With an April 4 announcement that he would leave for Louisiana State University, Joe Alleva's tenure as Duke's director of athletics ended almost as abruptly as it began.
Just more than 10 years ago, Alleva was watching his son play second base for the Blue Devils when he was informed of a statement announcing him as the replacement for the legendary Tom Butters. At that moment, in the bleachers of Jack Coombs Field, Alleva could have never imagined what the next decade would bring to Duke Athletics: from unprecedented fundraising to one of the most highly publicized scandals in the history of college sports.
Six national championships and $173 million later, Alleva left Durham for Baton Rouge on a Tuesday and had a new home on the bayou on a Friday. Now, those who Alleva left behind after 32 years at Duke must process this formative decade and decipher what the future holds for one of the biggest brand names in college athletics.
'The explosion of Duke Athletics'
In February 1998, a four-month national search ended when the top external candidate held a press conference to announce he was not taking the Duke position, opening the door for Alleva-an internal option-to ascend to the top of the athletic department. Alleva faced the daunting task of following Butters-the man who founded Iron Dukes, the department's booster club, and hired Mike Krzyzewski, who has raised Duke Basketball to national prominence.
Women's lacrosse head coach Kerstin Kimel, who came to Duke in 1996, said when Butters stepped down, one of the most pressing needs of the department was improving its facilities and that Alleva "paid immediate attention" to the demand.
Some of the most prominent athletic hubs on campus were erected in Alleva's tenure-Yoh Football Center, Sheffield Tennis Center, Schwartz-Butters Athletic Center, Karcher-Ingram Golf Center, the Michael W. Krzyzewski Center for Athletic and Academic Excellence. In total, 10 new facilities were built under Alleva's watch, and almost all other prominent facilities received upgrades. The Department of Athletics spent approximately $85 million over the past decade to support the facility needs of nearly all of Duke's 26 varsity sports.
In an interview with The Chronicle April 7, Alleva said he hoped his legacy would be changing "the landscape of Duke Athletics."
But the landscape for athletics at Duke is not just a physical one.
Alleva knew that the stadiums and state-of-the-art film rooms were only the foundation in bringing in the kind of personnel and student-athletes who could elevate Duke to eight top-25 Director's Cup finishes and 44 ACC championships.
Alleva also hired 10 of Duke's 20 current head coaches, including field hockey head coach Beth Bozman, women's soccer head coach Robbie Church, men's lacrosse head coach John Danowski and men's golf head coach O.D. Vincent.
"We were talking about how many people work here who weren't hired by Joe. There's not very many. I'm one of the few," Interim Director of Athletics Chris Kennedy said. "It's a very, very strong staff. It's as good a coaching staff as a group that we've ever had."
"The man who led us through the explosion of Duke Athletics-and I mean that from a personnel standpoint," Associate Director of Athletics for Communication Jon Jackson said of how Alleva should be remembered. "[Knowing] how much the environment in athletics was changing and how Duke had to adapt, given its uniqueness, given those changes-and that Joe steered us through that time."
In particular, Alleva bolstered academic resources for student-athletes with new staff and facilities. As of 2007, the academic-support budget had grown tenfold since 1998, which translates into one of the nation's best graduation rates, at 91 percent.
"In the last 10 years, we've won more ACC and NCAA championships than in any other comparable period in the history of the University," Kennedy said of the department that increased its staff size by 40 percent in the same time span.
Underlying this growth was the continuation of Butters' focus on fundraising, as Alleva brought in $173 million in revenue. Some, though, question how much credit Alleva should receive for the record effort.
"To say Joe Alleva is a good fundraiser is to say that Steve Williams is a good caddy," said Washington Post columnist John Feinstein, Trinity '77. "I could be a good caddy if I were caddying for Tiger [Woods]. I could be a good fundraiser if Mike Krzyzewski were fundraising for me."
'Boulders in a flat plain'
Despite the progress made in the quality of facilities and personnel and the quantity of fundraising, Alleva's perceived legacy at Duke may rest more on intermittent controversy than sustained success.
