Q&A with Jim Livengood

University of Arizona

By Staff

Athletic Management, 16.6, October/November 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1606/qalivengood.htm


Jim Livengood has been the Athletics Director at the University of Arizona for 10 years, but thatís hardly all heís done. Heís been Pac-10 president, chair of the Pac-10 Athletic Directors Revenue Sharing Committee, and a member of the conferenceís Bowl Committee and Basketball Tournament Subcommittee. Heís also been a member of the Rose Bowl Management Committee, NACDA President, and chair of the NCAA Division I Menís Basketball Committee. In the Tucson community, Livengood has been involved in everything from the Tucson Boysí Chorus to the Southern Arizona Community Bank, and he and his wife, Linda, sponsor a Toys for Tots golf tournament.

The 1999 NACDA Division I-A Athletic Director of the Year, Livengood previously was Athletic Director at Washington State University and Southern Illinois University, and was active in civic organizations in both communities. He began his career as a high school teacher and coach in his native Washington state.

In this interview, Livengood talks about being busy, firing Head Football Coach John Mackovic in September 2003 after a 1-4 start, taking an active role in recruiting, and feeling the pressure of picking whoíll join the Big Dance in March.

How do you find time for all the things youíre involved in? And why do you do them?

I think Iím much more productive when Iím busy. Also, I try to tell our student-athletes that as they graduate and go out to different communities, itís important to get involved. Whether itís through the city council, school board, or whatever, they should try to make a difference in their community. So I try to practice what I preach.

Through my outside work I have made many interesting connections with people in our community, the state of Arizona, and across the country. These are people who, because of various associations, groups, committees, or organizations, are helping young people participate in athletics.

How do you mentor new administrators and administrators-to-be?

I visited recently with a senior female student-athlete who Iím trying to encourage to think seriously about entering either college coaching or administration. Although we owe it to all students, we really need to work on mentoring female and minority student-athletes who want to stay in athletics after theyíre done playing.

Iím also involved with the NCAA Fellows program, in which you work with a person from another institution. I spent a couple of years mentoring Sean Frazier, who was then an Assistant Athletic Director at the University of Maine [and now Director of Athletics and Recreation at Clarkson University]. You have them on your campus, you go to their campus, and you talk a lot on the phoneóthe idea is to mentor that person to allow them to achieve their professional goals. Itís really rewarding. The mentor doesnít have to have all the answers, and I think I learned as much from Sean as he did from me.

Like what?

Coaches use the vernacular, "getting back to fundamentals," and itís the same thing in administration. When I was a young high school coach years ago, I washed uniforms, took tickets, lined the field, put the bleachers together, and officiated junior high and middle school games. I did everything. Sean really helped me connect back with those early days, and it was very refreshing.

So I try to spend some time working with our ticket operations to get a feel for that process and what that staff is going through. Being on the front lines gives me a much better appreciation of whatís going on.

How do you know which things to push up the chain of command?

I make sure that anything that has a chance to develop into something controversial, or something important, gets forwarded to our president. I owe him that. The rule of thumb is that I donít want him ever to be called by one of the Regents or a member of the media and not at least have some idea of what is going on. If thereís a chance something could be controversial, the president needs to know, and heís extremely appreciative of having that information. I know itís helped our relationship. I expect that very same thing with the associates and assistants here in our department.

What canít you delegate?

Itís wrong to delegate major decisions that will affect policy within your program. And while you need to have a number of people involved, you canít delegate removal, and to a certain degree, hiring of staff. And I donít think you can totally delegate recruiting.

When you recruit student-athletes it ultimately affects everything else in your program. There are very few student-athletes who visit our campus who I donít meet. I meet with nearly every one, even if only for a short time.

Number one, I can be a good salesperson for the university and for our department. Number two, when a director gets involved in the recruiting process, he or she can clearly and quickly understand the philosophy of the coaches. When you meet a young person, you can sense pretty quickly how serious they are about the academic mission of the school. The third major benefit is that if a student-athlete decides to enroll in your institution, thereís one more person outside of their coaches that they will have a connection with.

What did you learn from the 2003 football season?

