Despite all of the difficulties in East Lansing during the last couple years, the position of athletic director at Michigan State University is still a dream job; a top destination for the most talented among us.
The administration at Michigan State could have chosen pretty much whomever they wanted as their next athletic director. They could have chosen a young, energetic up-and-comer or an established veteran with success at a smaller school. A new face with new ideas or an athletic director from a school with less resources than MSU who wants to show what he or she could do on a big stage.
There were dozens of people that could have interviewed for this job — but MSU apparently liked what they saw in Bill Beekman so much that they decided to completely forego a search outside of East Lansing.
Interim President John Engler said today that while his team was putting together the beginnings of the national search, they realized that whomever they came up with from the outside was not going to be better than the home-grown Beekman.
For a community that is still dealing with the fact that their beloved former athletic director, Mark Hollis — who could seemingly do nothing wrong and who metaphorically turned everything he touched into gold — bailed on the university when the tumultuous times came, this is a tough pill to swallow.
Usually when it comes to decisions like these, my default is that you either trust those making the decision or you don’t – and up until recently, that was an unequivocal yes at Michigan State. But lately, the decisions being made around here have been baffling.
In a vacuum, this decision wouldn’t deserve as much attention and criticism as it is being given. But given the recent history and the complexity that has developed around the decision-making in the highest offices around these parts, it makes sense that this hire is being scrutinized.
Spartan Nation had been promised a national search. Promised that the next athletic director would not come from inside the university. Promised that we would have someone from the outside come in, look around, and see what — if anything — is missing or needs changing. We believed that our university would be subjected to an overhaul, if one was needed.
What those affiliated with Michigan State want is just one thing – but it’s a huge thing. We want to be able to believe again. To believe that this is indeed the best university in the land. To believe that the people running our school represent us well and make us proud, on and off the court/field/pitch/rink/mat/track/pool/course. To believe that we do things the right way, even if it means that we might not be as successful on the scoreboard.
In a nutshell, that is what has been taken away from the Spartan faithful over the last two years: the unwavering trust we have had in those in power has been eroded. And we are questioning everything.
That really is why we wanted an outsider in the athletic department. We wanted someone to come in and tell us that – despite our obvious flaws in the present – everything is going to be ok.
And that is why a large contingent of Spartan fans feel betrayed by this decision.
I get it – it’s not all black and white. It’s very, very grey. There are a lot of things going on in the background, outside of the public eye. Even given my very limited view into what is happening, I see why Engler and the Board of Trustees made this decision. When it comes down to it, they think that the pros of Bill Beekman outweigh the cons.
Based on what I know, I’m not sure I agree with that assessment.
To be very clear, it’s not personal. From all indications, Beekman is a stand-up guy who has always done right by his colleagues and his employer. He personally is not responsible for the actions that have brought Michigan State University to the place where everything about the university is being scrutinized.
It’s about being told one thing and then the complete opposite thing happening. It’s about not having even a hint that it was going to happen. It’s about not being able to take a deep look into the process that turned the promise of an outside hire into the promotion of an internal guy, regardless of how well Beekman has done over the last six months.
Spartans haven’t been confident in many of the decisions being made around here lately but we were confident in what we had been told — that an outsider was going to come in and take a look at the athletic department from the very top and implement whatever changes were necessary. If that idea changed – and the powers that be wanted Beekman to remain in control, for whatever reasons – it should have gone down differently.
Engler should have announced a change in his philosophy that would have made Beekman eligible to apply for the permanent role. If Beekman would have been put up against the best and brightest of those who wanted the job and had come out the other side on top, that would have been one thing. That could have been explained much easier. That might even have been understood.
But that’s not what happened.
And that’s why many Spartans are disappointed today.
This was a missed opportunity.
Was Beekman the right choice? Check back a year from now. Or more likely, check back when a head coach needs replacing. My guess is that Beekman will do just fine in the ordinary, day-to-day activities of an athletic director. MSU doesn’t need someone to plan basketball games in a submarine or football games in outer space. We don’t need an AD to invent new-fangled ways to make us popular. We need an AD to do the following things:
- Keep our student-athletes safe from those who might do them harm
- Keep our student-athletes accountable and help them be role models to our kids
- Keep our teams competitive and our coaches fairly compensated
- Keep our facilities up-to-date
- Impact our community for good
- Show the world what it truly means to be a Spartan
It’s not really Beekman’s fault that he has been handed the responsibility of re-establishing MSU stakeholders’ trust with the athletic department. But since he has been given the role, here is some advice from an MSU grad, class of 1999:
- Be as transparent as you can – and then try to be even more transparent than that.
- Stand up to those who need standing up to, no matter who they are.
- Don’t view anything – or anyone – as too big to change.
- Let us know what you are doing – even the mundane things – to protect our student-athletes and the general student population.
- Make us unequivocally proud again, of our university and our athletic teams.
The question regarding this situation really shouldn’t be “was this a good hire or not?” The question should be “was the process used to make the hire a good process or not?” From the outside looking in, it doesn’t appear that it was. And that is what is the most disconcerting about this whole thing – if the administration can’t be taken at its clear and unambiguous word that it won’t hire an internal candidate, then what in the world can it be taken at?
Most Spartans that I talk to want to come out the other end of this horrendous mess as a better place, a more-trusted university, a collegiate environment that leads with positive change. No matter how it is being spun, it seems clear that the permanent hiring of Bill Beekman was not a step in that direction.