May 13, 2014 • Athletic Administration

Athletic directors must be prepared for scrutiny

In case nobody ever told you, let me be the first: Athletic directors are public figures.

Stunning, right?

As such, they should be prepared to face constant scrutiny, whether it’s the words spoken at a public banquet or the hiring of the football coach. But despite the high-profile position of the athletic administrator, some struggle understanding this concept.

Julie Hermann, athletic director at Rutgers, is not off to the best of starts in her first year at the university. After replacing Tim Pernetti, who was fired amidst the Mike Rice scandal, reports surfaced alleging abuse of her own players when she coached volleyball at Tennessee. That came after a video surfaced showing Hermann warning an assistant coach against getting pregnant.

Months later, a Rutgers football player quit the team, citing abuse from an assistant coach. The university said Hermann had met and spoken with the player’s father, only to have the father refute those claims. Hermann claimed she did meet with someone, but the individual misrepresented himself as the student’s father.

Hermann’s latest misstep came while speaking at a Rutgers journalism class, where she said it “would be great” if the state’s largest newspaper folded. To nobody’s surprise — it was, after all, a classroom full of aspiring reporters — the quote leaked and Hermann faced backlash.

I want to believe that Hermann holds no personal grudges against the newspaper’s journalists. Surely, no rational human being wants hard working Americans to be forced into unemployment, where they may struggle to pay mortgages or put food on the table. It must be something else.

What it boils down to is intense scrutiny, and despite accepting a position at a major university on the verge of joining one of the NCAA’s biggest conferences, she has shown no ability to handle it. This is a colossal failure on the university’s part, and we have no evidence that suggests the situation will improve.

Hermann’s mistakes are by no means small, but it’s what followed that exacerbates them. She either has, as Roger Clemens would call it, a severe case of “misremembering” or a troubling ability to flat out lie without so much as batting an eye. Either way, it’s a problem.

Athletic directors should be familiar and comfortable with their roles as public figures because, otherwise, they shouldn’t hold such an important, visible position. Whether it’s high school or college, representing the institution in a positive manner certainly comes up during the job interview. Did Hermann say she would be dedicated to fostering truthful, professional relationships with those in the community? If she did, it was a lie. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t be there.

Athletic administrators are going to face scrutiny. Much of it will be fair, much of it will not, but it’s how they respond and withstand the pressure that ultimately determines whether they’re suited for the role. Coaches and athletes are going to make mistakes, and that means athletic directors are going to have to answer questions. Certainly, journalists won’t stop asking them.

Athletic directors should keep Hermann in mind the next time they’re confronted with something controversial or uncomfortable. Because where she has failed, they must succeed. It’s all part of the job.

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