface, I'm not a big fan of this hire at all.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't sound like Steve is too sure either based on Rosiak's article:

"In a statement, Cottingham said that while he intended to return to his role as associate senior vice president at the school, "the support I received and my own experience led me to conclude that this was the right place for me to serve the university at this point in time."

Like the loyalty, his record on capital investments...but we need to build all our sports now we are in a big league conference. Having sports networking links is critical for a school like MU. Let's hope for a strong support staff. When is does the football season start?

Anonymous said...

The concerns are: 1)Crean has noone to be accountable to. 2)The vision for the total athletic program.

Anonymous said...

Stange post. Lot of subjective terms and "hypothetical" situations. The AD position at a big conference, concenting school isn't a job where someone can fudge their references and hope nobody contacts them. You don't exactly slip through the seems unfiltered here guys. I'm sure he's perfectly suitable for the job.

Anonymous said...

concenting = *contending

Anonymous said...

I don't think they really care what you think.

Anonymous said...

I hope he doesn't mess with the football team!

Anonymous said...

Your point on trade offs is key. With that in mind, its important to remember that unlike when Cords was hired, Cottingham assumes the leadership of a well funded and deeply talented athletic department.

The Blue & Gold Fund, compliance, academic support expertise, expanded SID-type resources, and Nelligan sports marketing (for starters, I am sure there's much more of an infrastructure there) make the AD role much different than before. Cottingham has a deep, talented bench behind him, and the university has given every indication that athletics will remain a priority for this administration. So, with a deeper team behind him, Steve's background and preumably (hopefully) his skills as a manager and leader make him a solid choice for MU.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, because the athletic department is funded by the Men's basketball program, that a good established relationship between Crean and Cottingham was paramount. Nothing wrong with that. Why mess with a good relationship with the Men's basketball program being in strong shape.

Gene Frenkle said...

He really sounds fired up about the gig:

"I've been here 12½ years," he said. "I love the place, the institution and the mission we have. In the last couple of weeks, I reached the conclusion that the best place for me to positively affect the university, not just the athletic department, was to take on the role of permanent athletic director."

So, he basically decided 'what the f, I'll do it!' No. I don't like this. You want someone with experience to handle the program in crisis situations (coach departs, program under scrutiny, etc.). Cottingham's done none of this.

Oh, oh...he did negotiate contracts with coach's though. He didn't pick the coaches, but he negotiated their contracts. I feel much better now.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the exact type of background that most ADs have these days. You generally don't have many of the former coaches types moving into the AD job, but have people who have the legal and/or managerial background to deal with the complexities of the athletic department.

And with all due respect, it isn't as though Bill Cords had a great track record of hiring coaches. He hired Dukiet and Deane right? Furthermore, there has been very little success in the other sports areas outside of an occasional tournament appearance by the women's team. He also orchestrated the initial move to the MCC which could have turned into a complete disaster for the basketball program, though obviously he rebounded well from that to make a series of moves that got us into the Big East

TB said...

Cords fired Dukiet to hire O'Neill. Yes, he hired Deane -- and despite averaging 20 wins per year, canned him and landed TC. He also rebuilt the women's program too with Jabir and Mitchell.

Cords' track record of hiring hoops coaches was stellar at MU.

His patience and vision around MU's conference affiliation was tremendous......MCC to GMC to CUSA to Big East.....that's brilliant when you consider the odds back when MU's hand was forced and the university had to get into the conference shuffle.

Anonymous said...

The tip off that this was the game plan came when MU hired George Koonce as Senior Athletics Director. How could you possibly bring in an outsider once you give someone that title?

Anonymous said...

Bill Cords did not hire Dukiet, that was Hank Raymonds.

As for Cords hiring Deane, yes he did hire a coach that won 100 games in 5 years...is that a bad hire?

Cords also hired a Markus Roeders who has turned MU women's soccer into a power.

Jody Bronson who has put her women's tennis team into the NCAAs.

Hired Terri Mitchell for women's hoops who turned around an absolutely horrible program and put them in the NCAAs.

Hired the new men's soccer coach.

And on the men's hoops side, Cords also hired Kevin O'Neill and Tom Crean.

I'd say Cords' coaching hires look pretty strong.

Anonymous said...

Please don't justify Dean as a good hire just for 20 wins a season. Who were most of those wins against?

Anonymous said...

Hey - Not everything pans out, the question is how do you deal with it.

I think the fact that Cords fired a coach who won 100 games in 5 years shows that he was activly managing the program with winning as the goal and not autopiloting.
Anyone who says Cords has not done a great job w coach hiring does not get it.

Anonymous said...

He needs a shave and a new picture. He looks like a used car salesman. (not joking here)

Anonymous said...

JUst give the guy a chance. The decision has been made and, you know what, notwithstanding the gripes abouyt Coach Crean, things are going pretty well right now.

We're nationally ranked.

We're winning, albeit not as often as we would like, but we're still winning much more than we lose.

We're in the toughest basketball conference in America and holding our own.

We beat the roadkill from Wisconsin and that goofy Irish team from Hoosier land, both in the same season.

We're headed back for the NCAA and we might even win again!

It could be much worse! Ask DePaul or Cincinnati