Fire HIM!

A mediocre record and coddling thugs on his team didn't keep ASU football coach Dirk Koetter from getting a big raise

Commentary

As the 2006 ASU football season approaches, Koetter won't be focused solely on getting his team ready for the fall campaign. He will be preparing to testify in the murder trial of his former star running back, in a wrongful-death suit and in a rape case.

To say this isn't the best way for a big-time college football coach to spend his summer is a tragic understatement.


In less than a year as ASU vice president of athletics, Lisa Love has already made three crucial decisions that will help define her legacy.

She extended Dirk Koetter's contract in the aftermath of the fatal shooting by Loren Wade.

She fired Rob Evans with one year remaining on his contract.

And she hired a new men's basketball coach.

It was quite a year for a woman with so little experience running a big-time athletic department.

Love served as senior associate athletic director at USC for three years before being named to the ASU job last July 1. At Southern California, she supervised eight sports including women's basketball, volleyball, tennis, and men's and women's swimming and diving.

The combined budgets of these eight sports probably didn't top $2 million. Love now oversees the $41 million program at the nation's largest university.

So far, Love has shown she is anything but thrifty.

In December, she extended an overnight trip to New York City to a five-night stay at the $620-a-night Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel.

She went to New York for a legitimate reason, to attend the December 5 ceremony where former ASU defensive great Al Harris was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

But why she stayed four more nights is questionable. Love stayed at the pricey Doubletree to, get this, ring the bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange.

Who knows what this has to do with ASU athletics?

Love made sure she traveled in style. The ASU athletic department paid her $249 limo bill to ferry her from the hotel to the stock exchange and on to the airport.

This was just a prelude to even more questionable expenses -- and these are big ones.

When Love decided to fire Evans, the university was forced to pay the salaries of two coaching staffs through the end of June after hiring Herb Sendek from North Carolina State for about $1 million a year. The extra cost of carrying two coaches and their staffs for three months is at least $500,000.

And, of course, ASU is obligated to pay Evans another $600,000 next year to fulfill the terms of his contract.

Given her willingness to blithely toss money around, it's not surprising that Love called in expensive consultants to help find the new basketball coach.

Instead of conducting the search for the new men's basketball coach herself, or forming a university-based search committee, Love hired Baker Parker & Associates, a pricey Atlanta-based headhunting firm, to do the work.

ASU paid $25,515 to Baker Parker to help conduct the search for the basketball coach that most knowledgeable college basketball fans could have done at home with their computer and a cell phone. Let's face it, there just aren't that many available basketball coaches out there with the résumé to coach a Pac-10 team.

Love had a good reason to shell out state money to Baker Parker. A year earlier, the firm had played a crucial role in getting her the $280,000-a-year job in Tempe.

ASU records, also obtained under the state public records law, show that the university paid Baker Parker $87,835 in 2005 to conduct the athletic director search that led to Love's ASU job.

Hiring the firm to conduct a search for ASU's new basketball coach could be viewed as a convenient way for Love to say thanks to Baker Parker.

And, it could also be seen as an inducement to Baker Parker to keep Love's name at the top of the list the next time an AD job opens up elsewhere in the country. Major college athletics is a fickle business. You never can tell.

The consulting firm's Dan Parker declined to discuss what candidates were considered for the ASU head basketball coach's job, other than to say that "Herb [Sendek] was on our early list."

Parker acknowledged that the firm was also representing the University of Indiana in its search for a new basketball coach at the same time it was working with Arizona State.

Parker says this was not a conflict of interest because "Indiana and ASU were never looking at the same guy at the same time."

Indiana hired Kelvin Sampson, who had resigned under the cloud of an NCAA investigation from the University of Oklahoma.

Sources close to the search tell New Times that ASU was also considering Sampson.

In the end, Arizona State landed Sendek, who appears to be a decent guy who won't sully Evans' legacy of recruiting classy players.

As for Love, she appears to be in over her head.

She repeatedly misspelled Sendek's name in e-mails for days after she announced his hiring. ASU's vice president of athletics insisted on spelling it "Sendeck" in e-mails to supporters praising him as her selection.

A typo can be forgiven, but her decision to fire Evans and keep Koetter has a lot of alums wondering if the university couldn't have spent that $87,835 to find a new ASU athletic director more wisely.

Because whacking a coach with a mediocre on-court record and a stellar off-court record and rewarding a coach with a mediocre on-field record and a scary off-field record doesn't make sense. The bottom line is, ASU fired the wrong guy.

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