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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

Jim Livengood Retires

Sam Morris

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

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.

Click to enlarge photo

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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