Jim Livengood suddenly retires from his post at the helm of UNLV athletics

Livengood, 68, will step away on June 30 after three and a half years with the Rebels

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UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood details the circumstances surrounding his retirement Wednesday, May 8, 2013.

Updated Wednesday, May 8, 2013 | 6 p.m.

Jim Livengood Retires

UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood details the circumstances surrounding his retirement Wednesday, May 8, 2013. Launch slideshow »

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He’s retiring, but Jim Livengood isn’t tired.

That was the message from the UNLV athletic director who on Wednesday announced he would step away after three and a half years with the university. His decision is effective June 30.

“I just think it’s the right time,” Livengood said. “… I know people don’t like to hear it, that you’re going to spend more time with family, but that’s the truth.”

The Sun first reported his departure Wednesday morning.

Livengood gathered his athletic department, including coaches and administrators, for a 10 a.m. meeting at Lied Athletic Complex to announce his departure. Speculation immediately swirled about the timing of the announcement with some boosters suggesting UNLV President Neal Smatresk essentially forced out Livengood. Both men say that’s not reality.

“Let me make it perfectly clear: I really want Jim around helping me on some of this constant stuff that is bubbling around,” Smatresk said, referring to ongoing changes with the Mountain West Conference. “I intend, and Jim and I have both discussed, continuing our relationship on a more consulting or special projects basis.

“This isn’t an acrimonious departure where I want him out of town. I need Jim’s support on some things.”

Livengood, 68, said the announcement is more surprising to outsiders than to his family or his boss, with whom he’s been tossing around the idea of retirement for the past year. Still, he acknowledged that it only recently seemed possible he would make the decision now, ending his tenure in the current fiscal year.

Among many possible factors in hastening that decision could be a meeting between Livengood and Smatresk in the past month, during which Smatresk reportedly got upset and put a lot of blame for the football program’s struggles on Livengood. However, Livengood said he didn’t think anything that was said was unfair.

Livengood hired football coach Bobby Hauck within two weeks of taking the job in December 2009. Since then Hauck has won a combined six games and attendance at Sam Boyd Stadium has continued to dwindle, costing the athletic department its best possible source for new revenue.

A successful football team would bring in money from gate receipts and increase exposure for the university that could be monetized in other ways.

“We have so much room for growth in football financially,” Livengood said.

That’s a big reason Livengood said he didn’t achieve his goals while at UNLV, which included making the department independent of state funds. With four straight years of budget cuts to higher education and a fledgling football program, that never became a reality despite nearly tripling the money raised through fundraising in the past three years.

The Board of Regents in June 2012 approved a three-year extension for Livengood that keeps him under contract from Dec. 17, 2012, through Dec. 16, 2015, at a base salary of $350,000. Livengood said UNLV would not him buy him out of the rest of that deal.

“That’s my decision,” Livengood said.

The 11th full-time athletic director in UNLV history, Livengood came to Las Vegas in 2009 after more than 15 years at Arizona. All told, he hired nine coaches, including men’s basketball coach Dave Rice, who, with a staff making about a combined $1 million, has won 51 games over the past two years.

Livengood was hoping for, and still expects, similar success on a small budget from the football team, but it hasn’t come to pass. Many outside of the program say that will never happen until UNLV gets an on-campus stadium.

The UNLV Now project, which wants to put a stadium and student village on campus where the baseball and football practice fields currently sit, was a potential legacy project that Livengood won’t see come to fruition while in office.

The perceived head-butting between people from athletics and academics on that and the proposed upgrades to the Thomas & Mack Center could be a factor in the timing of Livengood’s exit. Smatresk said neither project would be affected by Livengood’s departure.

“I don’t see any impact on that at all,” he said. “Those are ongoing, they’re being managed by Don Snyder and Gerry Bomotti. The UNLV Now project is really us trying to do something with the city that would benefit the local economy. Athletics is clearly a beneficiary of that but it really isn’t being driven by it.”

