Ron Kantowski:

Let’s be frank: This royal alienator of an A.D. stayed step ahead of ax


Lori Wolfe / The Herald-Dispatch

Mike Hamrick announces at a Monday news conference in Huntington, W.Va., his decision to step down as UNLV’s athletic director so he could assume the same job at his alma mater, Marshall University.

Beyond the Sun

To anybody who believes that becoming the new athletic director at Marshall University was Mike Hamrick’s idea, I would only say: Enjoy your second day on this planet.

It is a fortuitous coincidence that Hamrick was able to tell the good folks at Marshall that the only A.D. job he would have left UNLV for is the one at his alma mater, and that must have sounded wonderful to the good folks at Marshall on Monday morning.

I wonder if, while he was saying that, Hamrick was rubbing the boot mark on his rear end.

Once the state higher education regents made UNLV President David Ashley’s head roll, it was probably only a matter of time before they got Hamrick too. Like Sean Penn in the movies, he was a dead man walking.

Nothing against country roads taking you home and all that other quaint stuff John Denver sang about West Virginia, but the real reason Hamrick will soon get reacquainted with the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River is that after six years he had worn out his welcome here.

This is not a step up the NCAA administrative ladder. It’s not even a lateral move.

If you haven’t checked the standings lately, Marshall is not exactly what you would call a program on the rise. The Thundering Herd pretty much became a Dundering Herd once Randy Moss, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich exhausted their eligibility.

If you think the economy around here is lousy, it has been that way for two decades in the Rust Belt, of which Huntington, W.Va., is a wheezing card-carrying member. In researching the Huntington economy, I learned that during a 2008 study 24.3 percent of adults over 18 considered themselves in poor to fair health — and 48.1 percent of residents over the age of 65 have had all of their natural teeth extracted.

Let me state that I have a natural affinity for people from the Rust Belt who work hard to put bread on the table. My old man was one. But this is not a place for which you would normally leave a cushy job in Las Vegas. Unless, maybe, you are a dentist.

The irony when it comes to Hamrick is that you actually might make a case for him, were he not such an ... well, if you must use a word that starts with “a,” then “alienator” will have to suffice.

This might be simplifying it some, but most athletic directors are judged by two criteria: how many games their football coach wins and how many games their basketball coach wins — usually in that order. Here, it’s the other way around.

Although it was former UNLV Athletic Director Brad Rothermel who persuaded Lon Kruger to take the Rebel basketball job, years from now Hamrick will receive credit for it. Maybe he should. As athletic director, he could have brought in his own guy but deferred to those who knew better.

Hamrick was the one who hired football coach Mike Sanford, and the jury’s still deliberating that one. The football program finally showed some progress last season although it took way longer than expected. Still, when Hamrick gave the former Utah offensive coordinator his first head coaching assignment, it looked like a good move. Maybe it still will be.

UNLV players are also going to class more frequently than they did in the past, and a lot of them are even getting good grades. Hamrick deserves credit for making that a priority. Good grades are important in this day and age, except at Florida, where national championships are still more important.

As for the money that isn’t a direct residual of the basketball team’s success, I guess Hamrick has done OK, although OK might not cut it anymore, not with the economy hanging on by a thread.

This is how one of the posters on the Sun’s message boards summed up Hamrick’s UNLV tenure:

“Has any Mountain West school had an athletic director who has made a tremendous difference? I think the best an A.D. can do is keep a school from falling behind and hope to get lucky hiring some good coaches as time goes on.”

That, and not alienating those with whom he interacts.

The last time I spoke with Mike Hamrick was after the UNLV-Colorado State basketball game. The 2007-08 UNLV-Colorado State basketball game. He was trying to convince me the athletic department was rolling in cash, a concept I couldn’t understand considering that just that week he had slashed his coaches’ operating budgets across the board.

Voices were raised, words were exchanged.

We went a year and half without speaking. He never returned my calls.

Here’s the funny thing: I used to have a good relationship with Hamrick. He’s a Cubs fan, for cryin’ out loud. But we soured on each other long before our heated discussion after the Colorado State game.

For the life of me, I can’t tell you how, when, where or why that happened.

To paraphrase Dean Martin, ain’t that a kick in the pants?

