Livengood discusses coaching change

This has been a trying time for UA Athletic Director Jim Livengood. Less than two-and-half seasons after announcing his replacement for long-time football stalwart Dick Tomey, Livengood ended the troubled John Mackovic era.

In this one-on-one interview with Cat Tracks Magazine, conducted four days after the coaching change, Livengood talks about the process that went into his decision to go in a different direction, and what to expect in the coming months as Arizona searches for a new man to handle the football reins.

Cat Tracks: It's probably tougher than people might think to make a decision like this.

Livengood: "There are so many things that go into it and so many kinds of things you have to consider. The hard thing about this job is trying to make sure you're looking at everything. I'm not saying it's overwhelming, but you're trying to make sure you're covering everything. It's the right decision for our program, for our kids, for here, but the last four mornings I wake up thinking about John and Phyllis Mackovic, how they're feeling. Having said that, you need to move on. The last few days I've had so many people say, ‘Why can't you be a little happier? Smile a little bit more.' It's a decision. It's the right one. I really believe that or I wouldn't have done it, but it doesn't mean I need to be happy. We'll move on and we'll do the right things."

Cat Tracks: You said it's the right decision, and it's the right decision now. Why?

Livengood: "It's the right decision now because I'm not sure things could have gotten better. That's not necessarily speaking at all about John Mackovic. I'm just not sure it could have gotten better in our present environment. I believe that would not have happened. In that case right there, my M.O. has always been to evaluate coaches at the end of the year. But I felt I needed to do something right now."

Cat Tracks: How difficult was it for you over the last couple weeks from a personal standpoint in regards to the perception you went back on your word?

Livengood: "That part of it didn't bother me, because in my heart of hearts I knew what I wanted to do, and that's wait and see. But I knew what needed to be done. I beat myself up on a lot of things, but I don't beat myself up on that. Timing dictates everything. ‘Well, I'm going to do this,' but sometimes that just doesn't work out. This time schedule didn't work out. I'll say it again, because I'll mean it again. I'll evaluate coaches at the end of the year. In my opinion, this warranted having a different time schedule."

Cat Tracks: There were a lot of things that went south with Arizona football. Was there one event, one thing, one moment, where you said, "I've got to do it?"

Livengood: "No there wasn't, and I think that would have made it better. There's no one thing, and there's no real connecting the dots thing. That cumulative effect. The analogy would be a dam that collects water and seems to be breaking. At some point, and it's hard to recognize what it is, you don't know what might be that last stone that holds everything together. When it breaks it breaks. I felt that over the weekend (of the TCU game), and for sure Sunday morning that this needed to be done."

Cat Tracks: How much does it hurt the budget in regards to sliding attendance and the buyout?

Livengood: "It always has an impact on the budget. The attendance issue, one of the things is we budgeted low in regards to our attendance because we were unsure. One of the reasons we've been able to stay in the black and operate a balanced budget here is because we budget very conservatively and spend our money rather wisely. Going into this year we didn't know what the '03 season would bring. We weren't sure whether things would turn around, and we could get a sense of that from season tickets and so on. Our budget numbers were low to start with. We have a chance. We have three home games left. We have a chance to maybe make budget for the year, which would really help. On the other side of it, the cost of making a change is the cost of doing business, and there are other ways we can approach that. This is not going to harm any of our other programs. It's not going to harm us in the long term financially in athletics. We plan financially pretty well."

Cat Tracks: Looking back, where did you make the mistake in hiring John Mackovic?

Livengood: "In retrospect, probably trying to find somebody who would be so different than what we had. At the time, that's what I thought we really needed. We were very clear that the search process at that time was to find someone who would absolutely get people to think about offense. Offense, excitement, sizzle. We needed that. Everybody was tired of playing to ties, or 3-0, that was over and over the message from people. Finding somebody with discipline and organization, those were key strengths. There's a certain percentage, and I fell into that group as well, who felt because of the success of the basketball program, and because Lute (Olson) has done such a great job, that we needed to present more of an image like that. All those things played into it. Looking back, I probably went too far the other way."

Cat Tracks: You were notably vague at the press conference (announcing the coaching change) in regards to financial circumstances of the buyout. The question was raised because there have been rumblings of specific boosters who said, ‘I'm going to give you a specific amount of money to buy out that guy's contract.' Was there ever a check written specifically for that purpose?

Livengood: "I would have no comment because there's been no conversations with people prior to this saying, ‘Can we do this?' No one has come to me about any conversation saying, ‘I'll give you a check for this if you do that.' That wasn't even part of it. I don't even want to give validity even the thought process down the line. We have people write checks every day to University of Arizona athletics. This is coming out of the Athletic Department, no other area. I can't and wouldn't give you those. It doesn't exist like that."

Cat Tracks: How dangerous is it if it does?

Livengood: "If it does, it is dangerous. If there are large checks written with strings attached, that's problematic. That's not the case here. That's not even part of the thinking process."

Cat Tracks: Does it bother you that UA President Peter Likins made a comment saying Mike Price was eliminated from consideration?

Livengood: "I want to be careful with that for obvious reasons. My first thought would be, and my first choice would be, that all candidates be considered. The minute I say that, people will say, ‘Well, that's because you want to hire Mike Price.' No. I've never talked to Mike Price about this job. I've talked to Mike Price a lot, and have recently, but it's always been about his well-being, how can I help him. He's a good football coach and he's a good guy. He's a long-time friend. I would like to think that all candidates be considered. Having said that, the President is the President, period. I understand that. I respect that. I work for him."

Cat Tracks: Has this been the most trying time of your athletic director career?

Livengood: "I would say it's one of. Pretty trying time in 1990 when (then Washington State men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson) and I were together. The first three years we won 13 games, 11 games and seven games, and the third year we lost our last 17 Pac-10 games in a row. People were livid."

Cat Tracks: Why did you stick with him and not stick with Mackovic?

Livengood: "I don't know that there's an answer to that. I just saw something and I felt like we had a chance if we could fight through it. Think about it, we won our first Pac-10 game and lost 17 in a row. It was a belief. If I felt for a heartbeat this could turn, this could be ok, even though we were going through a rough year, but I could just see on the horizon, ‘Gosh darn, we're going to turn,' I'd have tried to stay with it. No question. No question."

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