Refreshing Involvement


Although I am not a fan of her politics, one can’t helped but be impressed with the involvement that University of Miami President, Donna Shalala has with her University’s Athletics Program.

Shalala recently made a change in the Athletics Directorship at Miami when long time AD, Paul Dee, was forced aside in the midst of the deterioration of Miami’s high-profile football program.

Shalala, formerly the United States’ Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, refused to interview internal candidates for Dee’s replacement; instead she demanding that Miami take their AD search national to find a fresh face and new leadership. Miami ultimately gambled on Kirby Hocutt from Ohio University. Hocutt is one of the youngest ADs in the country but spent many very successful years in one of the most well-respected athletics department’s in America at Oklahoma.

Now, check out the news out of Miami that the Hurricanes will host the 2009 McDonald’s All American High School Basketball Games.

“University of Miami president Donna Shalala said having the McDonald’s All American High School Basketball Games on campus next year will help the Hurricanes in recruiting “across the board.”

”We wanted to show off our facilities obviously, but just as important, any national visibility we can bring to the university will have our enthusiastic support,” Shalala said during a news conference Tuesday at UM to discuss the games, which will be played at BankUnited Center on April 1, 2009, and televised on ESPN. “We will not make money on this, but it will just be amazing visibility for the university.”

Shalala has a strong track record helping to build successful athletics departments.

Do you remember Wisconsin football before Barry Alvarez got there in 1990? Of course you don’t; the Badgers were one of the worst programs in the country, having attended only six bowl games in their program’s history before 1990, and only three bowl games since 1962. Alvarez was hired and retained despite numerous opportunities to leave Wisconsin primarily because of his relationship with Shalala. (And, was we have all be told numerous times in the past…isn’t it all about relationships?)

I could tell you more, but allow me to show you from this interview with Shalala from That’s right. Could you imagine Jim statusquOblinger being interviewed at

Of course you couldn’t. Then again, Miami went out and hired a national name to become their University’s leader. Contrast that with NC State’s ‘promotion from within’ policy. Wait a second…we tried that external hire who had ambitions to make us great, didn’t we? And the good old status-quo found a way to run her out of town in less than five years. Oh well…it was a fun period of trying to achieve and be successful while it lasted.

Schefter: Biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

Shalala: Firing the athletic director (Don Morton) and the football coach at the University of Wisconsin, and then hiring Barry Alvarez. Everybody in Wisconsin told me that the school never could be a football power again.

Schefter: What was it that you liked about Barry Alvarez?

Shalala: He was hungry, and he was well organized and very disciplined.

Schefter: How many football coaches did you interview?

Shalala: A lot. I had to spend a lot of time worrying about how to bring that program into pre-eminence. We had a huge deficit in the athletic department and it required fundamental change and I was hardly an expert on the subject. But on getting fundamental change in institutions I knew something about. So I figured if I could get the right leaders, we would be fine. The first thing I did was go after a new athletic director and I talked Pat Richter into taking the job. But mostly I got to know the former athletes. Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch was a huge supporter of mine. He said, ‘You do it, and I’ll take care of the boys downtown.’

Schefter: What attributes do you look for in a football coach?

Shalala: High ethical standards, a very good manager, obviously a skilled coach, but someone who understands young people and is focused on their well being and on achieving excellence.

Schefter: How much do you know about football now?

Shalala: A lot more now than I did 20 years ago.

Schefter: To what do we credit that?

Shalala: I went to Wisconsin (as chancellor).

Schefter: And how much of an education have you gotten at Miami?

Shalala: When I came here, they were just about to hire a new coach. Butch Davis was leaving and Larry Coker was so obvious, and he was sitting there and I met him and I loved him. Football here is somewhat different, there is a culture here. So many of our players can come from the same areas. They know each other. But it’s the same skill level. A well-organized coach committed to student-athletes, with high ethical standards, works hard at what he does and knows how to win.

Schefter: How often do you go to your school’s games?

Shalala: I go to all of them. The out-of-town games, I often try to ride on the plane with the players. On those trips, everybody sleeps and I can read. Everybody thinks of these trips out as kind of rowdy affairs. They’re just the opposite. The student-athletes are either listening to music or they’re doing their homework, and the planes are very quiet, both going out and coming back.

I find this last statement pretty interesting.