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  1. It was the same situation at East Carolina. He knows when to fold 'em. We could never figure out why UNLV wanted him.

    His M.O. is to cut budgets on the existing coaches and when a sport falls into disrepair he has an excuse to axe that coach and put his own man in. The only way an AD really makes a name for himself is through his hires. Fortunately for him he always finds another job before everyone finds out he has no clue.

  2. ECU fans warned us about this guy in 2003.

    Football program run into ground? Check.
    Fired popular coach to bring in his own guy? Check.
    Boosters hate his guts? Check.
    Local press hates his guts? Check.

    And UNLV went ahead and hired him anyways. Which illustrates that the problem at UNLV is probably much bigger than Hamrick.

  3. "if you must use a word that starts with "a," then "alienator" will have to suffice"

    Priceless, Kantowski, absolutely priceless!

    If folks don't think an athletic director makes a difference, check out the University of Utah.

    School loses two of the absolute best coaches in the game in its major sports - Urban Meyer in football, and Rick Majerus in basketball - and a few years later, it's winning a BCS game and playing in the NCAA tournament.

    Don't underestimate the value of quality leadership just because quality leadership has been lacking at UNLV since the mid 1980's.

  4. Kantowski, Like to buy you for what you are really worth and sell for what you think you are worth. Big money. Everyone enjoys a cheap shot artist but you are a overkill. Narcissist is the word.If you are so damn smart why aren't you running a program?
    In reality who can blame anyone for getting as far away from Maryland Parkway as possible? Sean Penn,John Denver,Dean Martin.Whow! You should write fiction you are unaware of the truth.

  5. newyorkrebel Great post.The trouble is people who traverse Maryland Parkway are in denial.

  6. What a classless low blow to a guy who has done a good job and nothing wrong to UNLV. Just because he doesn't return your phone calls, what are you 12 years old. Your hurt fellings really make what you say have good credibility...NOT..get a clue buddy

  7. Mr. Kantowski, go online to the UNLV website and see what they've posted about Hamrick. Are you two talking about the same person? Like Elfman, you have nothing good to say about anybody? Right on, Homer!!!

  8. ...thanks Mr. Kantkowski for perpetuating the mantra that sports writers are not real journalists...take your p*ssing contest off line please...

  9. I think this would have been the year that Hamrick proved if he was a good AD or not. If the football team wins at least 6 games and the basketball team is dancing in March, what will you have to say then?

  10. --- Bridgeton: I'm thinking fans do more research than search committees ... and sports writers.

    --- JahReb: Yup!

    --- NYrebel: Thanks (I think), Good point about Chris Hill, the Utah A.D. Next, he'll probably have the Utes in the Pac-10.

    --- Homer: Nobody asked me to run a program but like you, I have ideas about how not to run one.

    --- Bradley: I respect your opinion, even if you apparently don't respect mine.

    --- Vive: I'll take your word that Mike Hamrick has a lot of supporters on the UNLV board.

    --- Purgatory: I hear you, but my experiences in dealing with Mike Hamrick are similar to a lot of other people's, trust me.

    Thanks everybody, for weighing in.

  11. JerryWayne:

    Hello friend. As I said, the jury is still out on football. As I also inferred, if the team goes to a bowl game -- and builds upon, or at least maintains, the upward spiral in the years to come -- then there will come a point where Mike Sanford's hire will be considered a good one.

    As I stated, it was hard to argue with it at the time.

  12. C'mon Ron.

    You were IMPLYING, if the team goes a bowl game -- and builds upon, or at least maintains, the upward spiral in the years to come -- then there will come a point where Mike Sanford's hire will be considered a good one.

    I am INFERRING from your column that you don't think much of Hamrick's tenure.

  13. Artie:

    You got me. Guilty as charged.

    BTW, is Spinal Tap back in the studio?

  14. "...go online to the UNLV website and see what they've posted about Hamrick."

    Check out Al Jazeera and all the nice things its website has to say about Osama Bin Laden. He must be a real sweetheart of a guy ....

    Biggest problem with the AD role at UNLV is that most of the people picking the person for the job don't understand what an AD does or what the job is for.

    They assume it has something to do with either sports, or academics, or both. As a result they fill the position with either a former sports player or coach, or a career academic administrator.

