I can see it, I guess, but if Lew Perkins puts me in mind of any Abe Vigoda character, it's Sal Tessio, caporegime (along with Pete Clemenza) of the Corleone Family in "The Godfather."
Powerful. Gets what he wants. Doesn't worry about what others think.
Maybe just a little intimidating.
If I learned anything from the Mangino-Perkins saga that finally wound
down last week, it was that a lot of Kansas sports fans have a problem
with the way Perkins wielded his power as AD. Just look at the Phog's
Gridiron Room or the comments in any of the local newspapers. I even
heard a mildly disturbing amount of vitriol around the break room at
There was a lot of grousing about Perkins' East Coast background. "He
isn't one of us," I was told. "We don't do business that may here in
the Midwest," people told me when discussing his handling – or
mishandling – of former football coach Mark Mangino. A lot of folks I
talked to had issues with the secretive way he's conducting the search
for a new coach and the amounts of money that he's allegedly willing to
This piece isn't so much about Lew Perkins and his management style.
Rather, it's a commentary about having your cake and eating it, too.
I guess I was a little surprised at the home-grown, grass-fed Kansas
resentment at how Perkins' runs the KU athletic department. I'd have
thought Jayhawk fans would have become more sophisticated than that.
Just because we outlawed evolution doesn't mean we have to be naïve
about other things.
It would be nice if life really was like a pick-up truck commercial,
where leathery men in checked Western shirts and Stetsons shake hands
in meaningful ways about important things. But it isn't.
Kansas fans say they understand that college athletics are a business,
but I don't think most of them really understand what that means, what
Corporate America can be a really lousy place sometimes. We've seen
that a lot in the last 10 years. Infighting, agendas, self-interests,
territoriality, alliances, divisions and, yes, deceit and plain ol'
fashioned lying happen sometimes in big business. It's true. In fact,
show me a successful multimillion dollar corporation and I'll show you
a CEO that 90 percent of people think is a real SOB.
Successful college athletic departments are no different. College
athletic administration is a big boy's game. It's not not for the faint
of heart. Sometimes it takes a real SOB to shake down donors after a
disappointing season or to sit across a desk from a coach and tell him
or her, "Get it done...now."
Athletic directors talk about winning games and championships, both
conference and national. They talk to players about them. They talk
about them with boosters and media. That's fine, because that's the job
of a coach or A.D.: putting a successful product on the court or field.
In reality, however, they're just as concerned – maybe even more
concerned – with the bottom line. That's right: dollar signs.
Had the Kansas athletic department continued to go the direction it was
before interim athletic director Drue Jennings and then Perkins stepped
in, KU would likely have far fewer non-revenue sports than it does now,
and the University might be fielding one of the most competitive
football teams in the Missouri Valley Conference.
It's time we all realized that Division I athletics is no longer about
the old college try and raccoon coats at the freshman mixer. They're
about television rights and licensing fees and luxury suites and
$15,000 courtside seats. When it's all said and done, college sports
are a multi-billion entertainment industry.
Success at that level is rarely, if ever, achieved by nice people.
Success in big-time intercollegiate athletics is achieved by
professional men and women who understand that sometimes, people end up
getting left at the side of the road – sometimes standing, sometimes
What's happened at KU since Lew Perkins took over is not new. Kansas
was struggling to get out of a 1980', pre-Big 12 mindset prior to
Perkins' arrival on campus. The kind of fund raising and ticket
incentive plans he has instituted had been going on at other colleges
for years. As usual, Kansas was catching up to the rest of the country.
And that's where the rub comes in. I keep hearing how many people want
the KU chancellor to can Perkins. They want him to retire. They just
want him to take his East Coast sensibilities right back to the East
Coast. A lot of fans think he's ruined KU sports.
Of course, those same people turn right around and tell me they want an
8-4 or 9-3 football team every year and a perennial top 10 basketball
I will submit that in today's college sports environment, the two are
as close to mutually exclusive as you can possibly get. I don't think
that's good or it's bad. I think we, as fans, just need to understand
it and decide: do we want to continue to support our favorite Division
I college teams in these relatively-new surroundings, or do we want to
cheer for teams and schools who do it the way it used to be done before
the money got big? In other words, a nice Ivy or Patriot League team.
Maybe a Division III team like Wisconsin-Whitewater or Lindenwood
College needs a new fan.
When I go out for a few beers with those friends I told you about
earlier – remember them? – my lovely wife will invariably say, as I'm
headed out the door, "Have fun! Be careful!"
My response is always the same: "Damn, woman, make up your mind."
I want to say the same thing to a lot of Jayhawk faithful.
"We want someone nice running the athletic department! We want winning
Damn, KU fans, make up your mind.
Nothing Personal – It's Just (Big) Business
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