clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Grr-ah! California Golden Blogs on Sandy Barbour

Penn State's new Athletic Director spent ten years at Cal, a good chunk of time by any metric. To find out more about her and her history as an AD, we went to the best source we could find: TwistNHook, from SBN's Cal blog, California Golden Blogs.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

TwistNHook sometimes refers to himself as a "Barbour apologist", and has written both about Sandy Barbour and the overall athletic department situation of Cal for California Golden Blogs. Here's what he had to say about her hiring at PSU:

BSD: The biggest issue that many PSU fans seem to have with Barbour seems to be the subpar grad rates in the football and men's basketball program. Do you think that is overblown? What part, if any, do you think Barbour played in that?

Twist: I do not think that it is overblown. The Athletic Director's #1 goal overall is to maximize funds donated to the school. There's a 1,001 reasons to accomplish those donations, but that is the bottom line. Make as much money for the Department so that all the needs of the Department can be achieved.

College sports fans like to believe in the fantasy that their athletes are true student athletes. The reality is probably that at all schools athletes are provided breaks (some larger than others) to assist with the "student" in that equation. Cal in particular has an academic reputation to uphold. So, when the numbers come back dead last, fans are not going to be enthused at all. I saw people that usually do not criticize Sandy be extremely disappointed. When you have not only the football-first fans mad at you, but also the academics-too fans mad at you, you are not going to get a lot of donations. Simple as that.

As for what role Sandy specifically has in that, it is always hard to say. There are many parts of the academics cog. You can delegate responsibility, but you cannot delegate accountability. This was a problem years in the making, so it ultimately falls on her in the end. It's not her job to teach an athlete about Chaucer or whatever, but as she sees the problem starts to mount, she needs to take action to stop it and she didn't.

BSD: When Barbour was originally hired at Cal, was the hire met with enthusiasm or skepticism? How long did it take for there to be calls for her to step down, as we saw recently?

Twist: I honestly do not remember 2004 when she was hired all that well. Not like I was some sort of drug addled lunatic, I just can't remember what the thought process was way back when. Also, I'm a drug added lunatic.

She came in at a time when Cal football was just starting to get going under Coach Tedford. In 2007, Cal had a #2 ranking midway through the season, but then lost most of the latter portion of their games to fall out of the rankings. That was the end of innocence for Tedford as it was. As the football coach goes, often the AD goes. There were some grumblings regarding firing Tedford in 2007, which continued to grow over time. In 2010, Tedford had his first losing season. The grumblings had become a chorus by that point. For a lot of reasons relating to buy out clauses and the upgraded stadium etc etc, she did not fire Tedford until 2012. For some fans, that was 5 years too late. As the team continue to devolve after 2007, fans started to call more and more for Sandy's head.

Then, in 2010, Sandy called for the cutting/demoting of 5 sports, including baseball and rugby. We could go back and forth on this all day, but whenever you request an extreme action like that, no matter how much you could try to justify it, it's going to anger a LOT of people. That was part of a larger picture of an increase in support to the Department from the school, which was politically disastrous given the cuts to the UC system in the late aughts.

People were really pleased with the stadium when it opened, but as people dug into the 400+ million worth of debt taken on to pay for it, they became concerned. Who wouldn't given those numbers? The plan they have to pay for it now is seemingly working, but those numbers were so eye popping that it gave people concern.

Then, you have the academics numbers and it was seemingly all over for Sandy. So, I would say that probably starting in the late aughts as the football team's progress stalled is when they started and as all of those issues listed above grew, the chorus became louder and louder.

In an effort to get us more information, TwistNHook went to fellow blogger Ohio Bear for more info:

I remember when Cal hired Sandy in 2004. She replaced Steve Gladstone, then the longtime Cal crew coach who had stepped in as AD as a bridge, if you will, to the next AD. (Gladstone was not technically an "interim" AD, but my recollection was that neither he nor Cal expected him to stay in the position for the long haul.)

As I remember it, Barbour's hire was met with mixed feelings among the Cal faithful. There were those who thought it was a logical hire because Barbour had been in charge of facilities as associate AD at Notre Dame. At that time, Cal was ramping up its effort to build the Simpson High Performance Center and renovate Memorial Stadium. So Barbour's supporters considered her facilities experience to be a plus. There were detractors who questioned her qualifications for the position and wondered whether Cal was more concerned with making a statement with a politically correct hire than with hiring the best person for the position.

As for how long it took for people to call for her ouster, that's a tougher question to answer. There's a small minority (at least I think it's small) who wanted her gone from the beginning. There's also a small minority (at least I think it's small) that wanted her gone after the Jeff Tedford contract extension. But I think most Cal fans will tell you that the significant event that caused many to call for her ouster was her handling of the announced reduction of sports in 2011 (most notably, the cutting of baseball, which was eventually saved). On some level, I don't think she ever recovered from that in the eyes of many Cal fans.