Snyder is the UNLV Now project leader and Bomotti is UNLV’s senior vice president for finance and business. Smatresk on Wednesday flew up to Carson City to appear before the Legislature on issues from the overall budget to the Mack renovations and AB335, the proposed tax district that would help fund the UNLV Now mega events center.

When he returns next week, Smatresk said he expects to assemble a search committee for Livengood’s replacement and hopes to have a decision made by June 30. Although three search firms had already contacted him, Smatresk said he didn’t anticipate using one to make the hire. Livengood said he doesn’t and shouldn’t have any say in the hire.

The Rebel Room

Athletic Director Jim Livengood retires

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Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer and UNLV beat writer discuss the possible reasons for Jim Livengood's sudden departure and what it means for the athletic department.

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UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood thanks a columnist after a news conference detailing the circumstances surrounding his retirement Wednesday, May 8, 2013.

Livengood is the second member of the athletics administration to step down in recent weeks. Last week senior associate athletics director of communications D.J. Allen informed UNLV and some friends he would be leaving on June 3. Allen plans to return to his entrepreneurial work in Las Vegas while staying still staying involved with the university in some capacity.

One of the last major things Livengood will likely be remembered for is moving the Sept. 7 home football game against Arizona to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. That deal’s expected to be finished any day and would net UNLV a windfall “way north” of the $750,000 it received to travel to West Virginia in 2010, he said.

Livengood has been an athletic director for 28 consecutive years, starting at Southern Illinois and then making successful stops at Washington State and Arizona before landing at UNLV, which he said was always supposed to be his last stop. Twice named the Division I Athletic Director of the Year, Livengood said he plans to stay in Las Vegas with his wife, Linda, and spend plenty of time with his two kids and four grandchildren.

There will be plenty to work on, though, from the consulting with UNLV to other projects that may already be in the works. Asked if he would jump back into athletics if the right opportunity came along, Livengood answered, “You never know.”

Livengood’s departure will always be regarded with a mark of skepticism, at least in part because of the track record he leaves behind. An excellent fundraiser, Livengood has overseen tremendous success in men’s basketball and several Olympic sports, with football being the only glaring black eye.

Those things matter to him, but as Livengood prepares to walk away it’s not the wins and losses the student-athletes produced he thinks about. It’s “everything to do with what they’re going to do when they graduate and what kind of young people they’re going to be in the community,” Livengood said. “I’m really proud of that.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. I don't think anyone was expecting this. I hope they can find an alumni to be the new athletic director.

  2. Jim Livengood should have been fired for trying to relocate the September 7th game with the University of Arizona from Sam Boyd Stadium to University of Phoenix Stadium. This is not about how much more UNLV athletics can make but how much the Las Vegas community would lose in visitor spending by moving this game to Glendale, Arizona.

    This is egregious especially at a time when UNLV is seeking support from the state legislature and this community for a $900 million project on the UNLV campus.

  3. Im_too-Old.. that is a matter of opinion. I chose to see Mr. Livengood's attempt to move the game as a clear message being sent to our state that the system is broken. Do not blame Mr. Livengood, nor Mr. Allen for that matter. Both gentleman are forward thinkers with huge vision. Unfortunately, in the CYA environment that is fostered by the State of NV and it's Regents system you need look no further than the highest paid puppet in our state, President Smatresk. Our university deserves a revolutionary leader. One with a vision and the guts and experience to execute it. Instead the community, students and faculty are stuck with the status quo; protecting his paycheck and with the crowning achievement not of UNLV NOW, but a statue of Tark on the side of the Mack. Good grief!!!!

  4. 4 years too late

  5. In the forty plus years I have been a follower and thirty-five I have been a booster I believe Jim Livengood to have been a very excellent AD. Unfortunately we have had some who were not. Thanks for your service Jim and enjoy your retirement.

