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FSU’s next athletics director must have a vision

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(Photograph via Orlando Sentinel)

There may be more important things that will define Eric Barron’s legacy as president of Florida State, like whether the university can finally attain AAU membership under his leadership.

But Randy Spetman’s demotion from his post as athletics director brings about a crucial non-academic decision for Barron—a decision that will certainly influence his legacy.

Led by football, college athletics has evolved. To keep pace, Florida State must also evolve. The prevailing view about Spetman is that he’s a nice guy but was in over his head as athletics director, that he lacked a strategic vision for the program. In the arms race that college football has become, that’s damning. That’s failed leadership.

Florida State athletics could never reach its full potential that way. That’s why Spetman had to be removed and that’s what makes Barron’s decision about his replacement so very important.

Florida State athletics deserves a director that is a leader and a visionary. Barron’s choice to lead his elite athletic program—a $100 million program which ranks thirteenth in total revenue and boasts three consecutive top-ten Director’s Cup finishesmust be that.

The next director must also be revenue-driven and creative about generating revenue. He or she must be tried-and-true, ethical and willing to throw Florida State’s weight around ACC headquarters.

Challenges will face the next director on day one.

Doak Campbell Stadium continues to be one of the best venues in college football but needs renovating.

The Donald L. Tucker Center needs a complete overhaul and could benefit from corporate sponsorship. If there were to be mutual interest, Darden Restaurants, Inc., an Orlando-based Fortune 500 company, could be a great partner to Florida State. Its sponsorship could vastly and markedly improve concessions as well as the overall experience at basketball games.

Put another way, Darden Restaurants could be to Florida State basketball what Yum! Brands is to Louisville basketball. But first a decision about whether to meaningfully invest in the basketball program must be made.

In any case, maximizing the potential of Florida State athletics is the goal. That only happens with new fundraising initiatives, facilities upgrades, game-day upgrades, innovative television and media strategies and brand-strengthening measures à la Georgia’s Brand Identity System.

As a top-tier sports program, Florida State’s vacancy will generate significant interest from well-qualified candidates. Spetman’s $350,000 annual salary—dramatically low compared to athletics directors of comparable programs—probably says more about the value of his leadership than it does about Florida State’s willingness to pay its athletics director. Expect Florida State to offer a competitive and attractive salary.

Here are five names that should be on Barron’s short-list.

Arizona’s Greg Byrne, who is active on Twitter, has deep SEC ties; he’s a Mississippi State alumnus, was its athletics director and hired Dan Mullen. His father was the athletics director at Texas A&M and ushered the Aggies into the SEC. This means Byrne understands the incredible passion about football in the South.

At Arizona, Byrne is known for his hiring of Rich Rodriguez, his energetic fundraising and his improvement of facilities. He currently earns a $600,000 base salary.

Similarly, Alabama’s Shane Lyons has SEC ties—but he also ACC ties. Before being hired at Alabama as deputy athletics director and chief operating officer, Lyons spent ten years as associate commissioner of the ACC. Lyons has expressed interest in being an athletics director, having described his "itch to get back to campus" as being triggered by his work at the ACC which required him to spend time on the campuses of member universities, one of which was Florida State.

Lyons was considered a strong candidate but was not selected to replace long-time Alabama athletics director Mal Moore, who hired Lyons in 2011. Lyons earns a base salary of $295,000.

Boise State’s Mark Coyle has even closer ties to Florida State. He’s an alumnus and a former employee of the athletics department. He has SEC experience and Big Ten experience from his work as deputy athletics director at Kentucky and as associate athletics director at Minnesota. He’s managed multi-media marketing rights for several universities, including Florida State. That’s valuable experience in this era of college football. Coyle earns a base salary of $333,000.

IMG’s Greg Phillips is also an alumnus of Florida State and has been an associate athletics director in the department, where he worked for 19 years. He spent six years at Oklahoma as a senior associate athletics director. His current salary is not known.

West Virginia’s Oliver Luck is a longshot. He demonstrated his loyalty to his alma mater when he snubbed Stanford. But he’s a rockstar and worth the phone call. He earns $625,000.

All of the above are excellent candidates. And there are more.

How this all unfolds will be interesting to see.

And while there’s no clear front-runner, what is clear is that, with a vision, the future of Florida State athletics is bright.

/R

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