BSD: As you note in your recent piece about Cal's athletic department, PSU's athletic department is one of the few profitable ones in the nation--probably because of the relative success and branding of the football program. This is a obviously a difference between the two jobs; how big of a difference do you think it will be for Barbour? Knowing both programs (having family members attending PSU), are there any other differences that you see?

Twist: Well, college sports have the haves and the have-nots. PSU, with its decades of excellence, is a major have. I do not know their financial situation, but I presume that PSU is in a much better financial situation than Cal. This is especially true given that they don't have 400+ million to pay off in stadium upgrade debt. So, that is a major plus for Sandy. Also, potentially, why they gave her so much more dough.

The potential downside to work at a have is that you have to do it their way. Cal has been so mediocre for so long, there is no "Cal Way," really. There is, I'm sure, a Penn State way. You have to do it that way. I think this is what did RichRod in at Michigan, but that is a whole 'nother story.

So, that would be one difference there, but actually right now, the PSU Way may be in shambles. My dad, a PSU alum from the 60s, once took my brother and I to see Joe Paterno talk at a hotel in SF in 2000. It was a great opportunity to meet a great football coach and I'm happy that my dad took me there to see JoePa speak. However, some of the people there, my dad included, viewed JoePa as more than just a great football coach; he *was* Penn State.

In Happy Valley, the AD essentially used to work for JoePa. They tried to fire him in 2004 and he wouldn't let that happen, if my understanding is correct. You guys know this more than I do times a billion, of course. But now, given the revelations of the horrific Sandusky situation, an icon has fallen and there is an opportunity for a new PSU Way. PSU is still dealing with the sanctions and Sandy has an opportunity to rebuild the PSU Way in her own image, or at least rebuild it in some new image. Sandy was initially viewed very positively for the success at Cal and she had a lot less to work with.

Now, she has more money, more prestige, more fans desperate to return to the glory days. Now, the AD may not work for the coach anymore at PSU. If she can bring PSU back to the top of the mountain (with success all across the board, but especially in football), she will be viewed very well there. PSU needs a leader, can Sandy be that leader?

BSD: In Barbour's introductory presser, new PSU president Eric Barron specifically said that he thought that Cal perhaps should have listened to Sandy Barbour more and then certain things, such as grad rates, would have turned around. Do you agree or disagree? Could there have been more discord there than was public?

Twist: There was a lot more discord than there was in public. We probably will never know the extent of it. Cal recently hired Cuonzo Martin out of Tennessee to be its new MBB coach after Montgomery retired. Apparently, Sandy wanted Assistant Coach Travis DeCuire to be named as head coach, but was overruled by her higher ups. If that made it out to the public, lord knows what else is hiding behind the curtain. So, it does sound like there was a lot of discord.

It is tough to tell who listened to who and who didn't listen to who, etc, etc. Sandy has never come out and said "I wanted to do it this way, but they wouldn't let me." Part of the thought on the grad rates was Tedford bringing in players to win who did not have any business being at Cal. Sandy may have expressed concerns about that, but we can never know.

This was probably just some modicum of puffery from Sandy/Barron to make the fans feel as happy as possible with the selection.

BSD: What do you think Cal will look for in a replacement? Who do you think they will look at?

Twist: I have no idea who they will look at. They have an interim AD right now who is a former Cal wrestler and some sort of hedge fund guy. He's like 55 and retired, so he probably made a bajillion dollars working 1,000 hours a week for a few decades. Sounds hard working to me. It's been a short period of time, so I haven't had a chance to get a bead on him. Presumably as interim AD, he is not going to make any really big changes or decisions. He'll just try to maintain the status quo until a new AD can be selected. It will not happen until at least the fall, apparently, so I'm not expecting anything big for the moment.

As for what they will look for in a replacement, it would have to be somebody who understands Cal's place in Berkeley. Cal is a unique place to be an AD, because the town-gown relations are particularly strained. This is especially true given the animosity over the stadium ugprade. Plus, many of the professors hate you, because you sap money from the school. The AD at Cal has to understand that they are going to be challenged almost every step of the way by not only the town, but also your supposed allies at the school itself. This is very challenging and something somewhat unique to Cal.

Thanks again to TwistNHook for answering our questions! For all of your Cal Golden Bear needs, you can follow him on twitter at @TwistNHook, or follow California Golden Blogs at @GoldenBlogs.

Update: You can read my responses to TwistNHook's questions over at California Golden Blogs, here.