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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

March 29, 2012 at 11:59 AM

Echoes of the UW with AD Love’s ouster at Arizona State

Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love lost her job this week. It wasn’t unexpected — just a bit odd. The school had added Steve Patterson, former executive in the NBA and NHL, as chief operating officer last year, and he was a key figure — some would say more than Love — in the hire of football coach Todd Graham last December. Many observers in the desert figured it was a matter of time before Patterson supplanted Love, and that’s just what happened.

So when Love and Patterson were dredging the nation for a football coach three months ago, she was working with the guy who would replace her.

Love had been on board since 2005, and I recalled a phone interview with her and a resulting piece shortly after she was selected, which I dug up this week. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Michael Crow, the three-year president at Arizona State, has been described as a visionary leader unafraid to make out-of-the-box hires. It shouldn’t have been surprising, then, that when Crow was faced recently with replacing Gene Smith as athletic director, he turned to Lisa Love, 49, a senior women’s associate athletic director at USC.

“It’s an exciting place right now,” Love said the other day of her new employer. “What he’s doing is revolutionary.”

Stop us if you’ve heard this one.

It was 14 years ago that then-president William Gerberding set about to change the traditional thinking surrounding athletics at the University of Washington. He eschewed the old-boy candidates who sought to succeed Mike Lude and tapped Barbara Hedges.

The parallel is so striking that Hedges and Love came from the same school, USC. Matter of fact, it was Hedges, in her associate AD position, who hired Love as the Trojans’ volleyball coach in 1989. With Hedges gone two years later, Love went on to assume many of the same duties while continuing to coach her sport until 1998.

So Love meets the same fate as Hedges — for some of the same reasons. Ironically, they both had difficulty in the area of communications skills. ASU carefully controlled Love’s media availabilities, and Hedges was never really comfortable doing that sort of thing as UW athletic director from 1991-2004.

Both had their problems with marquee hires. Love’s two biggest were Dennis Erickson and Herb Sendek, and that’s looking like an 0-for-2 proposition.

Hedges hired two coaches in both football and men’s basketball. I don’t really count the selection of Jim Lambright back in 1993, because it was an emergency situation with the sudden resignation of Don James, and Lambright was the only logical choice. And she hired Rick Neuheisel, which got the UW a Rose Bowl but disaster on a couple of other fronts.

Hedges named Bob Bender to the basketball job in 1993, and after a couple of NCAA tournaments in 1998-99, he flamed out. And that brought Hedges to the accidental hire of Lorenzo Romar. He has been a huge success, but it’s hard to ascribe it to Hedges’ hiring acumen, since she combed through Quin Snyder, Mark Few and Dan Monson before falling back on a UW alum.

It would be unfair to write Love off as a woman who got the job only because Michael Crow wanted to make a bold statement about equality. There are a lot of male athletic directors out there who aren’t exactly shining, either.

This is the reality: If you discount scandal (unfortunately, Hedges couldn’t do that), probably 95 percent of an athletic director’s success or failure is built on four factors — hiring of football coaches; hiring of basketball coaches; facilities enhancement and fund-raising.

The rest of it’s meringue on the pie. The failures of Love and Hedges weren’t identical, but their choices for key hires were enough to put them in jeopardy.

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