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Penn State AD Search: What a Big Ten Conference Athletic Director Looks Like

by on July 06, 2014 11:11 PM

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon made his dough running Domino’s Pizza for 11 years.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has also been the AD at Arizona State, Iowa State and Eastern Michigan.

Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez coached the Badgers' football team for 16 seasons, winning three Big Ten championships and 118 football games, including a conference record-tying three Rose Bowl victories.

Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst was previously the AD at Miami (Fla.) and has a law degree from Marquette, which named him Sports Law Alumnus of the Year in 2006.

They are the top four paid ADs in the Big Ten Conference, taking distinctly different paths to their current position  -- business CEO, career AD, former college coach and attorney.

All are roads to the top job in college athletics. And it is likely that Penn State’s next athletic director, who will replace current AD Dave Joyner – slated to retire on Aug. 1 – will come from one of those professions. But these days ex-coaches and career administrators can be roads less taken to becoming a big-time college athletic director. (For instance: Three current Big Ten ADs have JDs.)

The financial rewards are big-time.

According to a 2013 USA Today survey of athletic director salaries, nine of the 14 Big Ten ADs make at least $500,000 a year, led by Alvarez at $1.23 million. That includes new conference members Rutgers and Maryland, but not Northwestern. As a private school, Northwestern opts not to publicize the salary of its AD Jim Phillips – who is a possible candidate to be Penn State’s next AD, according to the Chicago Tribune. (The Tribune pegs Phillips’ salary at about $750,000.)

(The salaries for James Franklin’s bosses have ranged from $3.2 million for Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams to Joyner’s $396,000. Kevin Anderson, who nixed Franklin’s coach-in-waiting deal at Maryland, makes almost $500,000. Franklin’s salary at Penn State is $4 million, with a year-end retention bonus of an additional $300,000.)

Because today’s Big 10 ADs are often the CEO of nine-figure business enterprises, salaries that size are understandable – although maybe not justifiable, given their schools’ educational missions and the rising cost of tuition. Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State are three of the top five biggest-spenders in college sports today.

The 2014-15 budget for the University of Michigan athletic department is $151.1 million, with a projected profit of $5.2 million – some of that revenue will come from the Manchester United vs. Real Madrid game in The Big (Soccer) House on Aug. 2. In 2013, Ohio State’s athletic department made almost $140 million, with a profit of $23 million – with some of the money going to its overall $9 million contribution to the renovation of OSU’s library. Also in 2013, Wisconsin’s athletics budget was $149 million, while Penn State’s athletic department spent $110 million, but only brought in $104 million.


Penn State's selection of its next athletic director is a high-stakes, high-profile hire. Figure that Barron, his search committee and the North Carolina-based head-hunting firm Collegiate Sports Associates will act quickly. When he was at president at Florida State, it took Barron just 63 days to hire Stan Wilcox as AD. At that speed, given that Joyner announced his departure on June 17, Penn State would have a new AD in hand on Aug. 19 – plenty of time to pack for Dublin.

(Interested? Send your resume by July 17 to

Barron and CSA, which also aided Florida State’s search that yielded Wilcox last summer, no doubt have a folder of candidates somewhat to Barron’s liking. Wilcox, who holds economics and law degrees, was one of four finalists. Barron has a clear idea of what he wants from Joyner’s successor.

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“We will be seeking candidates who have demonstrated a thorough understanding of NCAA rules and have a track record of success in meeting compliance standards,” Barron said. “They also must have a commitment to academic integrity, and the academic progress and graduation of student-athletes.”

Barron also told the Centre Daily Times that he is seeking to hire an athletic director who can:

-- Maintain and enhance the financial standing of the athletics department.

-- Play a role in the fundraising and marketing of the university and athletics, and be a part of the President’s Council, comprised of the top executives at Penn State.

-- Handle compliance and litigation issues. Lead contract negotiations with coaches.

-- Ensure athletes are successful in the classroom and on the field. Lead a department that wins with integrity.


To get an idea of the makings of a current Big Ten athletic director, here’s a quick audit of the conference's 13 ADs (excluding Joyner), with information culled from their official online bios:

AGE: Average: 55.1 years, with three age 62 or older. Oldest: Alvarez, Wisconsin, 67. Youngest: Eichorst, Nebraska, and Phillips, Northwestern, 46.

GENDER: 12 males, 1 female -- Julie Hermann, Rutgers.

RACE:  11 white, two African-Americans -- Anderson, Maryland, and Smith, Ohio State.

AD AT ALMA MATER: 9 no, 4 yes -- Brandon, Michigan; Burke, Purdue; Glass, Indiana; and Hollis, Michigan State.

SALARY (2013, according to USA Today): Average: $709,792. Alvarez, Wisconsin: $1.23 million; Eichorst, Nebraska: $1.123 million; Smith, Ohio State: $1,099,030; Brandon, Michigan: $900,000; Phillips, Northwestern: $750,000 (est.); Mark Hollis, Michigan State: $700,000; Mike Thomas, Illinois: $589,250; Norwood Teague, Minnesota: $500,000; Anderson, Maryland: $500,000; Gary Barta, Iowa: $490,842; Morgan Burke, Purdue: $464,437; Hermann, Rutgers, $450,000; and Fred Glass, Indiana: $430,746.

YEARS IN CURRENT POSITION: Average: 7 years, with six ADs in their present job for six years or less. Longest: Burke, Purdue, 22 years. Shortest: Hermann, Rutgers, 14 months, and Eichorst, Nebraska, 19 months.

PREVIOUS HEAD AD EXPERIENCE: 6 no, 7 yes -- Anderson (Maryland), West Point; Barta (Iowa), Wyoming; Eichorst (Nebraska), Miami, Fla., South Carolina (int.), Wisconsin-Whitewater; Phillips (Northwestern), Northern Illinois; Smith (Ohio State), Arizona State, Iowa State, Eastern Michigan; Teague (Minnesota), Virginia Commonwealth; and Thomas (Illinois), Cincinnati, Akron.

PRIMARY CAREER PATH: 1 coach – Alvarez, Wisconsin; 3 private industry/business – Brandon, Michigan; Burke, Purdue; and Glass, Indiana; 1 coach/college athletics administrator -- Hermann, Rutgers; 9 college athletics administrators (all others).

COLLEGE ATHLETE: 7 no, 6 yes -- Football (5) – Alvarez, Wisconsin; Barta, Iowa; Brandon, Michigan; Eichorst, Nebraska; and Smith, Ohio State. Volleyball – Hermann, Rutgers. Swimming – Burke, Purdue.

COLLEGE COACH: 9 no, 4 yes -- Alvarez, Wisconsin, football; Hermann, Rutgers, volleyball; Phillips, Northwestern, basketball; Smith, Ohio State, football.

GRADUATE DEGREES: 6 no, 7 yes – Burke, Purdue, J.D.; Eichorst, Nebraska, J.D.; Glass, Indiana, J.D.; Hollis, Michigan State, MBA; Phillips, Northwestern, masters in education and Ph.D. in educational administration; Teague, Minnesota, masters in sports administration; Thomas, masters in sports administration.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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