Athletic Director Candidates

The search has begun for UCLA's next Athletic Director, which is probably the biggest decision to affect UCLA sports for many years to come...

As I've stated before, the most profound influence on UCLA sports will be the choice of the new athletic director to replace the retiring Pete Dalis.

Dalis will step down at the end of the current school year, in June.

UCLA has hired an outside executive search firm, Heidrick & Struggles, to construct a list of potential candidates for the job. The firm has been in the process since the first of the year, processing resumes and such. There is then a committee, headed by Vice Chancellor Peter Blackman, which probably consists of 5-7 individuals. This committee will conduct the interviews and decide on the new athletic director.

It's uncertain whether the committee has begun conducting interviews as of yet. But sources indicate the time frame to hire the new athletic director is April or May. It's not known if the new athletic director will physically be present at UCLA before June, but it is pretty certain he will be named by April or May.

Here are the potential candidates:

Gene Bleymaier, Athletic Director, Boise State

Bleymaier is probably the leading candidate for the job right now, even though it's still very early. Bleymaier has just about everything you would think UCLA would be looking for in a new AD: He's a former UCLA football player; he's worked as an associate AD at UCLA; he would be a choice outside of the program; he's made some aggressive moves while being at Boise State for the last 20 years and has drastically upgraded their athletic department. He's also very well-liked and respected by former UCLA players and alumni who know him and, most importantly, he has the backing of some influential (and smart) UCLA donors.

Early this year, Bleymaier told a newspaper and other sources close to him that he was very interested in the UCLA job. There have been some inside sources that said Bleymaier has been itching to get his hands on a big-time athletic department and UCLA, being his alma mater, is a natural fit.

Generally, the inside word is that Bleymaier would be a great hire – that he has the type of can-do attitude that would be a good for a shake-up in the athletic department, while also having great UCLA contacts. Plus, there is an opinion that it's important UCLA bring in a football guy, so he emphasizes the importance of the football program.

Bleymaier is originally from Boise, graduated from UCLA in 1974, and also has a law degree.

Betsy Stephenson, Associate Athletic Director, UCLA

Stephenson has been at UCLA for five years, previously holding the same position of Associate AD at Kansas before coming to Westwood. She's considered a champion of the Olympic sports and women's sports in the athletic department.

In fact, the word is that, a couple of months ago, the coaches from the Olympic sports met in support of Stephenson as the new AD, and talked about strongly petitioning the Chancellor's office on her behalf. The opinion of Stephenson in and around UCLA is mixed. Many inside the athletic department are against her, but many of those that oppose her are the individuals who are afraid of the athletic department getting shaken up. Many complain that her style of micro-management – getting into the details of the programs – is annoying. But again, it could be that many in the athletic department have been operating without any whip being cracked for so long that they don't like Stephenson's hands-on style. Others fear that she would over-emphasize the Olympic and women's sports and neglect football and basketball, but that's just an assumption. Other sources have said that she believes the football and basketball programs have vastly under-achieved recently. No matter, there are definite lines drawn within the athletic department among those who back Stephenson and those who don't.

As of right now, the prevailing sentiment going against Stephenson is that sources are strongly indicating that UCLA is pretty much set on going outside of the athletic department to hire the new AD.

Gary Cunningham, Athletic Director, UC Santa Barbara

UCLA's former head basketball coach and a member of UCLA's Athletic Hall of Fame, Cunningham's name has been bandied about as a possible candidate and the word is that he's a serious contender.

Cunningham has been the AD at Santa Barbara since 1995 and is well respected for the job he's done there. He's generally highly regarded by college coaches, and is thought to be a good evaluator of basketball talent – both player- and coach-wise. He's a basketball guy, who knows the game and it's generally thought that he'd be a big plus for the basketball program.

Cunningham has a few things going for him in regards to getting the job. He's still very highly respected by John Wooden, and probably even more importantly, by Pete Blackman. Blackman and Cunningham are old friends and teammates, having played together unde Wooden in the early 1960s. He also has good support throughout the UCLA community. But probably one of the primary negatives is Cunningham's age, having just turned 62 –only two years younger than retiring AD Pete Dalis. He'd probably only be able to stay at the job for 8 years or so.

Sources indicate that Cunningham is a very serious candidate at this time, probably among the top three with Bleymaier and Stephenson. He has made it clear to people close to him that it's the job he's always wanted and covets.

