Were it my choice

Rumor has it, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is looking to make an announcement pertaining the vacant Athletic Director position before the new year. That rumor was confirmed Friday by a Vice Chancellor of the university, claiming that Interim Chancellor Mike Lovell will make a decision very soon following the weekend. So, the athletic department is waiting on bated breath, getting ready to find out who their new boss will be.

Will it be Paul Plinske, the AD at UW-Whitewater who has six years of experience in the director’s chair?  He built a national championship winning program in more than just the flagship sport, football, and put together a foundation of pride that led to enormous donations considering the university’s position in D-III and their relatively small alumni base.

It could be M. Grace Calhoun, the academic wunderkind who built a one-of-a-kind student-athlete experience at Indiana University, the “Indiana Excellence Academy.”  She has experience all around the board, working in the Ivy League, at low-majors, high-majors and even with a conference (Patriot League).  Calhoun is the best candidate with demonstrated excellence in enforcing Title IX and making sure all student-athletes, regardless of sport or gender, receive a great education.

Last but not least, Lovell can’t overlook Rutgers Deputy AD Rick Costello.  The former Delaware State AD and USF Associate AD is very talented in the financial area, balancing a $60 million budget at Rutgers and soliciting major donations.  He seems to have a real enthusiasm for what he does (they all do, of course) and he really thinks he can do things at Milwaukee.

Whoever the IC chooses, the university gets a winner who will be a positive improvement over the recent past.  But we can’t move on without a tip of the cap to Carr Sports Associates, the sports firm brought in to conduct the nationwide search.  It is because of them that our pool of finalists seems to be much better than the previous one, although I do think Paul Schlickmann would be a fourth finalist today.

I do have reservations about each of them, but they could be just because of my personal preferences.

Plinske comes from Whitewater, an hour drive and a world away from UWM.  Prior to his time there he was at Lacrosse.  He is a Minnesota guy, so he does know his way around the big city, but as far as athletic departments go, Plinske could scarcely be further from Milwaukee.  While his extensive experience in UW means he’s got immense knowledge of the state government and policies, and he presumably would be here for the long haul (a guaranteed state pension is nine years away and the only higher athletics administration job in UW is the Madison AD), Plinske also comes in with the view of UWM that the rest of the state and UW schools have – that we’re never going to be a competitor of Madison, that we’re good just being second-tier in athletics, that we shouldn’t be looking to expand because that might scare those in the capitol.  Of course, I could be wrong, and I hope I am – he’s given no indication this is what his thought process is.  But I’ve had enough dealings with people from around the state, and I know the prevailing preference is that Milwaukee remains Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the little engine that could that sits in Bucky’s great shadow and does well as a mid-major but never really rocks the boat.

Grace Calhoun is a dynamite Associate AD who put together the Indiana Excellence Academy, something that we would love to replicate at Milwaukee.  But her attributes seem to be confined to the academic, compliance and student-athlete life center.  Any financial oversight is done with the academic center’s budget, which shouldn’t be discounted but also doesn’t have to worry about an $8 million shortfall.  I wonder if she’d be able to raise money for the program at the level we need.  She indicates that her passion is the reason she thinks she’d be a great fundraiser, but if that were all it took then I’d be the athletic director (hint hint I’m a free agent, Dr. Lovell, hire me!).  It’s also just that; she thinks she can do it, whereas Plinske and Costello both have demonstrated it in a big way.

As for Costello, he is the most well-rounded candidate.  He balances a huge budget at Rutgers, sat in the AD chair at Delaware State, raised money everywhere he’s been, and is a champion cheerleader for his program.  But everywhere he’s been, it’s been out east, and everywhere he is, his school is the biggest game in town.  Delaware State has no competition in Dover, Rutgers is the biggest football program for quite a trek, and USF is no pixie in Tampa.  But Milwaukee is a different animal, with UWM’s premier sport being the third option for basketball fans in the city.  We have no football or hockey programs to bring in revenue (hint hint) and our lease with the Cell is both expensive and plays to our inferiority complex of MU (the bigger, better team Marquette plays in the bigger, better arena next door).  Costello hasn’t faced these kinds of problems at the other schools.  One look at his resume and people will wonder if he would stick around, considering his brief stay at DSU.  (I will quell that one immediately – listen to his presentation and he answers my question very well)

So who would I choose, if I were given the opportunity to pick our next Athletic Director?

Rick Costello.  I’ve beat around the bush enough, so I figured I’d just throw it out there.  None of the candidates were as exciting, persuasive or experienced as Costello.  To put it plainly, the Deputy AD from Rutgers was the best candidate and should be the next Director of Athletics of the Milwaukee Panthers.

His development experience is extensive.  He’s balanced all kinds of budgets.  He promotes a culture of compliance with NCAA rules and Title IX.  At the end of the day, however, what turned me to his side more than anything else was his willingness to really promote the program.

Personally, I think he’s been reading PantherU, but who cares, I’m in.

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