Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Final Four.
Yes, UC Davis is entering the bottom of the ninth inning in its quest to find a bold new athletic director to replace Greg Warzecka, who retired nearly a year ago. Actually, it’s been so long since Greg left it’s probably more accurate to say we’re now in extra innings.
No matter what you call it, UC Davis is poised to make an important hire that is likely to signal the direction of intercollegiate athletics on campus for a long time to come. And, given that Chancellor Linda Katehi’s description of the job makes it first and foremost a fundraising position, it’s clear that expanding opportunities and facilities will be the order of the day. Even if it will take a number of years for the new hire to make his — or her — mark.
UCD released the names of four finalists the other day, and while there were no surprises, there does seem to be a pecking order of sorts.
Of the four, there’s one clear favorite, plus a dark horse, a long shot and one who is already an Aggie through and through.
The favorite is Ray Purpur, deputy director of athletics, physical education and recreation at Stanford. That alone should be enough to land you a job just about anywhere in America. I mean, Stanford is Stanford. The Harvard of the West. The gold standard when it comes to doing things the right way.
Purpur is also purported to be an ace fundraiser, which seems to be the No. 1 requirement in this newly defined job. He clearly knows about high academic standards and playing by the rules. When it comes to NCAA violations, Stanford is as pure as Ivory Soap.
Equally as important, at least to the chancellor, is the fact Purpur knows how to pull dollars out of people’s wallets.
Plus, as an added bonus, hiring a guy from Stanford will go a long way toward calming the long-simmering rebellion among certain faculty members concerned about anything that smacks of “big-time” athletics.
If I were a betting man, my money’s on Purpur. However, after he applied for the Aggie job, the athletic director’s position at Stanford has come open due to the sudden and unexpected departure of AD Bob Bowlsby, who left to become the new commissioner of the Big 12.
How Purpur figures in the mix at Stanford remains to be seen, but one would think he’s at least under consideration for the top job after 18 years on The Farm.
The sentimental favorite at UCD, however, is Foti Mellis, who earned both a bachelor’s and master’s at UCD and is currently the senior associate athletic director at Cal.
Mellis is personable, outgoing, energetic and smart. He bleeds Aggie Blue and Gold. And, because he knows Davis inside and out, he might seem to be the logical choice, but I’m not sure being a UCD grad means anything to the current administration, which tends to look beyond the campus for its “statement” hires.
This brings us to the intriguing and accomplished Terry Tumey, who is not related to the guy after whom they named Toomey Field. Tumey is athletic director at tiny Dominican University in San Rafael, which is several giant steps down the ladder from Division I, where the Aggies find themselves.
But before you dismiss Tumey as a mere placeholder in a crowded field, you should know that before joining Dominican, Tumey was the director of football administration for the San Francisco 49ers. Now that’s several giant steps above Division I.
So, could this come down to a battle between Stanford and the 49ers? Even though Jim Harbaugh faced that choice and chose the 49ers, in an academic setting, Stanford wins every time.
Then again, Tumey is no stranger to academia. He was a standout nose guard during the glory days at UCLA in the 1980s and has extensive football coaching experience both at the collegiate and professional level. Several years after his playing days ended, he returned to Westwood to earn a master’s in business administration.
Plus, he shares an alma mater with the current chancellor, which just might count for something.
If Tumey gets the job, it will be a strong signal that UC Davis plans to take its football program to the next level in a relatively short period of time.
The long shot of the bunch is attorney Desiree Reed-Francois, currently the senior associate athletic director at the University of Tennessee. Before heading for Knoxville, she served a brief stint as associate AD at the University of San Francisco.
She’s clearly a rising star, but her résumé isn’t yet thick enough to compete with what Purpur or Tumey bring to the table. At this point, UC Davis needs a warrior, not a lawyer.
All of the above, of course, is a comparison on paper. Things can — and likely will — change, perhaps dramatically, when these candidates show up on campus and we can hear their voices, check out their thought processes, read their body language and understand their vision for UC Davis athletics.
Will they be boring, clueless, arrogant and indifferent or compelling, bold, funny and captivating? Or some strange mix of all of the above?
Even the longest of long shots can knock you dead in person, just as a heavy favorite can fall flat on his expressionless face.
Put simply, there’s not a dog in this bunch. The committee charged with narrowing down a very large pool appears to have done its job.
Whether the winner of this athletic sweepstakes can lead us boldly and successfully into an uncertain future remains to be seen.
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org