Shalala goes to every game and sometimes rides with the team?! WOW!! Compare that with NC State’s Chancellor for most of the 1990s, Larry Monteith. Monteith once left early from one of the most exciting NC State-UNC football games (1990) to beat traffic. The Wolfpack won the game on a last second 56-yard field goal that set an ACC record. Similarly, Monteith told friends after he retired that the best thing about not being Chancellor was that he didn’t have to go to the athletics events anymore.

And you wonder how we got into the cycle that led us to where we are today?

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21 Responses to Refreshing Involvement

  1. SMD 05/02/2008 at 1:12 PM #

    Once again – SFN finds the articles that show what defenciences in leadership we have across the board at NCSU.

    You raise a good point that other schools go out and get “names” as Chancellor. Former Senator David Boren going to Oklahoma is another good example.

    If I ever heard an NCSU Chancellor speak like Shalala did in this interview I would fall over and faint. Perhaps if we keep banging this drum, over time the movement will build to get leadership at our school who doesn’t neglect athletics – and indeed – embraces athletics as passionately as the fans/alumni/students do. THAT is what we need.

    He’s a little old now, but I think Gov. Hunt would have been a great choice for Chancellor right after his 4th term ended. He’s at all the games and clearly loves NC State. And regardless of how you feel about his politics – he is one of our state’s most respected leaders, so you know he could get the job done.

    Who are some other “names” for Chancellor with strong ties to our state or our school? Hugh Shelton perhaps? Anyone who can run the US military could certainly run a university.

  2. RickJ 05/02/2008 at 1:38 PM #

    Incredible entry.

    You could make a good argument that ACC expansion has been worse for Miami than any other league school. This is particularly true for football. Stuff like that can happen but what is so refreshing here is a leader that actively tries to correct the situation instead of making statements like “these things run in cycles” or some other excuse. None of these changes make may work out, but at least she is making the effort and not just standing still hoping everyone else gets worse.

  3. Old School Wolf 05/02/2008 at 1:38 PM #

    Excellent article. We are fortunate to have a leader such as Donna Shalala in our conference. Re-read her commments and thoughts regarding how to affect change. Could Statefans publish our esteemed Chancellor’s “chain of command” going up until reaching our Gov. Also, we need a list of the BOT. We need to understand which members of this august group consider their position to be honorary vs.”hands on.”

  4. StateFans 05/02/2008 at 1:45 PM #

    General Shelton as the Chancellor is an interesting thought. He is already significantly more plugged into corporate America than our existing Chancellor. (For example, he sits on Anheuser-Busch’s Board of Directors).

  5. packpigskinfan23 05/02/2008 at 2:12 PM #

    As someone who has been fortunate enough to meet General Shelton on a few occasions, I think he would be GREAT for the job.

  6. backinpack 05/02/2008 at 2:23 PM #

    Shelton is also on the board of directors at Red Hat. So was MAF at one point. Hmmmmmm. 😉

  7. Ismael 05/02/2008 at 2:36 PM #

    this is crazy talk…a chancellor who cares about sports!!?? who isn’t folding his underwear and making killer stock-buys on e-trade while NCSU/UNC is throwing down?? Excellent entry. Yet another reason StateFans and [state fans] is an awesome blog.

    go to hell carolina

  8. Pack92 05/02/2008 at 3:13 PM #

    Wow. Find the right leaders and we will be fine. What an outstanding concept! Wait, it’s actually used in some businesses, the military, you know, organizations where there is accountability.

  9. old13 05/02/2008 at 3:40 PM #

    Ismeal – It’s not just about sports. Any BOT/administration that revels in the good-ol’-boy status quo approach to management is bound to fail in anything – or at least never rise above mediocrity which, IMO, is failure. How long has it been since NCSU made any SIGNIFICANT (more that the #34 to #30 being touted this year) rise in national academic standings? Seems like we’ve been in the 30s or worse for centuries no matter who is doing the ratings or how they make the comparisons (e.g., public engineering universities.) I believe that MAF was making some gains in those areas which have been lost since she was run off by the idiots.

  10. old13 05/02/2008 at 3:42 PM #

    Sorry – IsmAEl

  11. haze 05/02/2008 at 3:50 PM #

    Great article and though I FIRMLY believe that academics are the critical mission of the university (over athletics), marketing is huge and athletics is your number 1 marketing move. In the end, it feeds to better academics so long as you don’t let the tail wag the dog.

