Next Miami AD must embrace community

For 25 years, Miami had an inordinate amount of stability at the top of its athletic department.

But that all ended when Paul Dee announced he would retire in 2008. Now Miami is conducting a national search for another athletic director, following the surprise resignation of Shawn Eichorst last week. So the grand tally is three athletic directors in the past four years -- compared to three athletic directors in the previous 25.

Is this cause for alarm at a program that has prided itself on being a national leader?

“No, it's not concerning at all,” football coach Al Golden said. “Shawn is a good friend and a great AD. He did what he thought was best for his family, and clearly that's different from how I feel or how [women's basketball coach] Katie Meier feels or how [men's basketball coach] Jim Larranaga feels. We want to be here at Miami, and we want to build this program.”

Golden brings up an excellent point. Miami must find somebody truly committed to the athletic department, somebody who has a firm grasp on the cultural dynamics in Miami, who realizes that he must roll up his sleeves and work hard to gain the attention of the community. Miami is no college town. Donation dollars do not pour in the way they do at places like Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, the need for somebody truly committed to both the university and the community flies in the face of the actual perception about the position. Miami is currently viewed as a steppingstone job, an image that has been fostered with the recent defections and its inability to pay on a grand scale. Eichorst, who left for Nebraska, will earn close to $1 million in his first year with the Cornhuskers -- believed to be a significant upgrade over what he made at Miami.

Factor in the cloud of potential NCAA sanctions, and Miami president Donna Shalala is in a tough spot. But former athletic director Sam Jankovich believes Miami can find the right person despite the questions.

Jankovich was at Miami from 1983 to '90, and oversaw the rise of the football program to national prominence. He also brought the basketball program back, and did it by working countless hours raising enough money to make his dream a reality.

“Miami is a great institution, South Florida is a great place to live and I don't think the University of Miami has to be a steppingstone for anybody,” Jankovich said in a telephone interview with ESPN.com. “I think what has happened with the transition not only of ADs but coaches, they just have not had any consistency from the time Butch (Davis) left to when they hired Larry Coker, then they hired Randy (Shannon), then they hired now hopefully Al Golden will stay and do a good job. They've had a roller coaster.”

Jankovich has lived through scandals, and with the difficulty of making yourself stand out in a major metropolitan area. His successor, Dave Maggard, only lasted two years. After Maggard left, Jankovich urged school leaders to look at somebody with a deep understanding of Miami -- the program and the city. They found the late Dee, a Florida graduate-turned-passionate Miami supporter with ties to the program.

Dee oversaw the athletic department from 1993 to 2008. Never once did you get the sense he would rather be somewhere else. When he retired, it was only because he felt it was time. He stayed on as a professor at the university until his death in May.

The past two Miami athletic directors did not fit the profile Dee fit all those years ago. Kirby Hocutt came to Miami after stints at Oklahoma and Ohio University and spent 2½ years with the Hurricanes before leaving for Texas Tech. Eichorst came from Wisconsin and lasted 18 months.

“Miami is a different place and you need somebody to understand the community and the university,” Jankovich said. “They’ve hired people from other places, but I surely would encourage them if there is somebody good, has roots as far as Miami is concerned and would appreciate the opportunity to be there, hire somebody like that.”

For now, Miami has appointed Blake James as interim athletic director. He has not made it expressly clear that he is interested in the permanent job, saying in an interview that Miami “is a great institution, it’s a great program. So when you look out there in college athletics, it’s a very attractive job. As long as I’m in this position, I’m going to continue to do the best that I can and carry the baton forward and help us achieve our goals as a program.”

Goal No. 1 must be stability.

“Yeah, we need that,” Golden said. “I don't think there is any question. “One of the characteristics we should be looking for is someone that wants to be a part of the South Florida community and be part of the Miami community and be here for a long time. It's important to all of the coaches, not just me. It's critical that we find someone that wants to be here.”

Someone, in a nutshell, who truly gets Miami.