Being Bob Bowlsby

What might Bob Bowlsby be thinking as he searches for Stanford's 16th head men's basketball coach? Daniel Novinson explores the process and thoughts through the eyes of those around the program.

Unfortunately, TheBootleg.com has not been able to warp into Bob Bowlsby's mind a la John Malkovich. (No offense to Stanford Athletics, but if we could mind-warp, Bowlsby might not be our highest priority.) However, we are able to present an educated look at some key factors affecting Bowlsby as makes the second-biggest hire of an eventful first two years as Stanford's Athletic Director.

But first, a word on Trent Johnson

No, we're not going to rehash the debate over whether Bowlsby was right to show Johnson the door. The relevant point moving forward is that, fair or not, Bowlsby obviously found issues with Johnson, and as TheBootleg.com has reported, he likely made the decision by the beginning of the season that Trent Johnson wasn't his long-term coach.

That's relevant because, first, this offseason is not a bad year to hire a new coach, given the low expectations he'll enjoy for a year or two given the rebuilding project of a roster created by the Lopez twins' departure. Second, it means that Bob Bowlsby has had a year to do what he does best: prepare.

Preparation

Bowlsby's unparalleled preparation was literally the first thing out of the mouth of a longtime booster with Stanford affiliations, TheBootleg.com's third source in its recent basketball reporting.

Bowlsby has told this source that one of the benchmarks of a strong AD is always having a short list in your pocket. It seems a virtual certainty that Bowlsby had identified several potential coaches throughout the course of this past season.

"Unlike Ted Leland, Bowlsby prepares himself for these type of events," the source said. "He's not the type of guy who gets caught unaware or has to start from scratch in a coaching search."

Other sources and Bowlsby himself have said that Johnson's departure caught Bowlsby by surprise. The two are both believable: Bowlsby may well have been surprised on April 9 upon learning that Trent Johnson would be catching a plane to Louisiana the following day. Yet he may well have been preparing for this situation throughout the season and may well have known that his cold shoulder was likely to encourage Johnson to leave – just not precisely on April 10.

Money

This source confirms TheBootleg.com's previous reports that, given the still-strained relationship between the Athletic Department and the University administration, Bowlsby won't be able to spend freely on a new basketball coach. However, there may be some wiggle room.

"Where necessary, he can get leeway to pay top dollar, but it would have to be for the right person," the source says. "Bowlsby has good enough relationships with his constituencies that if he has to step up from Trent's pay to attract, then he could. Can we give 1.3 million for six years like Cal for Monty? We could have possibly had a conversation with Montgomery, but I don't think so, we can't give that kind of money. But more than Trent, who I'm thinking was making $500,000 or $600,000, something like that? Could we go to 8 or 9? Probably."

As has been speculated on our message boards, we've heard from several well-placed sources that the university higher-ups continue to be highly motivated to keep any basketball coach out of the top five salaried employees at Stanford and thus off the publically available IRS form 990. Compensation of $900k to $1M is the assumed number to make that list.

Name recognition

Given the egg yolk dripping squarely from Bowlsby's nose in most fans' eyes, one might expect him to feel pressured to come up with a big-name hire. Not so fast, my friend, says our source.

"I don't think that's Bowlsby's style," he said. "I think he hired an excellent coach in Jim Harbaugh, up-and-coming, who he was able to get without having to pay top dollar and would welcome the opportunity. I would expect similar for the basketball hire. Maybe it's a name that doesn't necessarily impress, but I think Bob Bowlsby's a pretty good judge of coaches and good at identifying early on who are up-and-coming guys, as well as some older guys that haven't had an opportunity to coach and would be a good fit for Stanford."

His own man

For Bowlsby, part of the allure in hiring a relatively unknown coach (and, perhaps, part of the allure of encouraging an established coach to go) is the opportunity to write his own legacy. Our source says this is a major influence on Bowlsby.

"He really wants his success and failure at Stanford to be totally on him," he said. "In other words, I think he wants to make own mark at Stanford, and to do that I think he wants to have his own coaches and make his own decisions on who those coaches are. If they're fabulously successful, then let him take credit for that and if it ends in failure, then he'll take blame for his own decision. The fact that he holds his cards close to vest is him saying ‘It's my decision. I'll live or die by it.'"

Privacy also by necessity?

In addition to wanting to call his own shots and having the career experience to do so, perhaps another reason Bowlsby is keeping this basketball search as private as the football search is that he doesn't fully trust the rest of the Athletic Department, particularly Ted Leland-era holdovers.

"I think there's a lot of deadwood in the AD that needs to be cleared out," said our source, who adds that Debi Gore-Mann's departure was a welcome first step. "It's hard for Bowlsby to do that so early in his tenure, and I think he'll need a lot more experience to be able to. But the fact that he's not sharing his thoughts or asking other people's opinions, I almost look at it as a positive. Maybe he can seek counsel outside the Department, but inside it, I'm not sure there are a lot of good resources for him there now."

Administrative benign neglect

Whatever readers think about Bowlsby, TheBootleg.com assumes most of them would rather he select the next head basketball coach than, say, John Hennessy. Luckily, while Bowlsby will surely inform the President and Provost of his impending hire, and work with them on salary issues, the ultimate decision on who to hire is solely Bowlsby's.

"At the end of the day, I think the University gives the Athletic Department a lot of autonomy on running the Department," our source said. "Leland was out to pasture the last few years and no one tried to rein him in."

No need to worry

Trent Johnson supporters have questioned who would come to Stanford after Johnson, the reigning Pac-10 Coach of the Year, left the Farm not entirely of his own volition. This concern may well be overblown though. As evidence, just consider Trent Johnson himself. LSU fired John Brady less than two years after he led the Tigers to the 2006 Final Four. Johnson, of course, accepted the head coaching position at LSU.

"It's not surprising coaches rally around each other," our source said. "It's a pretty brutal business – they're thrown out all the time, and all kinds of games played with them. But a lot of them are pretty astute and can read between the lines, just like we can. Plenty of people would love to coach at Stanford. Plenty of potential coaches will think Bob Bowlsby's a great guy to work for when they sit down with him."

For the record, The Bootleg has been unable to get anyone from Stanford to talk on the record about the situation and how we got here. All we got out of a spokesperson a few days ago was that "At this time, Bob is devoting all of his time and energies in securing a new coach."


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