Alden looks back
In eleven days, Mike Alden's 17-year run as the Director of Athletics at Missouri will come to an end. Alden's last day on the job is April 26th. April 27th is the first day for Mack Rhoades.
On Tuesday morning, Alden spent a little more than an hour talking with local media, many of who have covered the majority of his time at the helm in Columbia. The session covered a wide range of topics, from his pronunciation of the state (a controversial Missour-AH) to what Alden would have done differently to the things he believes Rhoades will need to focus on to the future of college athletics as a whole.
Alden said he stepped down in late January because "I never wanted to be an AD when I was 60 years old. And I never wanted to be an AD anywhere besides Mizzou." He says he has no interest in a job as a conference administrator, something many have speculated was in his future. The plan is for Alden to begin working in the college of education at Mizzou in August. Whatever Alden's future holds, his tenure as the athletic director is about to become part of his past. You can listen to the entire press conference right here or watch it in the video player below. What follows is a scattershot approach to wrapping up Alden's final meeting with the media this week.
Upon the retirement of any notable figure, the first question is always, "What legacy will he leave behind?"
For Alden, it largely is positive. When he took over, he said Missouri had a reserve fund of approximately $400,000. As of this week, he reports that figure is around $14 million. There is a new tennis center, a new basketball arena, a new softball stadium in the works and renovations to the football and baseball stadiums both done and upcoming. If the job of an athletic director is to raise money and build things, Alden has done his well at Mizzou.
"I think we've become much more relevant on the national scene, not only in college athletics, but in higher education, not because of athletics, but because of some of the things that athletics have done," Alden said. "Nationally, I don't want to say we were irrelevant, I don't think we were as relevant 17 years ago on the national scene. I don't think the brand of Mizzou, I don't think the Tiger logo, I don't think the University of Missouri or Missourah, was something that was overly relevant on the national scene."
There are two other glaring positives to Alden's tenure. The first is Gary Pinkel. Pinkel was the only football coach Alden ever hired. He did so prior to the 2001 season. Pinkel is now the winningest coach in school history and is coming off back-to-back appearances in the SEC Championship Game.
"Shoot, in my opinion, he's at the top of his game right now," Alden said. "He's got a great staff, facilities continue to improve. His new boss, in my opinion, I think he's great. He's going to have another partner that has the same set of glasses that he has. I think he's in great shape, great energy. Frankly, I'm hoping from Mizzou's standpoint that he goes a long time. I'm hoping. Because I think he's done amazing things here and I hope he does it for a long time."
Mention of the SEC, of course, brings up what most would put as the overriding legacy of Alden's career: The move from the Big 12 Conference to the SEC. That move was at the center of college athletics for more than two years. First, Missouri was thought to be headed to the Big Ten. Then it was considered headed for the Big East...or worse, for no man's land.
"We were really nervous. Those are those sleepless nights," Alden said. "You had a whole bunch of people that were really nervous. All these things that we've done to build a relevant brand, what was going to happen? Where were we going to be?"
That the Tigers not only landed on their feet, but did so in perhaps the best athletic conference in the country, is what many will remember Alden for long after he turns over the keys to his office.
"I'd give that to other people to make that judgment," Alden said. "But, you're asking me personally? I believe that move, because of what it's going to do for our institution 20 years down the road, it's almost immeasurable. It's been a huge opportunity and how we capitalize on it as an institution 20 years from now is going to say 'Wow, they really took advantage of (it).' Because we know the opportunities of that. I think that will be something I'm very proud of having been associated with that. Because I think it's been great for Mizzou, it's been great for our university and I think it's been great for the SEC."
MAKING THE MOVE
Of course, that move also changed many long-standing traditions and engendered many hard feelings toward Mizzou. The hardest of those may have come out of Austin, Texas, where then Longhorns athletic director Deloss Dodds famously (at least to Mizzou fans) said, "Our bad years are not that bad. Take a school like Missouri. Our bad years are better than their good years. But we've created a standard."
"I do remember that," Alden said on Tuesday with a chuckle. "I saw no validity in that, I saw no need for that…To me that was an arrogant comment and I saw no validity in that.
"Since then I think the Mizzou Tigers have done pretty darn well. I'm sure the Longhorns have done fine. I really don't know because I really don't pay attention to them."
Since then, for the record, Missouri has won 28 games and finished in the top 15 in the country twice, including the two SEC East division titles. Texas has won 23 games, finished in the top 25 just once, played in the Alamo and Texas Bowls and changed coaches.
But Texas was not the school most Mizzou fans feel the school left behind when it changed leagues. That would be Kansas. The Tigers and Jayhawks played 120 times on the football field between 1891 and 2011. They played another 267 times on the basketball court, the last on February 25th, 2012. When the Tigers left the Big 12, Kansas made it widely known they had no desire to continue the bitter rivalry.
