University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler’s flip-flop in strategy for selecting his next athletic director should come as no surprise for those who follow college athletics.
Schools love to use expensive search firms in hiring key athletic positions and coaches. Maybe they think it provides them cover if things go south with the hire.
Kaler is no different in his affinity for outside help, even though he stated two months ago that he was leaning against using a search firm this time after the last one recommended Norwood Teague for the job.
One benefit of a search firm is a guarantee of confidentiality to candidates who want to keep their interest private for obvious reasons.
But Kaler’s desire to use a search firm again seems like a waste of money, because viable candidates should be easy to find.
Interim AD Beth Goetz announced Friday that she officially will pursue the job. She has a fan in Kaler and internal support of staffers. She has essentially been given one school year to prove herself.
Goetz held the title of deputy athletics director from 2013 until replacing Teague on an interim basis last August. She previously held a senior management position in Butler’s athletic department.
Goetz has impressed high-ranking university officials with her handling of a difficult situation, but this job search should not be a charade with Goetz being rubber-stamped.
Other strong candidates with impressive credentials are out there and probably interested. Here are four people the university should pursue in seeking a competitive field of candidates:
1. Craig Thompson, Mountain West Conference commissioner
Thompson would be my first call. He graduated from Minnesota and loves his alma mater. Absolutely loves it.
If he says no the first time, ask again.
Thompson has never been an athletic director, but he has served as a conference commissioner for more than 25 years.
He has intimate experience negotiating lucrative TV contracts. He knows what it takes to make difficult, unpopular decisions. He is well-versed in navigating political land mines in college athletics.
He probably wouldn’t want a dog-and-pony search process because of his highly visible position.
If I’m Kaler, I make Thompson tell me no. More than once.
2. Phil Esten, deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer for intercollegiate athletics at Penn State
Esten graduated from St. Thomas and earned his doctorate from Minnesota. He worked on Joel Maturi’s senior management team and was point person for construction of TCF Bank Stadium.
Esten later served as president and CEO of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association.
Esten has held senior athletic administrative positions at Cal and Penn State since leaving Dinkytown.
Esten knows the landscape and challenges at Minnesota. He knows boosters and alumni. He knows the Big Ten. This would be a destination job for him.
He’s ready to lead a Power Five athletic department, here or elsewhere.
3. Sean Frazier, Northern Illinois athletic director
Remember this name. It won’t be surprising if he receives strong interest and consideration for the job.
Frazier played football at Alabama and served as Barry Alvarez’s chief of staff at Wisconsin. He understands the importance of a successful football program and robust fundraising to the overall health of a department.
Frazier has upgraded Northern Illinois’ facilities and his football program continues to earn national respect.
4. Martin Jarmond, executive associate AD at Ohio State
Jarmond serves as Ohio State AD Gene Smith’s second-in-command. Jarmond oversees external and internal operations for one of the nation’s largest athletic departments and is the sport administrator for football and men’s basketball, among other teams.
Jarmond worked in athletic administration at Michigan State for seven years before Ohio State, giving him 13 years of Big Ten experience.
His background is in development, helping spearhead massive capital campaigns at Michigan State and Ohio State.
Jarmond was runner-up/finalist for the Syracuse AD job last summer. He’s only 36 years old but considered a rising star in his profession.
The search firm presumably will uncover other qualified candidates.
The U has the right idea in assembling an internal 10-person committee to vet candidates. That’s if — IF — they put the right people on the committee.
They need a smart group of people that know the unique challenges at Minnesota, that understand the importance of winning in football and men’s basketball specifically, that ask the right questions, that aren’t afraid to ruffle feathers and that truly recognize their athletic department requires bold leadership right now.