  6. Triple fundraising, The MWC was about to lose Boise and SDSU to the Big East, We are on ESPN and other national outlets, Baseball is back with Coach Chambers, as Tark would say usually you get a raise after such achievements not get forced out.
    Coach Hauck for your conscience you need to deliver. I am a season ticket holder and understand the move of the game to Arizona. You have to pay bills first.
    In what have you done for me lately society this resignation is reality.
    Now, Neal your next AD is on you and when he hires the next football coach and it goes bad it will be time for you to go too.

  7. I think this could be a great opportunity for UNLV, but I am not counting on it. Livengood did a terrible job. His process for hiring Dave Rice as the basketball coach was a joke and the football program is still in the gutter. I really feel he never was a Rebel. He just was building up his retirement, kind of like others have in the past.UNLV could really use this opportunity to get an AD who wants to make UNLV athletic program the very best...

  8. Livengood talked a good game, but had the same problems that plagued him at Arizona happen here. First, his judgement regarding the football program has been horrible. There is very little room for error when you have a losing record Coach with no history of BUILDING a program -only taking over an existing one. Furthermore - the only player the NFL drafts this year with Las Vegas ties is a kid who graduates from Valley and takes his a scholarship at Utah State due to UNLV never offering him one. USU beats down on UNLV goes to bowl games and their Head Coach now is at Wisconsin. So they got it right.
    Next - there is no ONE else from a Coaching Staff to anyone promoting the program with a UNLV degree. The way this town works - hire from the outside, not enough local talent that you should get and you lose games - you get little rope. Hire a local guy who recruits locals and lose - you get a lot more rope. See long time UNLV Soccer Coach Barry Barto to know that is true

    Then there is the announcement about Allen leaving. Would be not worth even mentioning - except for the fact he wrote a book with Lon Kruger and then goes from the PR World to College Athletics? How did this happen?
    Kind of smells like insiders getting what they can - sort of like BYU's Dave McCann -who took his UNLV money to the Cougar Alumni Fund. You then wonder about UNLV's budget and Alumni gifts - hard to give when your Announcers give to the rival college in the region with UNLV $$.

    Rice and Theus were final candidates as well as Alums. Chambers should have been hired long before Bryce Harper showed up at CCSN - he was a layup. The cash cow is football - conveniently a home PAC 12 Non Conference Game is moved to Phoenix and a day later Jim is gone?

    Winning games and going to a bowl game solves $$ issues.

    The good feeling with UNLV Athletics is connected to Alums and local Coaching leading the Rebels. That does not exist with football in ANY way shape or form. Time is right for a progressive younger and hopefully former Alum to come in as AD. Not someone looking to retire here - the list is too long with last stop AD's who used UNLV as a 401k. While other schools - even UNR, have staff that bleeds blue, Fresno who bleeds Red, Boise who bleed Blue (their AD will not get on a plane with an IDAHO logo on it due to loyalty) their school colors. UNLV needs to remove those who do not bleed Rebel red and who have only been bleeding green. Too many proven College Football Coaches who have built programs that would take Haucks deal - not give up home games for $$$ and connect back to the community. If UNLV is giving up an attractive home game for it's fans all for the mighty $$ - how many fans will show up for the rest of the season if they start 0-2? But - someone got paid and since Rice makes well below Kruger - it is not the one making the most money for UNLV.

  9. I sold a business I built, not with Obama's help by the way, and retired at age 47. I haven't looked back since. The time I get to spend with my young children is priceless. Nobody lies in their death bed wishing they would of spent more time working.

  10. He built a highly successful Golf Team and made the University untold Billions. We are now the LA Clippers of NCAA Basketball and our Football team is prized by division 3 opponents as a quality win. Congrats on keeping us and BSU in a failed mid major conference that highly resembles the PCAA of the 1980's. Bravo! We cant even get our local sports teams covered on LOCAL TV STATIONS! FAIL FAIL FAIL