clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

T.K. Wetherell is Leaving: Florida State's Presidential Search Committee, Candidates, and Consequence

Wetherell is retiring soon.  Who should replace him?  Who will replace him?
Wetherell is retiring soon. Who should replace him? Who will replace him?

Everyone knows that current President of Florida State University, T.K. Wetherell has put in his letter of resignation but will continue to be the president until FSU has found his replacement. Many of the readers here at TomahawkNation are alums or students at the university as well as being fans of the football team. A new president will bring a different voice, and vision for Florida State as an academic institution and in athletics. This is a time of transition not only for our beloved football team but our university as well. 

T.K. Wetherell is one of the most controversial figures at Florida State, many who are fans of the football program can't stand his administration. He is too close with Bobby and the football program, where as an administrator he should hire a competent athletic director and let him handle the matters of sport. His relationship with Bobby has clouded the purposeful way that he should be running the university, and of course his cowboy "how the west was won" style of dealing with the NCAA rubs some  most people the wrong way. A university president should never handle himself in such a manner. More to the point, it effects how FSU athletics and academics are viewed from a national perspective. 

The uproar over President Wetherell only got louder last week, when he released what amounts to a non-statement about a position to move forward, yet not anytime soon and he would "evaluate the program after the season." He reassured us that Jimbo would be our next coach, and that he was going to work on a new contract for him. This slow pace of change and inability to deal with the problems surrounding FSU is indicative of T.K.'s entire administration on campus. It is not a non-statement to the recruits we lost, because everyone will use it to say that Bobby Bowden is indeed coming back next year. 

However, he has done some very good things for his alma-mater as well. As a politician in the Florida Legislature he visioned and found the appropriations for the university center and sky boxes. This addition enriches the campus and football experience at FSU, as well as raising money. Also he adopted the "Pathways to Excellence" initiative that is planned to bring in exciting research faculty in math and science and raise FSU's national rankings. The program is in its youth. That doesn't put to rest the fact that he was the chief administrator of the university during the "Nepotism Era" and has allowed Bobby free reign over FSU for far too long. Bobby knows that he has had him in his back pocket, and T.K.'s retirement is great news to anyone who wants to see Bobby gone, however he isn't leaving fast enough for it to make a difference unless something new should arise. 

The rest of this article will identify the search committee members, and their relation to FSU, outline which search committee members have a vested interest in athletics at FSU, detail some early candidates for the job, and search for consequences on our athletic program as a new regime takes over at the top. If any of you don't care about the search to find the new president, the criteria to judge them, or candidates skip to the bottom where the article talks about what we should want from a football standpoint, and what possible implications this will have. 

To begin, once T.K. decided to resign the university had to decide how to go about finding their new president. Jim Smith, the chairman of the Florida State University Board of Trustees, appointed a presidential search committee of people who are intimately tied to FSU and will continue to be an integral part of the alumni and faculty family. They then hired a consulting group that was approved by the board of trustees.  Here is something from FSU on the search committee, uploaded here.