Faced with the same circumstances again, I would do exactly the same thing. When I hired John, I thought he was exactly what we neededósomebody more offense-minded, who had some success and could instill confidence. Of all the people I talked to, he fit the bill better than anybody. Why it didnít work, I have no idea. John is a good person and a good coach.

This time around, Iíd probably ask more people for their input. Hiring is such a difficult task. There have been some great athletic directors whoíve hired and fired great coaches, and nobody can put their finger on why. As an AD, if you hire somebody and it doesnít work, the entire free world knows whose fault it is: Itís the athletic directorís. If you hire somebody who works, the entire free world will probably take full credit.

How did you weigh the pros and cons of making a change during the season?

I would never wish that decision on any of my colleagues. Our president had grave concerns about doing this during the season. What I came to ultimatelyóand he supported me on thisówas that after five games I really believed in my heart that things were not going to get better. At the end of every sport season, I ask myself whether I did everything I could to allow our student-athletes to have the best possible experience. I did not want to look back after 12 games and say I didnít do everything I could to provide those football student-athletesóand particularly the seniorsówith a positive experience.

How do you work with people at the university who arenít involved in athletics?

I serve on a lot of university committees, and I try to spend time with our administrators, our deans, and other people on campus. I never want to leave an impression that because weíre financially self-sufficient, we donít care about anything else.

Also, we talk to our student-athletes about how important it is for them to be good representatives of athletics. That might involve the simplest things in the world, such as when they go to class, that they should get there on time, take their hats off, not read the newspaper. We spend a lot of time making sure that we donít promote a stereotype of athletics.

Whatís your approach to gender equity?

Iíve twice been involved in merging separate menís and womenís athletics programs into one. All I know is that Title IX is good and, in most instances, very fair. Title IX is often unfairly blamed for things that we do. We all have choices to make. Is it harder today because of trying to balance numbers of participants? Certainly it is. Is it harder to balance when you have a Division I-A football program that has 85 scholarships and between 105 and 115 participants? Sure it is. But is it possible to have balanced programs and still have a good all-round program? Sure it is. Itís a matter of how important you see it being.

How do you keep up with whatís going on in each program and each coaching staff?

I get to know our coaches very well, personally and professionally. I start with the premise that I would never want to have a coach who I wouldnít want coaching Michelle Livengood or Jeremy Livengood. Thatís easier said than done, I know. But itís an everyday, ongoing process of evaluation.

I donít watch a lot of practice and never have. But Iím very active with our Student Athlete Advisory Board. We meet once a month. And Iím very active with our student-athletes on an informal basis, to get a feel, if you will, of coaches.

Most everyone seems to think they know if a coach is doing a good job or a bad job, and it normally relates to what happens on the playing field. But that can be very deceiving. There can be phenomenal things going on in a program that is not very successful record-wise. There can be some horrific things going on in a program that is winning. Quite honestly, the winning can sometimes cover up a number of things that are going wrong.

What was it like to lead the NCAA Division I menís basketball committee?

I loved my five years on the committee, and loved being the chair, but Iím also excited about having my life back and being able to see our team. Because committee members are not allowed to be at a site when their team plays, I saw our team play only once in the postseason and that was in the 2001 Final Four.

The hardest thing about the basketball committee is knowing that youíre going to make some people mad, and that you may lose some friendships over it. I got a call from a very dear friend who, after his school did not get in, said to me, "I really thought we were better friends than this." Weíve talked since then and worked our way through that, but it is a very serious matter. The year I was the chair, I was not prepared for the number of people who could be offended. Still, it was a phenomenal experience, and I felt very lucky to have been in that role.

What would you tell someone working at the high school levelóas you did years agoówho wants to get into college athletic administration?

I would advise them to spend some time working at a collegeís summer campóit could be at any college, in any sportóto see what itís about. I was very lucky to do that. Secondly, if you have an inclination that you might want to do something like that, do it. However, Iíve told high school coaches when I speak at clinics to not get caught up in thinking that college is better. Grant Teaff said it years ago: The big timeís where you are. The best job you have, the best job you could possibly have, is the one you have.