Friday, June 28, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Jim Livengood’s face is all red.
Resting on the floor next to a pile of boxes in his soon-to-be-vacant office at the Thomas & Mack Center is a framed collection of photos showing students painting the athletic director’s face in Rebel red. It occurred early in 2010, about two months after Livengood took the job following nearly 16 years as athletic director at Arizona.
Livengood hasn’t painted his face since, nor has he needed to. He wears his UNLV pride all over, something that won’t change as his tenure comes to an end Friday. Livengood said he and his wife, Linda, will keep their home in Las Vegas and attend as many Rebels games as their schedule allows.
“Very seldom does a day ever go as you planned,” said Livengood, who announced his sudden departure in the same room May 8.
The well-regarded athletic director talked to the Sun about his retirement, his advice to the next athletic director and how he sees the future unfolding for UNLV and college athletics as a whole:
When you walk out of the door Friday afternoon, that’s it at UNLV. Has the realization of that settled in yet?
It has. We had a little retirement celebration (Wednesday) afternoon, and there’s something with retirement as opposed to saying you’re going somewhere else or doing something else. I’ve done this for 45 years and there have been good times, bad times, ups and downs, but it’s been a wonderful profession. I’m not done working. I’m going to do some other things, but they’re things I can control more. But it will be different waking up on Monday morning and thinking, "Wait a minute. It’s July 1 and I don’t have a job."
Do you think that will feel good or just different?
I think it will just feel. I don’t know that everybody truly believes this: I really do love this place. I really do care about UNLV and I love our staff. I’ll miss working with them and I’ll miss working with our student-athletes.
I think people believe you love this place, they just don’t believe the retirement part or that this was solely your decision. Have you stopped trying to convince people of that?
Yes, I have. It’s retirement for me but it’s not retirement from doing other things. I have a number of opportunities. I’m definitely going to do some consulting things with the Mountain West Conference. I’m going to advise some schools across the country and I’ve had a number of conferences reach out. They’re things that I can pick and choose but don’t have to do every day. It’s the right time. When Linda and I came here, we came for three years. I look back and it might have been smart to do something then, in 2012, but my reason for continuing is I still wanted to do more for Rebel athletics and leave the next person in a good position.
Your initial contract was three years, then you signed a three-year extension last fall.
I didn’t do it begrudgingly. I did it because I thought, and still think, there are a number of things that need to be done. I felt I owed it to the university and owed it to our staff to keep going. I wasn’t ready to stop. Now this feels OK.
Am I correct that after June 30, you’ll have a six-month deal with UNLV as a consultant?
Yes. I’ll be doing some work with UNLV more as it relates to schools in our conference and how it relates nationally. The landscape is changing and those who don’t stay abreast of the issues are going to be left behind. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but that right now is the biggest challenge for UNLV. For the future, it’s going to be about figuring out where UNLV fits from a regional and national perspective.
There’s no official buyout for the remaining 2 1/2 years on your contract. Am I being cynical if I view that six-month consulting contract as, essentially, a buyout?
No, I don’t think you’re being cynical at all. It’s a very legit question. That’s the right time frame; it gives me time to wind down with helping UNLV athletics. I don’t view it as a buyout, but some could.
You often talk about the haves and have-nots in regard to the national landscape of college athletics. Are we at a point that within five or 10 years the NCAA will look drastically different?
I think within two or three years, maybe a max of five, we’re going to see some changes. I’m not pointing at the NCAA but there’s a fair amount of unrest about where people are going to settle. It’s going to happen sooner because I think there’s pressure for it to happen sooner. The Ed O’Bannon case is a part of it. A possible stipend for student-athletes is part of it.
Do you think student-athletes should be paid?
I’m going to give you a contradictory answer. I think they deserve to be paid but I don’t think they should be paid. Student-athletes put in a tremendous of time but so do other students who are working and so forth. Student-athletes are an incredible resource in terms of the money made from athletics, but once you go down the road of paying student-athletes, lots of other things happen and I don’t know that there’s an end in sight. For a lot of smaller conferences, that’s going to be difficult fiscally to pay all student-athletes. And I’m a believer that if we decide that’s the right thing to do, all of them need to be paid. Not just the guys who play football and basketball. All of them. Philosophically, I just have a problem of, once you start that, how much is enough?
What should people know about the business side of amateur athletics?
We have 17 sports. If this were truly a business — and we’re expected to run athletics as a business — and we had 17 departments and only two of those were profit centers, the other 15 we’d either cut way back, eliminate or do something else. Because business is business. But we don’t have that option and, quite honestly, we shouldn’t have that option. Let’s say there’s a young lady coming out of high school who has a passion for long-distance swimming. Who’s to say there’s not a value for her to be able to do that in college as well? Or the tennis player, or the baseball player? Some people are pushing the idea that we need to compress and their idea there is that to get larger, we need to get smaller.
You say that you don’t have the option, and I agree it’s a last resort, but program cuts do happen.
They happen and in a lot of cases they have to happen. But most ADs I know, the thing that worries them the most is having to drop a program. Because even if it’s the right thing to do financially, there are no winners.
Do you see it as a possibility that within two years UNLV will cut programs?
It’s always a possibility. I desperately, and I mean desperately, hope it’s not a probability.
How much have you talked to interim athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy?
A little bit, not a ton. I’ve known Tina a long time and I know she’s all set to jump in. She’ll do fine but there’s a learning curve, too. This is a job that a lot of people like on game day but there’s a lot of realism to it. I’m sure we’ll be talking more and I made it clear to her that I won’t be in the way. I’m here to help with anything she needs.
If full-time candidates call you, what are you going to tell them?
There have been several and there will be more coming along. Because I’ve been around so long, most of the candidates I will know in some way. What I would tell them is, first, you’re looking at a great university. You’re also looking at a great place to live, which I don’t think I fully realized when we moved here. And third, you’re getting a great staff. You’re getting people who care about being Rebels. Anybody who becomes a finalist, I think they’ll be shocked by how many good things there are when you compare this to other places.
The Mack upgrades are starting right outside your door and UNLV just had its first NBA Draft pick since 2003. When you think about those things and not finishing some other ideas you’ve started, is it bittersweet to leave or do you realize there will always be something going on that you leave undone?
Here’s a story: My very first coaching job was at a small high school in Oroville, Wash. I was the head football and basketball coach and also taught seven periods. We were there for three years, and I almost didn’t leave for a better job because we just got brand-new basketball uniforms. That’s the truth. I was so excited about that I nearly stayed. At Arizona we spent 18 months on a $470 million planning project that is now underway. Fast forward to now and it’s not bittersweet at all because to me that would mean that I’m resentful someone else is going to get the credit. If every team can be successful academically and on the field, if we continue to grow our facilities, I’ll feel like I had a part in all that. I don’t care what anybody else says, I’ll feel good that I had a part in that.
This isn’t the last UNLV fans will hear from you but it is the last as the Rebels athletic director. Any final words?
This athletic program is so important to this university, so important to this community and to the state. Please keep caring about being a Rebel. A lot of our fans don’t get a chance to see the young people outside of uniform and the growth they’ve made. Those are the stories that are fun. Please keep caring. It’s worth it.