    This said, we may also want to note that Shalala’s last 2 HC’s at Miami have been internal hires and not “new blood” efforts. IIRC, Miami tried for Schiano but failed and took Shannon as a back-up. Not a great move, IMO, but also a reflection of the fact that it takes more than a name and tradition to get a big name coach. Maybe Shannon will prove me wrong.

  12. westwolf 05/02/2008 at 4:45 PM #

    Other than landing a cush gig at NCState, Lee Fowler is not a very accomplished person. We could do better, period.

  13. wufpup76 05/02/2008 at 5:44 PM #

    Most important quote of the article to me:

    “We will not make money on this, but it will just be amazing visibility for the university.”

    Anything that would NOT MAKE MONEY for someone at NC State would never happen … good publicity or public relations be damned; just line the ol’ boys pockets, so to speak 🙁

  14. turfpack 05/02/2008 at 9:45 PM #

    N.C.STATE A.D. 101–Ignore the lunatic fans, Rake the money in, Tell them it’s all about the facilities, Please the Boss-What is his name?, Play Golf, Go to the lakehouse-drink and fish or fish and drink,DO NOTHING-DO NOTHING-DO NOTHING-DO NOTHING-DO NOTHING…….
    Have my on show-Ask the A.D.-I know everything-Riiiiiiight!
    Do nothing-Do nothing-Do nothing
    Need more money for facilities-Do what I say WPC- NOW!
    Pickup large check- Carry to bank.

  15. PackerInRussia 05/02/2008 at 11:25 PM #

    Maybe we should try to get her as our A.D.

  16. old13 05/03/2008 at 10:31 AM #

    ^ I’d rather have her as Chancellor (parallel position for her). Then the AD position would take care of itself in due time as she evaluated Foulup’s mismanagement performance.

  17. redfred2 05/03/2008 at 10:36 AM #


    That is good!

    I don’t know quite how to say this, but I’d probably say that a guy like James Oblinger, sitting through an entire athletic event, would be about like me, going to chamber music festival. Sure, I’d do it if it was for a good cause, or for my wife, if she wanted to go. But I’d just be there, a fish out of water, hating every minute of it and trying to find someone to actually talk to about fishing, sports, or something like that.

    OTH, I’d say that “statusquOblinger” would be right at home, hob knobbing at that same chamber music function, and discussing it at length with anyone who stayed afterwards. There is no to changing a guy like me, or making me really appreciate something like that, and the same is also true for athletics, and a guy like James Oblinger.

    In both cases, neither of us would be there if we didn’t absolutely have to be.

    The difference being, is that I have no desire and don’t get paid to head up the next Chamber Music Palooza, but James Oblinger is paid, and paid well, to hire the right people and oversee a wide variety of topics, with the most publicly visible being NCSU athletics.

    Simple fact is, he is not doing his job. But then again, is that even a requirement, for ANYONE, in Raleigh anymore?

  18. Dogbreath 05/03/2008 at 11:22 AM #

    I know Jim Barker, President of Clemson University, having grown up down the street from him, and his son is a good childhood friend. Trust me, this man has competitive fire and understands the important, symbiotic relationship between an outstanding athletics program, the pride it instills throughout the larger community of students and alumni, and the overall success and image of the university nationally.

    He would be a nice fit for NC State, in my opinion.

  19. Octavian 05/03/2008 at 12:16 PM #

    I’m SO glad SFN continues to illuminate the overall incompetence and lack of vision in our administration. And what a great case study in looking at the U of Wisconsin – so true given recent history of success. They went from irrelevant Big Ten dorrmat pre 1990 to a successful bunch and national media darlings. Bottom line is NCSU continues to be held down (on a broad basis, not just sports) by pig farmers and pinhead academics.

  20. redfred2 05/03/2008 at 12:29 PM #

    Fact is that nothing great is ever going to happen at NCSU until some outsider forces their way in, breaks the strangle hold and busts up the inner circle, then finally puts a stop to the hand picking and inbreeding of inferior leadership qualities at NCSU.

    How long has it been now? I’d say it’s well past time to weed out, and purge, the defenders of the status quo.

  21. blpack 05/03/2008 at 2:34 PM #

    Interesting article. The going national for the AD hire is a good call after the internal hire for football. It may work out ok, time will tell. Getting out of the OB is a good start. Shalala seems to understand the role of athletics in a university is fighting to have the U relivent on the national scene. It could happen in Raleigh with leadership.

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