  • Joseph Travis, a professor of Biology at Florida State University since 1980, since 2005 he has been Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 
  • Paul Cottle, a graduate of Yale University and professor of physics, teaching award winner and he has garnered $29 Million dollars in grants as Principle Investigator or co-Principle Investigator. 
  • Carol A. Darling holds the Margaret Rector Sandels Professorship in the College of Human Sciences; she is recipient of FSU’s Distinguished Teaching Award, and former president of the National Council on Family Relations.
  • Clifford Madsen, the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Music has been on faculty at Florida State University since 1961 after receiving his PhD from FSU. He is the coordinator of music education, music therapy and contemporary media at Florida State.
  • Diane Roberts, professor of English at Florida State University and graduate of Oxford University has written three published books, also has been a political columnist for The St.Petersburg Times, and op-ed writer for The New York Times, The New Republic, and The Times of London.
  • Renisha Gibbs is the Director of the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, and served on the Employee Grant-In-Aid committee at Florida State as recently as last year.
  • Jay Landers is currently CEO of Unicorn Financial Services out of Tallahassee, though formerly was a successful environmental lawyer representing Governor Lawton Chiles on behalf of the Osceola National Forest in federal court. Mr. Landers was also appointed Executive Director of the Florida Department of Natural Resources under Governor Bob Graham.
  • David Grimes is Speaker for the Congress of Graduate Students, currently a law student at Florida State University and former recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award from Seminole Torchbearers for his work as a Student Government Association Senator.
  • Jim Smith is the chairman of the Florida State University Board of Trustees, and formerly served as Co-Chair of the Florida Election Reform Task Force from 2000 to 2001; Secretary of State from 1987 to 1995; Chief of Staff in Office of the Governor in 1987; and State Attorney General from 1979 to 1987. He is a strong voice at FSU and recently talked about the need for change in the football program. 
  • Ken Van Assenderp is currently an attorney in Tallahassee, and is former Alumni Board Chair. Governor Jeb Bush also appointed him in December 2000 to serve on the Governor’s Select Elections Reform Task Force.
  • Delores Spearman is on the Alumni Association’s National Board of Directors, and she is also an active community volunteer in Brevard County while studying for a Master’s degree in history.
  • Lauren Robertson is an undergraduate student in the College of Business, the Senior Class President at Florida State University and 2008 Panhellenic President.
  • Adam Fox is an undergraduate student in the College of Social Science, he is also Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs for Student Government Association.
  • Russ Morcom provided the leadership gift that lead to the building of Florida State University’s new aquatic center. He is an FSU alumnus, Circle of Gold recipient and FSU Foundation Board of Trustees member and served as chairman of Seminole Boosters from 2006 to 2008.
  • Justice Raoul Cantero is a Harvard Law graduate and Fulbright Scholar, he also served as a Florida Supreme Court justice, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush and serving from 2002-2008. He is currently a practicing attorney in Miami.
  • Will Weatherford is a legislator in the Florida House of Representatives, there he serves as chair of the Education Policy council and the State & Community Colleges & Workforce Appropriations Committee.
  • Glenda Thornton is chair of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, and a past chair of the Leadership Tallahassee Board of Governors. She is also chair of the United Way of the Big Bend.
  • Ken Willis is a prominent businessman as President and CEO of Test Tools, Inc, and has served as Chairman of FSU’s College of Business Board of Governors. He also holds and MBA from Northwestern University.
  • Harry Sargeant is an FSU alumnus, prominent businessman and donor, additionally he served on the Florida State University Strategic Planning Committee in 2007.

You may recognize House of Representative Will Weathroford's last name, he is indeed the older brother of former QB Drew. The two names at the bottom there, Willis and Sargeant are the two names that were refered to the presidential search committee via the athletic office. Harry Sargeant is very rich, and gives a lot of money to the boosters. He is over $500,000 lifetime giving, which is pretty substantial. However, many may know him as the lobbyist/bundler/profiteer that gained fame for running with former presidential nominee John McCain. On this here football site, we aren't going to get into any politics,  so you all are more than welcome to look around on any of these people including him. Please don't make comments politically charged. He is a big Nole fan and helps the program out, and for our purposes here, that is what is important and why he is on this committee.

Think of this committee as a legislative body, and each person has his or her "constituency".  Faculty, students, athletics, the Tallahasssee community, alumni, donors, and deans are all represented; it is their job to see that their stakeholder's opinions are heard on the topic of hiring a new president. Everyone on the committee, like many of us as alumni, want to see a president who is competent and does a good job. However, they also have to take into consideration the people they represent, which is why, for the purposes of this athletic site we need to focus on Sargeant and Willis. Willis and Sargeant "represent" the football fans. 

Candidates and Qualifications:

Recently FSU has released a list of qualifications for being the new president. This is from their website.

  1. Distinguished intellectual stature with strong academic credentials, proven leadership abilities, and a successful record in senior management.

