The bold move involving Geiger, who was athletic director at Ohio State and four other university athletic programs over a long career, is a step toward stability and continuity in the department, Lovell said at a news conference.
Geiger, 73, has a one-year appointment through June 30, 2013, and could stay beyond that, he said.
The appointment, which came swiftly after former athletic director Rick Costello resigned last month, represents a hiring coup for UWM. The department had been reeling after going through two athletic directors as well as interim athletic directors since 2009.
At the same time, the men’s soccer program is awaiting possible penalties from the NCAA for six secondary violations involving its former coach, Chris Whalley, who was fired.
Lovell said he and Geiger shared the same leadership style and values. “It is clear to me that he has the utmost integrity, is truly authentic and is a compassionate person,” Lovell said.
Milwaukee Admirals owner Harris Turer, a prominent UWM booster, said the university made an outstanding move.
“This will bring stability and right now that’s much needed,” Turer said. “His perspective will be great for UWM. The right move at the right time.”
Geiger emerged as a candidate just over a week ago when the phone rang at his home in Port Angeles, Wash. On the line was Todd Turner, a well-known headhunter in college athletics hiring.
Turner told Geiger, who was in semiretirement, that Turner had been retained by UWM, with the help of Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone. Turner explained that UWM was looking for someone to be an interim athletic director for two or three months.
Geiger was asked if he was interested.
“I found my pulse quickening,” Geiger said Thursday. ” ’Wow, that’s a chance to get back on a campus and get back in the game a little bit,’ ” Geiger said he told Turner.
Later, the focus of the position changed. Geiger was asked if he would be interested in the position for a year.
Geiger thought, “Why not?”
Geiger came to Milwaukee, had several meetings with university officials, including Lovell, and became excited about the opportunity. He flew back to Washington state, talked to his wife, Eleanor, and decided to make the move.
“There had been some recent history of turmoil and they wanted fresh eyes to look at it, some depth of experience,” Geiger said. “And I think I provide both of that.”
Geiger will play a large role in the shaping of an ongoing campuswide strategic plan for the campus. At or near the top of his agenda will be the study and discussion of building a multipurpose arena on campus to serve sports as well as provide a new home for convocations and concerts.
That study, Lovell said, is a year away.
“Clearly, playing basketball downtown may not be the best solution for us in the long run,” Geiger said. “Especially for a campus that doesn’t have a strong campus event center for more than just basketball.”
Geiger said he planned to get going as of 8 a.m. Friday.
“I think that my role here is to help deliver the best program we can for these students within the definition of what the university is and wants to be,” he said. “That does not mean wholesale expansion of sports and a great infusion of money it doesn’t have.”
What made Geiger particularly valuable to UWM is his experience in overseeing construction projects. Geiger, who was Ohio State’s athletic director for 11 years before leaving in 2005, managed the renovation of famed Ohio Stadium on the Ohio State campus. The $194 million renovation expanded the famed horseshoe stadium to more than 101,000 seats.
Geiger also oversaw the construction of the Jerome Schottenstein Center for basketball ($110 million); the Bill Davis Stadium for baseball ($4.7 million); the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium for track and field and soccer ($11 million); and the Bill and Mae McCorkle Aquatics Pavilion for swimming and diving ($33 million).
Geiger’s appointment represents something of a homecoming for him. UWM said Geiger’s father was born and raised a few blocks from UWM’s campus on N. Summit Ave. His grandfather, Ferdinand, was a federal judge in Milwaukee, retiring in 1939.
LeCrone said Geiger was one of the “outstanding leaders in intercollegiate athletics, and Milwaukee is fortunate to have someone of his experience and wisdom to guide its program.”
Geiger was named to the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics’ Hall of Fame in 2010 and received the Division IA director of athletics 2009 Homer Rice Award. That award is presented annually to an athletic director who has made a significant impact on the profession and intercollegiate athletics.
Before Ohio State, Geiger had been athletic director at the University of Maryland from 1990-’94, Stanford from 1979-’90, the University of Pennsylvania from 1975-’79 and Brown University from 1971-’75.
Geiger left Ohio State with the athletic department under a cloud. He was athletic director when former star running back Maurice Clarett was at the center of an academic scandal. Clarett was suspended for the 2003 athletic year after he was charged with filing a false police report; he later left school.
Geiger fired basketball coach Jim O’Brien after O’Brien admitted to giving cash to a recruit.
At the time of his resignation from Ohio State, Geiger admitted that “the body blows that come with Ohio State athletics have been tiring.”
Geiger stayed with Ohio State for one more year before leaving for good.
Asked what he missed the most after being out of college athletics, Geiger said, “Kids.”
“I like going to practices. I like watching the faculty of the athletic department teach and watch the students learn. I like that even better than I like the games. Games are nerve-racking,” he said.