A changing face: Penn State athletics remain in flux
July 27, 2014 12:00 AM
Andrew Colwell/Associated Press
As athletic director Dave Joyner departs, many of Penn State's programs must continue to regain their stability.
By Mark Dent / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When Dave Joyner took over as Penn State's athletic director in November 2011, he said he didn't plan for drastic change. His goal centered on sustaining a department beset by the crisis caused by the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case. That was until the university released the Freeh Report several months later.
Change became a mandate at that point. Of the 119 Freeh Report recommendations, six of them directly involved the athletic department, and Penn State's consent decree with the NCAA demanded further modifications. Two years later, culminating with Joyner's retirement this week, the differences are apparent. In terms of athletic department operations and in terms of personnel, it's not 2011 anymore, for better or worse.
"It was a very emotional time and people's sensitivities were up," Joyner said. "And things that may not have caused as great of turmoil in a world that was more normal did."
Scan the current staff directory, and you'll notice significant differences in the coaching staff and particularly in the upper-level administrator positions since July 2011. Seven of the 22 varsity coach positions employed by Penn State in July 2011 have changed. The head football coach has changed twice, bringing the number of total changes to eight.
That number isn't too far out of the ordinary. In the previous three-year period, seven head coaching positions changed. The recent coaching changes merely followed that pattern, breaking the mold of the typical Penn State coach: Current coaches have been tenured for a shorter time and are less likely to be Penn State graduates.
The average current Penn State coach has held that position for 8.1 years. Six years ago, the average Penn State coach -- if you exclude Joe Paterno as an outlier -- had held that position for 12.8 years. And six years ago, eight of 22 coaches had Penn State degrees, compared to five of 23 now.
At the highest levels of the athletic department, the changes have been more drastic. In July 2011, Penn State had nine athletic department employees with the title of associate athletic director or director of athletics. The university no longer employs six of those men and women, and two of the positions no longer exist. Another position, director of ice hockey and arena development, has not been filled since Joe Battista left in the fall.
Not all of the changes have come without drama. Many athletic department employees, particularly coaches, were attached to former athletic director Tim Curley.
Coaches also had to adapt to the changes mandated after the Freeh Report. These changes might seem minor -- modifications to hiring practices, increased security in athletic facilities and at athletic events, and better compliance with Clery Act and child protection procedures, for instance -- but they made a difference, particularly in the case of legendary fencing coach Emmanuil Kaidanov.
Strict enforcement of one of these new protocols might have cost Kaidanov his job, and he's now suing the university. Kaidanov's lawsuit states that the staff member who incorrectly accused one of his fencers of marijuana possession anonymously reported the incident based on the "post-Sandusky anonymous reporting system." The lawsuit states that Julie Del Giorno, Penn State's athletic integrity officer, played a role in Kaidanov's firing. Penn State hired Del Giorno because of a stipulation in the Athletics Integrity Agreement it signed with the NCAA after the consent decree.
Money has also caused complications since 2011, forcing changes. Cash doesn't flow as freely in the Penn State athletic department as it always had. Revenues shrunk from $116.1 million in 2011 to $108.3 million in 2012 to $104.8 million in 2013.
Until 2012, Penn State athletics had earned the distinction of being self-supporting (i.e. not requiring financial help from the university) with just a handful of other athletic departments across the country. It can't claim that distinction anymore.
Think of the Penn State athletic department as a recent graduate who has moved to New York City. He has a solid job and steady future earning potential, but can't deal with the day-to-day expenses and sky-high rent, especially if he wants to go out on the weekends. So he asks his parents for some money. In the case of Penn State, though, going out on the weekends means battling other athletic departments in the bewildering NCAA arms race and paying a hefty NCAA fine. University loans to the athletic department will total about $90 million over the next few years.
The lack of cash flow has put at least one team in a bind. The swimming team, which has practiced at the obsolete McCoy Natatorium since 1967, was supposed to get a new facility, but Penn State canceled the project in the fall of 2012. The university cited an inability for the athletic department to pay its $25 million portion of the project because of insufficient funding.
John Hargis, the swimming coach at the time, left in 2013 to become associate head coach at his alma mater, Auburn. He declined to comment for this story. Other coaches who left or were fired in the past two years could not be reached, declined comment or would only speak off the record.
The current coaches are working with budgets that are the same or greater than in 2011, but fundraising has become crucial. Joyner said he met individually with every coach in 2012 and discussed five-year plans for budgets and creative ways to raise funds. Then each coach met individually with the development staff.
Football coach James Franklin, who succeeded Bill O'Brien after last season, provides an example of a coach realizing the athletic department needs money. He regularly tweets about having 107,000 fans, and he often mentions a sold-out Beaver Stadium in public appearances.
"You look at Penn State when they were rolling, it created health for the entire athletic department and university as a whole," Franklin said. "We're not like that right now."
The most recent major change to the athletic department affected the person in charge of overseeing all the changes up to this point: Joyner. His retirement begins Friday.
Penn State's athletic department, according to recommendation 5.3 of the Freeh Report, couldn't come full-circle until it engaged in a national search for an athletic director. Joyner doesn't quite see his retirement as stemming directly from that recommendation. He did, however, assume from the beginning that his tenure would likely be tied to the tenure of Rodney Erickson, who retired as university president in May.
"I think the timing was right and it gives the athletic department a clear line," Joyner said. "I'm grateful for a good time and playing a part in stabilizing and moving forward. ...
"It will be a good platform for whoever comes in. And I'm sure they'll make some changes. People don't always see things 100 percent the same."
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.
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