  2. High ethical standards, impeccable integrity, sound judgment and a personal philosophy that is grounded in administrative transparency.

  3. Staunch commitment to academic excellence in undergraduate, graduate, international and professional education and scholarship, and the ability to inspire confidence and encourage achievement among students and faculty.

  4. Talent and vision to enhance the quality of graduate programs, stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration, and build added research capacity to secure FSU’s position among global peers.

  5. Adherence to sound principles of faculty governance through open communication and consensus building, while ensuring the high quality of student life and actively engaging students, faculty and staff in decision-making.

  6. Proven record of supporting a culturally rich environment of inclusion where faculty, students, administrators, and staff actively contribute to the vibrant life of the University, and a stated commitment to recruiting women and minorities to the student body and for faculty, staff, and administrative positions.

  7. Mastery of successful balance among academics, athletics and the arts. Mastery of the intricacies of higher education governance, including accreditation practices, and ability to enhance productive and collegial relationships among all parts of the University.

  8. Appreciation for the currently recognized jewels in FSU’s academic crown, a commitment to lead successful efforts to further strengthen peaks of excellence, and support for building new areas of nationally recognized strength as appropriate to advance the University’s scholarly and research competitiveness.

  9. Dedication to academic freedom and to an inclusive campus culture where both intellectual curiosity and healthy internal communication flourish in an environment that supports and rewards academic achievement of faculty while working individually or collaboratively within and among disciplines.

  10. Ability to plant and project a sense of energy, enthusiasm and optimism for FSU’s future while vigorously championing its storied traditions, unique heritage, mission, and vision among wide audiences – both internal and external.

  11. Persuasive and enthusiastic fund-raising skills with the ability to successfully connect with public and private donor sources (i.e. friends, boosters, alumni, corporations, and foundations), and leverage dollars to support high-caliber scholarly, research, and service programs and grow faculty/staff resources. Ability to successfully acquire public and governmental resources and funding.

  12. Experience in achieving measurable outcomes with business, education, and political communities, and in growing innovative public-private partnerships with industry, government, and other entities.

  13. Success in planning, decision-making, and crisis management with a thorough knowledge of complex financial matters, accountability practices, and developing effective benchmarks to measure progress.

  14. Appreciation and understanding of all facets of a renowned intercollegiate athletics program that is well respected for the caliber of scholar-athletes and under-girded by a legendary fan base of students, faculty, staff, alumni and supporters.

Two of the Board of Trustees members have also publicly made their opinion known about what they expect from our next president. Again, these are opinions and we will get into what I think later on:

Jim Kinsey of the Board of Trustees said this:

  1. A person of high, nationally recognized, academic achievement. My preference would be someone from the management/business/economics disciplines with either demonstrated success as a consultant to the private sector (outside his/her academic career) or, a current CEO/COO from a major corporation.

  2. Some of TK's greatest strengths are that he is an engaging, outgoing person with immense leadership skills. This has been a great asset particularly when staff and faculty have had to look to a confident leader in troubled times. I would be less comfortable with a "cerebral" or introverted individual, which are are also good qualities but, in a different situation. Leadership skills will be tested ... very early in the new prez's tenure.

  3. The candidate must have demonstrated fund raising ability. There will be more pressure than ever before for the university foundation to get more alums/friends of the university engaged particularly in the major donor arena. A private sector CEO type might have better connections to the large, private foundations or major donors than a sitting university prez/provost. Something to consider.

  4. If we go the sitting prez/provost route, someone with experience in the "AAU process". I may differ with some of my colleagues on the BOT but, I don't necessarily think we need to recruit someone from an existing AAU school. However, someone who is (or has been) active in the accreditation process and can demonstrate success in that process (as TK has done here at FSU) should be a pre-requisite.