    But it's not a sports job or an academic administration job; it's a business position.

    There's a reason why the people running the NBA, NFL, and NCAA are lawyers and not necessarily former players or provosts.

    Knowledge of and appreciation for the games is important, as is knowledge of and appreciation for higher education and its importance in the lives of young student athletes.

    But, primarily, the AD's job is to make good business decisions that benefit the sports programs and the university as whole.

    If you turn down $750,000 to play a beatable BCS foe (West Virgina) on the road on ESPN and instead stay home to play a money losing game in front of an empty Sam Boyd Stadium against Sacramento or Idaho State, then no matter how good you were as a player or a provost, you're really in the wrong profession.

    What UNLV needs for an AD is a David Stern or a Paul Tagliabue. Someone who understands that you lose more than you gain when you switch from ESPN to CSTV in exchange for an extra $500,000 per year in cash and lose untold millions by rendering your major sports programs completely invisible to all but their most dedicated fans.

  15. I think newyorkrebel should be the new AD. He seems to know everything and sounds like a perfect fit.

    UNLV and Jim Rogers if you are reading, hire newyorkrebel!

  16. No problem Ron.

    We're remastering Smell the Glove to be released on cassette. Cassettes are the next big thing!

  17. Totally agree newyorkrebel

    UNLV needs an AD who isn't some tweed sport coat wearing Ph.D, we need an MBA or JD running the ship. In a nutshell the job is really about marketing and promoting the University's sport programs, making good business deals and decisions regarding revenue generating opportunities, making good hires, knowing when to fire and raising money for the university. All the while abiding buy NCAA standards and guidelines. It may sound like a thin line indeed but for a job that compensates very well, it should be. Bring in someone who worked in the front office of the NBA or NFL, someone who totally understands the value of "brand awareness" and "exposure" and recognizes when a bad deal is a bad deal. PERIOD. Hammy seemed like he meant well, but man, he just didn't totally have what it takes.

  18. Thanks for the love man. We are a very passionate people about our state and city. Its true it has not been the best of times for Huntington for a while but the people that live here are making the best out of what we do have. I LOVE HUNTINGTON. By the way, we are not even close to the Shenandoah River or the Blue Ridge mountains. They are mostly in VA. Anyway, after reading your article I was not surprised because most people don't even know WV is a state or where it's located. And if they do they think that we walk around barefooted, no teeth, and wearing our overalls. Good luck in your search for a new AD. Why don't you try for Ed Pastilong at WVU. I think he still has all of his teeth. WE ARE MARSHALL!!!!!!

  19. Mupe: Yeah, I know John Denver's hangouts are on
    the other side of the state. You are from the shot-and-beer side. The better side as far as most sports writers are concerned. :)

    Those health statistics I cited were from a Center of Disease Control and Prevention study.

    My old man carried a lunch pail to the steel mills in Gary, Ind., from the time he was 18 until he died. I was born with a blue collar around my neck. So I probably have more in common with Huntington than you might think.

    That said, newspaper columnists do crack wise every now and then.

    Thanks for the note.

  20. The points in your column actually point out that Hamrick was a very competent AD. It appears your only problem with him was that you and he didn't get along very well. You are quick to use your column to call for people to lose their job based on whether or not you like them personally. Makes me wonder why you still have your job. A Vegas sports writer that can't even get the UNLV AD to call him back seems pretty useless to me.

  21. Bozo: I've been at the Sun for 24 years and Mike Hamrick was easily the hardest person I've ever had to deal with -- and I'm not very hard to deal with.

    As for his competence as an AD, well, I could have added (but didn't) that were it not for handouts from the state legislature and the UNLV arenas which generate money from concerts and other sporting events, UNLV wouldn't have balanced its budget once during his six years.

    Thanks for the post.

