I hate to say this, but Rick Taylor's retirement announcement wasn't a big surprise around Purple Reign...
I'm not on his personal "talk every day" list, but I haven't heard or seen much from the Northwestern Athletic Director this year. He's been scaling back on his participation lately, you could almost sense he was on the way to somewhere else.
I've also read a lot of comments from fans and media folks listing all his errors and sins as if he personally plotted the downfall of Northwestern by changing all those things we Purple Faithful are supposed to hold sacred. Really..
When I first took over Purple Reign, I e-mailed the Athletic Director a lot. We were trying to get recognized as a media outlet, and the main path to the recognition of Purple Reign as more than just a "Fan Site" led through the AD's office. I doubt that will change but we did talk via e-mail quite a bit and I do think I have a pretty good idea of his goals for NU Sports. The bottom line is that we both wanted essentially the same thing - successful competitive teams.
And as I think back to why I even bothered to get involved in doing this stuff, I remember the 1970's and 80's when you didn't wear NU hats or shirts anywhere but at NU home games, because NU sports were a national joke.
Yes, we had top caliber talent in the other sports, the ones dismissed as "country club," and I will never denigrate anyone's participation in those sports - the ones I can't play, but NU had never been successful in Basketball, and had only one or two years of success in Football since WWII. Lets face it, our kids expected to lose, so they figured they could play games with scores, make money and get away with it on a national stage.
The point shaving/gambling scandals are probably the biggest stains on NU Athletics in its history. But NU will always have the challenge of dealing with intelligent athletes, and some of those guys will try to take shortcuts. Taking shortcuts happens almost everywhere from time to time, NU's detractors should get over it.
To their credit, in the early 1990's, the Northwestern trustees and administration saw the need to finally change the losing attitude and that change really began with the hiring of Gary Barnett. It got serious when NU hired Rick Taylor.
Before Taylor, NU's Varsity Athletic program was something we didn't even have on campus. Most of the athletic competition took place over on Central Street, apparently so it wouldn't pollute the highbrow academic atmosphere over by the lake. The facilities were under the standard of some big High Schools. Something had to change.
Rick Taylor changed all that by working on improving those facilities - rebuilding Dyche - now Ryan; moving many of the field sports over to the lakefront, where the facilities are beautiful, and have some of the best backdrops in their sports; building a new Pool and Tennis facility; and building a world class golf training facility. He didn't do it alone, a lot of alumni dollars poured into the department, but somebody had to be the catalyst and that person wound up being Rick Taylor.
Yes, there are those who think NU should return to those good old days of mediocrity. I'm not sure about their personal agendas, but if you look at the other top academic schools in the US, you will notice that they are also competitive in athletics as well as in their academic disciplines. Somehow Stanford can do it.
Even Harvard and Yale make a big deal about their athletic programs. We dump on Duke over their supposed double standard, but you should walk around the Duke campus on game day - those people are fired up about their school and their teams, and you don't read any pompous bilge in the Raleigh paper about how things at Duke should go back to the way they were.
Its become a fact of life in the USA - If you want a "big time" University - you have to have Big Time athletics
Ten years ago, Northwestern faced a crossroads. We could either do a University of Chicago and drop out of the Big 10 or go out and play Division I sports like we meant it. [Wasn't that why Penn State was admitted into the Big 10?]
NU decided we were going to stick it out and brought in the people to compete. Rick Taylor was one of those brought in to lead that change, and regardless of your personal feelings about the man, you have to look at what he's accomplished in his 9 or so years and say, "Not bad."
By the way, the University of Chicago, the charter member of the Big 10 who many at NU wish to emulate in their attitudes on sports, recently revived their football program. I don't have any inside info on why, but I do know that in today's environment, an easy way to get 100 or so young men to come to your college is to offer a football program at some level.
So personally, I hope Rick Taylor enjoys his retirement in Nawth Calina. If he ever misses the crowd at a football game, there are a bunch of colleges - small and large - where he can catch a game - High School football down there is almost as much a religion as it is in Texas and Ohio.
And I hope that we all reserve our evaluation of the man for a year or two. We always talk about waiting for 3 years to evaluate a recruiting class. I think retiring Athletic Directors deserve the same courtesy.
As I said, I was not surprised by his announcement yesterday. I'm also not surprised by the responses.
Good Luck, Rick - enjoy the hills. I guess your detractors will have to find someone else to kick around now...
-- da Coach
Go Cats - Beat 'em All!
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