  5. Someone with crisis management experience. I am hopeful our consultant, John Hicks, can press each candidate to discuss his/her experience with a particular crisis in their administrative background. Scott Cowen at my alma mater Tulane demonstrated good crisis management skills in the wake of Katrina. We need somebody "tested".

Eric Walker, President of Faculty Senate also has expressed his opinion on what he feels should be the ultimate goals of hiring a new president. Remember that SGA and Faculty Senate often work together, but they are separate entities, and Walker is like the "speaker of the house" as far as faculty go on this issue, given his position and the statements he has put out.

  1. Must be of distinguished intellectual stature with an outstanding record of academic and other professional accomplishments.
  2. Must uphold superlative standards in undergraduate, graduate, and professional education, and must be a strong advocate for international education.
  3. Must be a proven higher education administrator with superior administrative skills in planning and decision-making, and a strong record of sound fiscal management and team-building skills.
  4. Must be dedicated to academic freedom and a campus that thrives on intellectual and cultural diversity, and must be committed to the recruitment of women and minorities for the student body and for faculty, staff, and administrative positions.
  5. Must have a strong record of fundraising skills and must have the ability and commitment to advance in major ways the university's fundraising initiatives.
  6. Must demonstrate effective communication and human relations skills, including the ability to work with The Florida State University Board of Trustees, to foster collegiality among all segments of the university community, and to be a strong public advocate for the university.
  7. Must place a high value on faculty governance, the quality of student life, and student participation in decision-making.
  8. Must demonstrate strong knowledge of key business, education, and political communities, and demonstrate the ability to work well with all these groups on matters affecting the institution.
  9. Must sustain a vision for the university that leads the institution to the next level of excellence, building on strengths and committed to the furthering of teaching, research, and service.
  10. Must understand the governance of intercollegiate athletics and be committed to high academic and ethical standards for athletes as required by the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference.
  11. Must understand the university's contributions to local, regional, and statewide economic, environmental, and cultural life and be able to work in partnership with many different communities and interests.
  12. Must set an unwavering example of high ethical standards and integrity.

As a graduate student in Public Administration I have had the pleasure of studying strategic leadership and planning for the public sector, and have some opinions on what the president should do. A few things first. T.K. Wetherell was hired because of his background. As a former lobbyist and speaker of the House of Representatives he knows how to "find the money" that FSU needs more often than not. His intricate knowledge of the state political system and his silver tongue were the reasons behind his hiring. There are obviously other reasons, and rumored reasons but that is the biggest of them. You see above that fundraising is noted as an important skill for any prospective president to have. This is absolutely true. One of the main jobs of the president is to be the face of the university, raise funds, and interact with the legislative bodies. Day to day operations of academics, and academic decisions are usually handled by the Presidential Provost, who is directly under the president. This is an important skill, and one that is often overlooked, however in today's interest group world it simply cannot be.  With that said, however, it can also be a problem when that is your only real skill. 

This quote from Harvard Kennedy School professor Joseph Nye's book "The Powers to Lead" sums that up very well:

The charisma of inspirational leaders, which focuses authority in the individual, is a powerful solvent of institutions

Sound like any presidents or coaches we know?


The two most talked about candidates thus far.

Senator Mel Martinez: A graduate of Florida State, and FSU Law. He has been a politician and lawyer for the better part of 35 years, and has served in the United States Senate. He has publicly stated that he did not want to be considered and the board of trustees knows that, however rumors still abound. You can learn more here

Dr. Mark S. Wrighton: Also an FSU graduate, he is a renowned chemist and academic. He is currently the chancellor at Washington University in St. Louis. You can learn more here

I expect that FSU will do the right thing and find a respected figure from academia, whether it is Wrighton or another qualified individual from somewhere else in the country. 


What then should we look for in a president as it relates to football? 

1. No ties to the football program, or football in general. T.K. played football here, and will forever be tied to that and it has been a fault of his. Whoever the new president is should come from the academic community, while T.K. holds a doctorate degree, his demeanor makes others in the academic world lose respect for the school. We need to do a 180 in this department. 

