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That Idiot

I have always had problems understanding why anybody would want to be an athletic director. It seems a basically thankless job. There are few things an AD does that seem to suit any school’s fan base; indeed, the more volatile elements of any fan base will usually preface their AD’s name with the words, “that idiot.”

It is the AD who takes the blame if a popular coach does not quite win some championship every year. You often read or hear, “If that idiot [insert name of offending AD] would simply give coach [insert name of popular coach] what he needs WE would be heading to the BCS [or Final Four, depending on which sport the particular school is best at] every single year.” If the coach loses more than a few times in a season, then the AD endures comments such as, “I don’t understand why that idiot [insert name of offending AD] doesn’t fire that abject loser [insert name of abject loser] this very instant before OUR program is trashed beyond salvage.” Then there is the more ominous “That idiot [insert name of offending AD] was the incompetent clown who hired that bumbling [insert name of abject loser] in the first place and should be run out of town, too.” No matter what, the athletic director is not a popular person. Who wants the job?

Well, for one thing, it usually pays pretty well. The people occupying the positions at most BCS-caliber schools are compensated in the range of $300-500k per year. All in all, that’s not a bad salary. You can deal with a lot of griping by message board loons for that kind of coin. Still, the pay is not all that great, relatively speaking, as the AD is usually only the third highest-paid person in his department. At most places, the football and basketball coaches are making more, in some instances a lot more. Even so, it’s not bad money.

The Athletic Director does get to attend all of the football and basketball games, another plus. But, that is not quite the same as it is for the average fan guzzling beer and scarfing down fried chicken out in the parking lot. The AD supposedly is at work doing whatever it is they do doing contests. Also, the AD has to show up at least a time or two each year for a volleyball match or track meet, which the average fan wouldn’t do under penalty of death. How many average fans would like to be told they had to attend a field hockey game?

Having to occasionally attend a lacrosse match and pretend that is anything more than a drag on football and basketball finances ties in to the most important job function of any AD, keeping the departmental wheels greased. It takes money to run college athletics departments and in these Title IX days where the feds require that large amounts of cash be thrown at sports by gender regardless of whether anyone is actually interested in them; it takes a lot. To keep both the Title IX feminazis and university auditors screaming about red ink from his or her door, the first job of any Athletic Director is making sure enough long green is on hand.

The best way to ensure that sufficient funds are around to pay for all of the costs associated with all of the sports necessary to satisfy the Title IX Commissars is to develop and maintain winning programs in either football or men’s basketball, preferably both. Of the two, a winning football team is far more important because it has the potential to generate far more big bucks. It may irritate an AD to have message board loons referring to him as “that idiot” but having big donors saying the same thing spells trouble.

It is not just necessary to field a winning football team that sells out stadiums. These days, a football team has to win enough to not only sell out the stadium but to cause such a demand for tickets that people will pay a premium for the right to buy tickets. Then there is the little matter of filling the luxury suites that are popping up around stadiums like wild mushrooms after a spring rain. That takes a fair amount of high rollers willing to part with upwards of $100k a year for the right to hang around in those suites during games well away from the mere ticket-buying mortals. This is where it can get tricky.

To pay for all of the federal mandates attached to today’s college athletics requires a winning football program that will cause enough people to pay enough big money to keep things rolling. To keep that going requires spending enough money on that football program to keep it winning in order to keep enough people paying big money to pay for all of the federal mandates attached to today’s college athletics. It can be a vicious circle.

Athletic Directors, even the female ones once they have learned how the economic engine is primed, tend to listen to the women’s cross country coach nagging for more money while reading the paper, nodding and occasionally mumbling, “Yes, dear.” To keep peace in the family, however, it occasionally becomes necessary to toss her way a little more of the loot brought in by the football program. It’s never a lot, but it has to be enough to keep her and the rest of the coaches of the women’s teams from running to Washington and whining about non-support.

These monies must be paid while keeping the departmental bread-winner happy. At most places this is the football coach. For the most part, successful football coaches are not stupid people. They are well aware of how much their programs are raking in and are not shy about sticking out their hands and demanding a bigger piece of the action. For the AD, the challenge becomes balancing what is necessary to keep the winning coach around continuing to win games and keep the cash registers humming against the needs of what are known as the ‘minor’ sports.

The Athletic Director at Virginia Tech is Jim ‘jimmy’ Weaver. He is a guy that combines the generous nature of Ebenezer Scrooge with the warm personality of Leonoid Breznhev. While it might come as a surprise to the several hundred readers of SwaggerSays who have found their way to this site through the heroic efforts of BobLee, mostly Tar Heels and a few Wolves [I’m not sure about the collegiate allegiances of all of those Quantico Marines, the best people reading this- their major rivalry transcends the silly college ones] used to his glowing descriptions of Prince Tassel Loafer, the Athletic Director at Virginia Tech is not the most popular guy around campus, either.

But then, jimmy has never had to hire a football coach, inheriting a pretty good one. He came close one time, as no doubt all of the Heels reading this are aware, but in the end the incumbent stuck around. Darned if we were going to reward you for foisting Bill Dooley off on us. jimmy did have a false start in the hiring of the basketball one, but the hiring of the basketball coach at Virginia Tech is not quite the big deal it is at Carolina. In any event, the track record of DickieB is not exactly unblemished in that area, either. D’oh!

These are not the best of image times for the Tech AD. A re-seating of Lane Stadium that rewarded those contributing the most bucks has recently been completed, to the chagrin of many long-time holders of season tickets who found themselves exiled to less desirable regions of the stadium. There have been a few complaints hurled in the direction of ‘that idiot’ perceived responsible.

That image-enhancer was followed up by negotiations for a new contract for football coach and resident legend Frank Beamer. Entering negotiations, jimmy’s Job One was to avoid what happened LAST TIME and give Frank what he wants; after all, Tech fans have already demonstrated they will pay most anything for tickets, so any salary increase for Frank can be easily passed along to the customer.

Things have gotten a little dicey as Frank charged out of the negotiation room and into the media with a demand that in addition to his raise of $800k, Tech reward his staff by awarding them some gift certificates to Beamer’s Restaurant. When jimmy’s general parsimonious nature caused him to not immediately snap to attention, salute and declare, “Yes sir, Mr. Beamer, sir,” he found himself again on the wrong side of a public relations snafu. It is much ado about nothing and is nowhere near 2000’s contract-induced near-meltdown, but again the Tech AD is taking heat.

It is a ridiculous situation to be in. The Tech AD has demonstrated time and again that he could care less about his perception among the rank-and-file fan base. His allegiances lie to those that sign his checks and their main concern is that the financial house be kept in such an order that the Dooley mismanagement is not repeated. jimmy does a very good job in that regard, mostly by catering to those whose Hokie Club contributions involve deeds to NOVA real estate. He has very good job security. Right around the time the Tech team begins Game Week Preparations for Opponent #1, everything will be signed, sealed and delivered to everybody’s satisfaction. Well, maybe not to the softball coach whose budget increase will involve lumps of SWVA coal, but most everybody else.

Still, jimmy must wonder about the cheapskate tag again being affixed to his head. It’s coming from a guy who claims to be going to the mattresses to give his assistants what basically amounts to the coins left rolling around the floor after he rakes his loot from the table. It’s laudable, to be sure, but come on.

This last little Dead Zone mini-drama will play out over the next few days. It will recede as the ball is kicked off for the first game. Things will be forgotten until ‘that idiot’ does something else that pisses off fans and ‘that idiot’ will. That is the way it is most everywhere. I still wonder why anybody would want the job.

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