  22. Ask any High School Football Coach in Las Vegas and they can tell you how Sanford did not recruit Vegas kids until the last minute.
    Fired a popular Coach? Who - Robinson? He was gravy training Las Vegas to feed his retirement. Where is JR now - not in Vegas. If you thought that UNLV got mileage from having a proven College Coach at the helm of your Football program, Hamrick has had his chance to get someone who Vegas can get results. Dick Tomey was available - who took San Jose State to a bowl game and has a better record at San Jose than Sanford. Same can be said for Mike Price at UTEP he only took facilities comparable to UNLV and got a PAC 10 team to the Rose Bowl twice as well. John L Smith winner at Louisville. Glen Mason proven winner at Minnesota and Kansas. Larry Coker of Miami hung around to watch UNLV Football practice - what he would not have been an improvement? They all could have come to Vegas with more in the tank than what JR had. They could be more helpful in fundraising than anything Hamrick or Sanford can do combined. These were all guys who knew how to win and have name cache.
    He was on his way out, especially if UNLV can land someone who has any connection to a D1 College to become President. What about baseball? UNLV was on the upswing with Slosh and then he leaves for TCU. I am sorry but CCSN can raise more money for baseball with their Coach and have become a more attractive program. But, we still have Buddy who has never kept the momentum that was left for him. You are right Brad landed Kruger and thank goodness for that. Maybe having a BYU Alumni President as your voice of the program that encourages running BYU highlites on local TV was a way to grow local support? Hamrick was just oblivious about how to connect to the fans who would support UNLV if they made hires of winning Coaches that brought excitement to the town. JR got people excited, Sanford not so much.

    Hamrick was just not a personable guy and in this town as the face of the UNLV Athletic program you need to be front and center. While I disagree with the host of local building managers and ESPN employees, we need to have someone who understands how to build an athletic department. Boise State has a stadium second rate to UNLV - yet look at what they have done. Nevada has been to more bowl games of late than we have. San Jose, Memphis, Ball State, Buffalo, Colorado State, UCONN, Troy, Florida Atlantic and UTEP go to bowls and we can not even sniff them. Win 6 games and you get in! We cant beat SDSU to even be in the chase?

    Please send us a President who has SEC, PAC 10, BIG 10 or Big 12 ties. They will hire someone who will get it done in football and wont put up with a JC who is better than you in baseball. Give us some one who can provide us the vision about how it is done at a major BCS conference and not a local who is one of the good old boys who has been connected to the mediocre results over the years.

  23. great post ron, a little harsh but thats ok this is vegas not provo.. I think we need a female's persective, so lets hire a lady AD next time out..

  24. J: Tina Kunzer-Murphy -- if she's the lady you are talking about -- is well qualified to be an AD. So are a lot of other locals and we'll have to see who applies from outside. But first UNLV must appoint a new president.

  25. Kirkland,

    I was referring to Hamrick's resume at ECU, not at UNLV. He fired a popular coach to hire his own guy, who then proceeded to suck. He alienated himself from their boosters/fan base because of this, and eventually the local press as well. He was essentially ran out of town, and UNLV hired him. Those are facts, not opinion.

    Also, for everyone getting on Ron for this article...if you play close attention, Ron is not the only local media member who feels this way. Perhaps instead of blaming Ron, one might look at the consensus opinion of Hamrick?

  26. Ron said,

    "As for his competence as an AD, well, I could have added (but didn't) that were it not for handouts from the state legislature and the UNLV arenas which generate money from concerts and other sporting events, UNLV wouldn't have balanced its budget once during his six years."

    That's good stuff to know, maybe it should have been included in the original article. It does help show that it isn't all personal.

  27. Tina Murphy in my opinion would be the smart move here. I googled her to get more info and wow what a job she has done not only for the Las Vegas bowl but for the city.I can make a strong argument for all of the others that are considered. Who ever takes over as AD i hope they have very strong leadership quality like you said Ron it starts from the top. And for those who think HAMRICK was a good AD let me say on name to you...... MIKE SANFORD ..... Were any of you at the game when he was introduced i think we played florida am or usf any way he said this offence and we will be in a bowl game next year hahahahahahahah, guys Mike Sanford was lucky to get an extension are you kidding me, he is an offence of line coach at best..

  28. --- JerryWayne: I will take your advice next time ... But let's hope there isn't a next time, and the next AD is here for a long time. (Not cheering for a winner or anything, because that isn't allowed in the press box. :) But when the team's winning, it makes our job easier, too. Then you guys who post here are mostly happy).

    --- Jg: You know, if M. Sanford produces a big season coming up, I'm (almost) willing to write off his first three years as the Wake Forest effect. Or something like that. In other words, better late than never.