For the past year, I've tried to find the answer to the question many followers of Duke Athletics have been asking: Why is Joe Alleva still the school's athletic director?
Virtually every person I spoke with-including friends, professors, student-athletes, coaches and administrators-told me that they, too, were surprised that Duke hadn't gone in a different direction-either immediately after the lacrosse case in 2006 or last summer when Alleva's contract was up. Even the people you might expect to defend Alleva, like the coaches and other employees who report directly to him, were lukewarm at best about their boss.
It wasn't that Alleva did a bad job as Duke's AD.
In the wake of last Friday's announcement that Alleva would be moving on to greener pastures at LSU, many have taken the opportunity to slam Alleva's performance here. Some have even celebrated the occasion, like the lacrosse parents who stood up and cheered when they saw a Duke student holding a sign that read "Bon Voyage, Joe" at Saturday's game against Johns Hopkins at Koskinen Stadium.
Given his loyal service and Duke's rise in athletics prominence during his tenure, that type of criticism isn't fair. Alleva made incredible strides for Duke's athletics department in terms of fundraising, facilities and the success of the school's non-revenue sports. The statistics-like the Blue Devils' success in the annual Director's Cup and the fundraising records that the Iron Dukes set-don't lie. On top of that, anyone who's ever dealt with Alleva would tell you that even if they disagree with the way he's done his job, they like him personally and respect his sincerity.
But it's been painfully obvious to everyone who follows Duke Athletics for nearly two years now, if not more, that it was time to move on-both for the school and Alleva.
Despite the progress in certain aspects of the department, it's hard to forget that Alleva had a decade to turn around two of the NCAA's premiere sports, football and baseball, and couldn't do so. There are signs that both programs might finally be on the right track, but Alleva spent way too long hiring Duke insiders like Bill Hillier, Carl Franks and Ted Roof and sticking by them even though everyone else thought it was time for a change.
On top of that, there were the public relations issues. Alleva was able to deflect the criticisms raised when members of the baseball program under Hillier came forth and accused the team and its supervisors of overlooking a culture of steroid abuse. But a year later, when the lacrosse case first broke, Alleva couldn't stay above the fray. Although some of the statements he made early on would later turn out to be surprisingly prescient (the "boys being boys" at the first Duke press conference comes to mind), his inability to make decisions in a pressure situation managed to alienate just about everyone he dealt with, from the athletes, who felt they were not supported enough, to the faculty that believed athletics had gained too much prominence at the University.
Alleva's legacy in the PR department was cemented with his bungling of the women's basketball coaching situation last spring, when he insinuated that Gail Goestenkors didn't deserve to be paid like the top coaches in women's basketball because she hadn't won a national championship and her program lost money. Goestenkors subsequently bolted for Texas, and one of her top protégés, Cal's Joanne Boyle, rejected Alleva's overtures to fill Coach G's place.
One of the primary criticisms levied against Alleva was that he wasn't enough of an academic to run the athletics department at a school like Duke. But in all fairness, with his three children having graduated from Duke and an attractive new job on the horizon, Alleva was smart enough to know that it was time for a change of scenery.
Where Duke goes from here is now the most important question-one which I'd imagine President Richard Brodhead and his administration have been considering for quite some time. There are two strong internal candidates: Senior Associate Director of Athletics Chris Kennedy, Associate Director of Athletics Jacki Silar and Associate Director of Athletics Mike Cragg, although Kennedy told The Chronicle Monday that he would not seek the position. Cragg has compiled an impressive resume during his 21 years at Duke and will likely receive internal support, particularly considering his closeness to the men's basketball program.
If Brodhead wants to cement his legacy in terms of athletics, however, he'll look outside the walls of the Gothic Wonderland to find an innovative leader with a strong academic profile. Given its combination of athletic and academic prowess, Duke should be the type of place that would attract a long list of impressive candidates that fit this billing.
And maybe, with a new athletic director, the type of place where a fan can see a few football wins, too.
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