The Pac-12 is one month into a search that likely will last into April, if not May.
In recent weeks, the Hotline has interviewed the Pac-12 presidents on the executive committee leading the process: Oregon’s Michael Schill (chair), Washington’s Ana Mari Cauce and Washington State’s Kirk Schulz.
We have listened to and read their comments in other media outlets.
We have communicated with sources inside and outside the conference.
And it’s increasingly clear the presidents are interested in pursuing candidates who 1) value the conference’s educational mission, 2) reflect the diversity of the Pac-12’s campuses and athletes, 3) have experience with major college football and 4) understand the campus culture and challenges.
The question is whether the presidents can find someone who meets all the criteria at the desired levels, or if compromising on some issues will be necessary. (And if so, which ones?)
With that in mind, the Hotline presents our list of six potential candidates.
(If two or three reach the interview stage, we’ll consider this a win.)
— We have no idea (none, zero, zip) whether the following individuals would be interested in the job.
It’s not for everyone, both because of the requirement to live on the West Coast and the task at hand: The conference has a slew of issues, and many are not easily solved (some might be unsolvable).
— The Hotline hasn’t confirmed any outreach to candidates by the search committee, TurnkeyZRG.
In fact, I would be surprised if that process has started. The presidents and Turnkey first must settle on a vision for the conference and the type of candidate that best suits the model.
— We haven’t listed current Pac-12 athletic directors or conference executives. And we won’t view an internal elevation as likely until there’s substantive reason do so. (It’s tricky.)
— Listed alphabetically.
Bob Bowlsby, Big 12 commissioner
He spent three decades as an athletic director, the last six at Stanford, and was the architect of the Cardinal’s football reclamation project. In his current gig, he’s immersed in the sport’s present and future. Why would Bowlsby leave the Big 12 for the Pac-12? We’re not at all sure he would. Also, he’s 69 years old. We’d envision him as the Harvey Keitel character in Pulp Fiction — as Winston Wolfe, the problem solver: Bowlsby agrees to a five-year deal, which allows him to steer the Pac-12 through this critical upcoming window that includes media rights negotiations, NIL implementation and CFP expansion. He then handpicks his successor and rides off.
Greg Byrne, Alabama athletic director
Byrne might know the Pac-12 better than anyone not currently in the conference. His father, Bill, was Oregon’s athletic director, and Byrne attended Sheldon High (Justin Herbert’s alma mater) before earning a degree from ASU. He worked for Oregon and OSU and spent seven years as Arizona’s AD. The presidents would have to be comfortable with his role in the situation in Tucson. We don’t mean basketball — Byrne inherited Sean Miller and Book Richardson — so much as Rich Rodriguez’s issues, although the degree of RichRod’s culpability is somewhat murky because of the “spread … of disinformation” by his former assistant.
Randy Freer, former Fox Sports president/Hulu CEO
Freer does not have on-campus experience. But to the best of our knowledge, the presidents have not ruled out hiring someone from the sports media world — and they shouldn’t ignore that option entirely: The upcoming media rights negotiations are important enough to consider candidates from the space. Freer negotiated the Pac-12’s current Tier One deal during his tenure at Fox; he helped rebuild the Big East and formed a Fox Sports multimedia sponsorship group; and he’s already on the Pac-12’s radar, based on internal documents published by the Hotline.
Gloria Nevarez, West Coast Conference commissioner
She grew up in the Bay Area, has a law degree from Cal and worked for the Bears (in compliance). Before becoming the first Latin American to run a Division I conference (per the WCC), Nevarez spent eight years on Larry Scott’s senior staff (2010-18). Should that disqualify her? The presidents must decide if Nevarez would represent a clean break — and if they even care about a clean break — but her work at the WCC has received positive reviews from Hotline sources. And she worked at Oklahoma under one of the nation’s best ADs, Joe Castiglione, although her background in football is limited.
(Also, don’t be surprised if Castiglione himself emerges as a candidate.)
Gene Smith, Ohio State athletic director
Smith is on the short list of the most respected ADs in the country and has Pac-12 campus experience, having run ASU’s athletic department before moving to Columbus 15 years ago. Smith has relationships with sports TV executives and knows everyone who matters in college athletics. (He would have the support of two former OSU lieutenants, Pat Chun and Martin Jarmond, the ADs at Washington State and UCLA, respectively.) But Smith is in his 60s, and the Pac-12 isn’t an easy lift. Also, the presidents would have to be comfortable with his handling of the domestic-assault situation involving an assistant football coach at OSU, for which Smith was suspended 17 days.
Andrea Williams, COO of the College Football Playoff
Here’s our sleeper candidate. A former athlete (Texas A&M), Williams spent 16 years in the Big Ten working for legendary commissioner Jim Delany. Even though she doesn’t have extensive campus experience, Williams saw firsthand how a conference office should work to support the schools. (That hasn’t always been the case in the Pac-12.) She has also run a DI conference, having spent two years in charge of the Big Sky. In her current post, she’s deeply involved in major college football at the highest level and could leverage that experience to ensure the Pac-12’s interest are protected in the future CFP.