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January 22, 2015

AD search advancing

The search for a successor to athletic director Steve Pederson is taking shape.

“I hope that we’ll be done with the process before the end of the semester,” said Randy P. Juhl, vice chancellor for research conduct and compliance and distinguished service professor of pharmaceutical sciences, who was named interim AD following Pederson’s dismissal in mid-December.

The University is on the verge of naming a search firm to assist with the search, said Juhl, adding that a search committee of about 15 will be announced in the coming weeks. It will be made up of faculty representatives, coaches, athletics staff, trustees and student-athletes, said Juhl, who will chair the group.

Filling the AD position doesn’t fall under the guidelines for hiring academic administrators — no meetings to solicit comments from the campus community will be held, he said — but the search will follow the spirit of those guidelines, including broad participation from University constituents who have an interest.

Athletics has drafted a preliminary profile of desirable characteristics to aid the committee. And coaches will have opportunities to weigh in, Juhl said. “The coaches are the ones who report to the athletic director and we will, in several different ways, get input from the coaches.”

Juhl said the search firm will manage the search process and conduct a preliminary check on candidates, passing along to the committee the names of those who are qualified. “Even though the committee will start work with a smaller number, the applications of all candidates or nominations of all candidates will be available to the committee to go back and look at as they choose,” Juhl said.

He envisions that the committee would interview approximately eight-12 candidates off-campus before presenting Chancellor Patrick Gallagher a short list of three-five candidates.

“We’re all going to have our favorites, but as a committee, we’re all going to have to make a recommendation to the chancellor, along with a narrative of why we think they’re qualified and would be a good fit for the University,” Juhl said.

A good fit for Pitt will be someone with experience in a big conference, preferably at more than one institution, or someone who has moved through the ranks in a single organization, Juhl said.

“And we need someone with the vision, personality and the values that fit with the University of Pittsburgh.”

Ultimately, Gallagher will make the call on the hire, Juhl said.

Far from the long-ago practice of simply pasturing a former coach as AD, “now it’s somebody who’s a specialist,” Juhl said, adding that most have an MBA or an advanced degree in athletics management. While some have experience as college athletes, others are drawn from such wide-ranging fields as marketing, medicine or sales.

University athletic directors manage a multifaceted, complicated operation. While most departments have expense budgets, ADs also are responsible for bringing in the needed revenues to meet those budgets, Juhl said. Along with managing budgets, personnel and facilities, ADs oversee security, game-day preparations, the media, team travel and other logistics. They’re also responsible for ensuring student-athletes are capable of earning their degrees, and that they stay on track to succeed.

“The culture starts at the Chancellor’s office — and the Provost’s office as well, because that’s where the academic support is based,” Juhl said.

“Chancellor Gallagher has the same kind of commitment to the student-athletes as Chancellor (Mark A.) Nordenberg did. He’ll be the one to set the tone,” Juhl said.

“The athletic director will have to accept that sometimes there are limitations to operating an athletics department where a school has good academic standards,” Juhl said.

“Our goal is to do everything we choose to engage in and do it well: That means football, it means biomedical research, it means the English department.  We don’t want anybody who has responsibility for a program here to come and aspire to mediocrity. We want them to aspire to be the best.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow