College athletic directors are often the only CEOs I know who are actually third in command at their job. Many times, a popular winning football coach or winning basketball coach is No. 1 or No. 2 in the chain of command ahead of that beleaguered AD.
And while Bobby Bowden is a winning football coach, his teams have recently not met the high standards that Florida State backers have come to expect. The chair of the school’s Board of Trustees has called for his dismissal at the end of the season. Do all of Bowden’s winning seasons count for anything now, at this point of his career? Do they buy him more time, at the age of 79?
I’m afraid they don’t. Big-time college sports are a huge business these days and even CEOs and presidents of companies are subject to performance evaluations.
But Bowden has a lot of friends, some of whom probably give a lot of money to the university. This makes an athletic director or university president reluctant to get involved in what could be a very unpopular decision with influential and powerful alumni and donors. The only thing the university president will say at this time is that Bowden will not be fired during the season — which nobody expects, anyway.
But there is a way out and the answer can be found within any university. Higher education has been run by committees for centuries. If the athletic director and the university president are wary of the fallout from firing Bowden, it might be beneficial for them to form a committee of 10 – five of whom are appointed by Bowden and five by the president and/or the athletic director.
That committee would then review the results of this season and vote on whether Bowden’s contract should be extended. The vote could be confidential and the result would be an outcome that would shield the president and AD from some of the fallout, whichever way the committee votes.
Now you may think that none of the five friends of Bowden would ever vote for his ouster, but I disagree. It’s entirely possible that one or more of those closest to him could decide that for him, it’s best to step down.
Sadly, this is how higher education usually works – most issues are decided by committees. There are very few university presidents like the late Myles Brand, who had the courage as president at Indiana to fire the popular Bob Knight. Incidentally, the whole committee thing is probably one of the reasons NCAA football programs have such an embarrassing track record in hiring minority football coaches.
I don’t think many university ADs or presidents will be facing Bowden-like decisions in the future, though. Sure, there’s Joe Paterno at Penn State. But down the road, it isn’t likely many coaches will stay that long in one place. Increasing salaries mean more movement – either to larger schools or to the NFL. And increasing pressure to win means a quicker trigger when it comes to making coaching changes.