A hierarchy has been put in place in the past and has worked beautifully, until T.K.'s ties to the football program eliminated the vertical relationships (chain of command). Without pressure from a competent administration, and using his charm and resume, Bobby has stayed in good graces with the Boosters and the University. 

2. The ability to delegate authority to the athletic director. Randy Spetman is an unqualified athletic director who has done a terrible job of scheduling and managing the athletic department since his hire. He was hired, much like many of the personnel related to the football team as a "boys club" fire to be the lap dog of T.K. Wetherell. Some people believe his military background will bring much needed discipline to the athletic department.

One thing is for sure. Whether you think Spetman is the answer or not, we can't have another president running around playing athletic director, we just can't. They should have a clear vision for the AD, but allow him to do his job without micromanagement from above.  

3. A fundamental understanding of the financial ramifications of sport. FSU, as a public entity, does not operate for profit. They operate on a year to year budget, but some parts of the university can be run as an enterprise (like a business; for-profit). This is the operation of having separate funds under the cloud of the university. Here is a very short and dirty primer on fund accounting. This is why Urban Meyer can get a raise when public universities in the state are hemorrhaging money, the boosters pay that out of their fund, which is designated for that purpose already. Or why FSU can build new buildings all across campus while they have to cut programs like slavic languages.  

The football team, and the basketball team (and to some extent the baseball team, because it is self sustaining) are "enterprise funds" ; they make more money than it takes to run them, especially the football team. They then transfer money from the football fund to the general university fund to help the students in various ways. Which is yet another reason to schedule smarter, read this and envision the football team as I just described, it only makes the athletic director look worse. The president should have the knowledge that this is the case, and have a strategic vision that he/she can describe to the athletic director about scheduling, and maximizing university profits from the football team. 

Wins have a high correlation with the amount of dollars a football program brings in. Attendance goes up. Merchandise sales go up. Money from better bowls goes up. I have yet to see a study about college football on this, but in baseball it is non-linear, each win could add a ton of value to the program. Start getting wins. No matter who they are against.

4. A leader who understands when to cut their losses. T.K.'s recent battle with the NCAA is ridiculous; read this. A leader needs to know how to handle a crisis, using the leverage that it creates as a way to make necessary change. We have dropped the ball in regards to NCAA relations, and the next president will have a lot of fence mending in that department. Hopefully they are a good leader who can see the need for a positive relationship with the NCAA, as opposed to going at them figurative guns-a-blazin'.  

5. A strong leader who will break the good-ol'-boy mentality. T.K's relationship with Bobby Bowden is undeniable, and Bobby at this point has a stranglehold on the university. Many boosters and donors still love Bobby, and are blind to what he has done to this program. His system of keeping the people he is familiar with around the university is sickening. From holding on to his son for far too long, inevitably to be bought out by the boosters, to coaching for far too long in hopes of passing Joe Paterno, our current administration can do nothing about it because of Wetherell's clear love for all things Bowden. Our program will not turn the corner until Bobby Bowden is no longer the head coach, and the athletic director and president should make that happen.

What will this mean for Nole fans?

If you haven't been able to tell yet, I am not so much a fan of T.K. Wetherell's administration as president of the university. I believe that bringing in a new president will remedy a lot of the problems facing the athletic department as a whole. A football team is not just players and coaches. It takes a competent president who can delegate power and vision to the athletic director, an athletic director who can manage all of the sports with an understanding of the enterprise nature of some of their sports, coaches who work hard and want to win 100%, a booster system that is big enough to provide the needs of the football team beyond what the university provides, and finally players who can execute the gameplan. 

A new coaching regime is seemingly not too far off, and the president who likes to pretend to be the athletic director is walking away soon as well. FSU needs to do the right thing and hire a good leader with support in the academic community and will make changes to the way the athletic department visions and executes the vision. As an alum, graduate student, employee, and fan I am begging FSU to change the mentality of this office. Our football team and university depend on it.