Dan Guerrero, Athletic Director, UC Irvine

Mentioned more often than anyone else with the other three above, Guerrero has some strong UCLA ties, a good resume and strong backing inside the athletic department.

Guerrero is a former UCLA baseball player, who's been the AD at Irvine since 1992, and before that served as AD at Cal State Dominguez Hills. He has vastly improved the sports programs at Irvine, and has been instrumental in turning the Anteaters into a very competitive basketball program in recent years. He has also spearheaded the construction of good facilities at Irvine.

Guerrero is a well-respected AD in the Big West Conference, and is considered by many basketball coaches as a guy they'd like to work for.

The drawback on Guerrero is that he's never handled a D-1 football program. The word on him is that he's more than likely an outside-the-athletic-department fall-back option if it falls through with Bleymaier or Cunningham.

Tom Ramsey, TV Commentator, Fox

The former UCLA All-American quarterback is considered to be a considerable dark horse for the position at this time, but it's been confirmed that his name is on the list of potential candidates.

Ramsey doesn't have experience running an athletic department, but he does have a fresh perspective on UCLA, one that could be just what the doctored ordered for the athletic department, and both the basketball and football programs.

It's been learned that Ramsey will at least get an interview for the job. But, with the lack of experience, some of the other candidates would probably have to fall through for Ramsey to be seriously considered.

Tom Beckett, Athletic Director, Yale

Beckett is considered one of the best all-around athletic directors in the business and very highly respected in college athletics. He's currently in his seventh year at Yale, after having been an associate AD at Stanford and San Jose State. His sports background is primarily in baseball, having played it at the University of Pittsburg (he graduated from Pitt in 1972).

When he was at Stanford, he earned a rep on the west coast and in the Pac-10 as being a sharp guy. Since he's been at Yale, he's been one of the reasons Yale has turned around many of its programs, including its basketball program, in recent years.

Being from the Ivy League, it's thought that Beckett would have good experience in dealing with a very academically-minded university like UCLA. It's also believed that Beckett might be a favorite of UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, since before coming to UCLA, Carnesale spent 23 years at Harvard.

Rich Brooks, former Oregon and St. Louis Rams head football coach

Brooks' name has surfaced in regards to many jobs over the last several years, including recently the UCLA athletic director job.

Brooks spent 18 years at Oregon as its head coach, building the football program that he handed to Mike Belotti when Brooks jumped to the NFL to coach the Rams in 1995. He didn't do much with the Rams, and since had the job as defensive coordinator of the Falcons until two years ago. Since then, his name has come up in regard to various football head coaching jobs, both in the NFL and in the college ranks. It's thought that he wants to return to the college game.

He's been talked about as a potential athletic director candidate because of, well, his availability, his west coast ties, his work ethic and what would be his obvious emphasis on the football program. Even though he's not in the limelight now, he's still thought of very highly by the college football community.

He's considered a longshot candidate for the job at this point.

Randy Taylor, Director of Football Operations, UCLA

Taylor has applied for the job, which doesn't mean much. And while Taylor's resume is formally considered under-qualified, he's exactly the type of person that UCLA needs as its athletic director. He's smart, savvy, works hard, wants to get everyone else around him to work hard, and has the vision of what UCLA could be. He actually has more qualifications than you would assume, having been an assistant athletic director at Illinois, San Jose State and UNLV. He's been one of the most instrumental in UCLA's football recruiting successes in recent years. He knows what works within the athletic department, and what doesn't, and what needs to be done. He also has experience as a fundraiser, and believes that a cornerstone of UCLA's future is drastically upgrading its fundraising and, thus, its facilities, including renovation of Pauley Pavilion and building an on-campus football stadium. He's a dark horse, probably actually the blackest of the dark horses in the race. In typical UCLA fashion, he probably won't be considered seriously, but should.

Glen Toth, Ken Weiner, Rick Purdy, Associate ADs, UCLA

Long-timers in the athletic department, Toth, Purdy and Weiner have been with the UCLA athletic department for over 20 years. All could get interviews for the athletic director job, being associate athletic directors, but none are considered serious candidates for the position, especially since the prevailing sentiment is that UCLA is leaning to going outside of the department for the new athletic director. Purdy is probably considered the one among the three with the best chance, but the word is that it's a slim chance.

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