Friday, May 6, 2005
Administrator enthusiastically rebuilds
BOULDER, Colo. -- The office is filled with a bunch of boxes -- only the computer has been unpacked. The face is still almost continuously adorned by a smile, the look of a man who just landed his dream job.
Mike Bohn, left, has been talking and shaking hands nonstop since he arrived at Colorado.
But new Colorado athletics director Mike Bohn has not landed in anyone's version of paradise. It's more like a reclamation project.
His objective: Take a program ridden by scandal, debt, low morale and a declining fan base and make it functional and, in his words, "user friendly" again.
"Certainly, we have a lot of work to do," Bohn said. "I know that there are virtually no utopias in this business."
If Bohn hasn't reached nirvana by coming back to his hometown to lead Colorado, it's hard to tell. When he meets people, it's practically a high-five instead of a handshake. And though there are many obstacles to overcome in his new job, he prefers to dwell on the future.
"It's exciting to go out into the community and talk to people with a sense of history of this institution and see that they're as excited about turning it around as I am," he said.
The fast-rising 44-year-old administrator is confident for good reason. In his previous two jobs, he walked into dicey situations and turned them around quickly.
At Idaho, Bohn went to a small university divided over whether it should join the ranks of Division I-A. He got the support, got the facilities, got the Vandals into the Sun Belt Conference, and that landed them a spot in the Western Athletic Conference a few years later.
The situation at San Diego State was similar. The program had been beaten down by investigations that landed the football team on probation and revealed a lack of institutional control in an athletic department that, among other things, allowed underage drinking and trips to strip clubs during football road trips.
"He overcame a number of obstacles at both places in a very short time," said Chuck Neinas, a one-time boss of Bohn's who now runs a consulting firm that helps schools make big-time hires like this one.
But just as there always are questions about whether small-school coaches and players can succeed at a higher level, there are questions about whether Bohn can take his act to the next level. Not only is Colorado a big-time BCS school, it has bigger problems than either of his previous stops.
He inherits a department with debt somewhere between $1.9 million and $3 million, depending on whose numbers are used. It's a department that suffers from low morale and cluttered or nonexistent lines of communications. And it's a department with a football program trying to rebound from the staggering blows of a sex and recruiting scandal that contributed to the departures of athletic director Dick Tharp, chancellor Richard Byyny and school president Betsy Hoffman -- leaving only the coach, Gary Barnett, behind.
Bohn makes no mention of any desire to fire Barnett and believes the football program is salvageable under the coach's leadership.
Bohn inherited a department that has had no public face other than the one that defined it in week after week of bad headlines and tawdry revelations -- thanks to slow reactions and the seeming disappearance of Tharp once things started crumbling.
"There was a lot of pile-on by the press but no push-back within the administration with regard to making corrections, and saying, 'Here's what we're doing,' " said Jack Lengyl, who served as interim athletics director after Tharp left. "A lot of it was perception, but there was an issue. It was a lack of transparency."
If his first few weeks on the job are any indication, boosters and fans won't have any trouble getting to know Bohn. His calendar is filled with speaking engagements, booster club luncheons and he is out in public, shaking hands and selling tickets.
"I don't care if it's the guy selling Cokes or T-shirts at a concession stand or a big-time donor, people are going to love working for or with him," San Diego State associate athletic director Steve Becvar told the Rocky Mountain News.
Bohn was buoyant one recent afternoon, having returned from a luncheon where he sold more than 100 season tickets. He promised a big announcement soon that likely will deal with ticket sales or sponsorship.
"It's been a huge boost to get it off to a good start," Bohn said. "It's like a marathon. But we've got to treat this first part like a 100-yard dash."
Bohn came to Colorado after only 18 months at San Diego State, a quick move that raised some eyebrows.
But really, there was no way he could resist. Although he went to college at Kansas, Bohn grew up in Boulder. His mother still lives in town. He has felt part of the community, and while he claimed the problems at CU didn't touch him personally, beyond the fact "that it would be great if we could all avoid those problems in our business," he acknowledges the town and school have always been part of his life.
He had assistant's jobs at two other major universities in the state -- Air Force and Colorado State -- and the ties he established there are expected to help him make inroads on the business side at CU.
As much as that, though, he is an extrovert, not afraid to get out and touch so many of the fans who felt left behind during the last few years of tumult. He's also not afraid to take on a job that many people feel puts him in peril of committing career suicide.
"When you work in a profession with young people, things can happen that put your career at risk," Bohn said. "But I don't allow that to overcome my sense of drive and spirit."