In Spring 2005, allegations about steroid use on the baseball team surfaced when two former players told The Chronicle that then-head coach Bill Hillier had suggested that players use performance-enhancing drugs. Although Hillier denied the accusations, he resigned in May and the University revised its drug policy to curb the damage that had already been done. In addition, Alleva hired former Blue Devil Sean McNally, Trinity '94, to replace Hillier, a coach he hired in 1999.
The attention generated by questions lingering in the locker room, however, would pale in comparison to those that would surround a Spring Break party in an off-campus house on Buchanan Boulevard only a year later.
Three members of the 2005-2006 men's lacrosse team were indicted on counts of rape, sexual assault and kidnapping. In the year it took to acquit them, the case was amplified by the national media. In that 12-month stretch-perhaps the most defining of Alleva's time at Duke-there had never been more scrutiny of the University, the athletic department or the lives of Duke student-athletes.
The Lacrosse Ad Hoc Review Committee released its report on lacrosse culture at Duke April 5, 2006. One of the most striking elements of their evaluation was the lack of communication both between administrators in the Allen Building and those in Cameron and between Alleva and then-head coach Mike Pressler. The report revealed several inconsistencies in history and protocol, including an account of a Fall 2004 meeting between Alleva and Pressler. The director of athletics said he warned the lacrosse coach that the "team was under a microscope" and that players' behavior needed to be modified. Pressler, however, denied that Alleva said the team was "out of control" or ever issued a strong warning.
When the case broke in 2006, Alleva was criticized again for remarks made in the school's first press conference March 28. Sitting next to President Richard Brodhead, Alleva said the incident was just an example of "boys being boys," a statement that caught significant flak at the time. After Alleva's initial comments, administrators from the Allen Building-and not from Cameron-became the University's primary spokespeople.
"It will be part of his legacy," Jackson said. "Any of us who touched that portion of our history, it's going to be part of all of our legacies. Whether that's right or wrong, that's reality. In the end, we did the best we could.
"There was no book to open up and say, 'OK, this happened, this is how we should respond.' We were learning and trying to understand on the fly."
Matters only got worse for Alleva, though, in the months following the indictments. In June, he and his son J.D., Trinity '03, were involved in a boating accident. J.D., who had been driving the boat, was temporarily jailed on DWI charges, and Alleva required 42 stitches to his head.
Kennedy, however, suggested the scandals that marred Alleva's tenure were "boulders in a flat plain," outliers that seem more prominent because of their rarity.
"They are fewer of them, so they stand out," he said. "Duke has been remarkably free of the kind of scandals or misbehavior or violations that a lot of departments have suffered form."
Looking to the future
Now, Brodhead is charged with the task of finding a new athletic director for what Alleva called "one of the greatest athletics schools in the country."
As the Board of Trustees prepares to vote on the final draft of the athletic strategic plan in May, Alleva said it is an opportune time for a new athletic director to step in. John Burness, senior vice president for government affairs and public relations, said the University would like to have a new athletic director hired before the meeting.
Burness said it is in Duke's best interest to find a candidate who is visionary, making it "probable" that the new athletic director would have input on the strategic plan.
Duke has just begun its national search-which is being conducted by a committee chaired by Roy Bostock, Trinity '62-and Brodhead held a meeting April 8 to discuss the expectations of the search with members of the athletic department.
One of the most important aspects of the search might be the future of Duke Basketball. Krzyzewski is 61 and likely will retire during the tenure of the new athletic director.
"The day that he retires, that will become the most important job that the athletic director has, bar none, is replacing him," Alleva said. "There's no question about it. Duke Basketball is what has made Duke Athletics special."
While basketball continued to flourish under Alleva, Duke Football floundered. Alleva hired two coaches-Carl Franks and Ted Roof-who were unable to turn the program around. Alleva, who will inherit one of the nation's most prominent football powerhouses at LSU, said his mishandling of the football program was one of his biggest disappointments at Duke but hopes that will change with his December hiring of former Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe.
"I'm hopeful that one of my best legacies at Duke will be the hiring of Coach Cutcliffe," Alleva said.
Despite his miscues, Alleva leaves the athletic department in as good, if not better, shape than he received it. And although Alleva might not be regarded as highly as his predecessor, it's clear that a high bar has been set for his successor.
Ben Cohen contributed to this story.
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