"Am I disappointed? Yes," Alden said. "In the heat of the moment, I understand in the heat of the moment where you're making decisions because you're ticked, you're upset, whatever the term is we may want to use. But I think when you step back away from that heat of the moment, when you take a look at 100 years of history, you're making a decision that is a generational type of decision. I just think that you can be upset, you can be ticked, you can be whatever, but we're making decisions for decades of people before us and decades of people after us that you hope, over the course of time, you'll be able to rekindle (the rivalry)."
Alden said on Tuesday he believes relationships between Mizzou and the schools that remained in the Big 12 are thawing. He said he believes his departure will increase the pace of that feeling. But as to whether the Border War will ever come back, Alden doesn't know.
"Wouldn't it be great if Mizzou and Kansas could play every year again? For me, if that could happen, I think that rivalry could be greater than ever," he said. "We haven't played for what, three years? If you go 20 years, you're talking about a generation of people, you can talk all you want about 20 years ago, but you'll have people going 'Who cares? We've never played those guys.' I think you're going to hit a window of time where you're going to have to do that or it's not going to be as relevant as it has before in the past.
"You're talking about 100 years and more than just athletic history here. You're talking about U.S. history, that we're part of as well, too. I don't know if you can ever replace that. I think you can develop other rivalries, they can certainly have a lot of enthusiasm, but you can't replace U.S. history, you can't replace 100 years worth of competition."
THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
If Alden is universally praised for hiring Pinkel and Missouri's football renaissance, he is equally questioned for the Tigers' struggles in basketball since he took over. Alden was hired in 1998, following Norm Stewart's 31st season at his alma mater. He would storm the sidelines for just one more. Stewart announced his (technically so) retirement on April 1st, 1999. Alden hired Duke assistant Quin Snyder as his replacement.
Snyder took Missouri to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first seasons, including a run to the Elite Eight in 2002. Soon thereafter, NCAA troubles stemming largely from the recruitment of point guard Ricky Clemons stalled that success and led to his eventual dismissal.
Since then, Alden has hired three head coaches. Mike Anderson resurrected the program, won 31 games and crested with another run to the Elite Eight in his third of five seasons. Anderson left for Arkansas, where he had been an assistant for 17 years, prior to the 2011-12 season. Frank Haith was hired, immediately brought with him more NCAA scrutiny, and won 30 games in his first season. But a loss to 15th-seeded Norfolk State in the NCAA Tournament ended Haith's magical first year, a level to which he would not come close in his next two seasons at Mizzou. Haith bolted for job security at Tulsa and Alden tabbed, in what would be his last major hire, former Stewart assistant Kim Anderson to take over. Anderson's first season concluded last month with a 9-23 record including a school-record 13-game losing streak and a last place finish in the SEC.
"I constantly look at that and assess that," Alden said. "Why has that happened? I don't know. I wish I could put my finger on it. If I could put my finger on it and knew why it was, certainly we wouldn't have wanted that to happen. We would have wanted to have that sustained success. It's probably a combination of, whether it's recruiting philosophy, whether it's investment philosophy, whether it's, who knows, an injury or whatever it could be. It could be a whole combination of things. Nothing I've been able to specifically identify."
Days before his departure, Alden expressed optimism that Anderson would lead Missouri basketball out of its current depths and back to its previous heights.
"My hope is as Kim comes in, building from where it's at, that there's going to be a more sustained success," he said. "I look at it with Kim right know, certainly knowing he's a Missouri guy, knowing that he's committed to this institution, knowing he has great values, it's my hope and my belief that he'll get this thing stabilized.
"You want to understand when you're investing in something, that immediate gratification--and that's harder now, not just at Mizzou, that's anywhere--that immediate gratification, that immediate cause and effect, that immediate return on investment is different today than it was, let's say, X amount of years ago. There's always been pressure to win, pressure to perform, always been speed that people want to do it. It's just today, it's almost like it's hyperspeed. So from a leadership standpoint, how are you going to make sure that you not only continue to invest, but you have to allow those things to be able to flourish a little bit and I would hope that that's going to be the case...There are models at Mizzou and around the country of how that works."
As with any administrator, Alden had his detractors. He knows that. Since stepping down, he has done some self reflection. What would Alden have done differently over the last 17 years?
"Some of the stuff I was hearing was, 'I wish Mike would have been more open about who he was personally,'" Alden said. "That's one of the examples. I was talking to Rockie about that. That was kind of interesting because I always think I'm pretty open, but in reality, I think I understood what folks were saying. I wish we'd have known a little bit more about his background, we wish he would have been a little bit more open about that. That would have been one of the things."
"I think another could have been, maybe some issues, to me, I wish Mike would have been a little bit more out front on some of those issues, instead of maybe holding back a little bit. That resonated with me a little bit because I think maybe, if you look back, you know what? That's right. I wish I would have been."
Specifically, Alden mentioned the way he dealt with the aftermath of the Sasha Menu-Courey story breaking last year or dealing with Clemons and the three-ring circus that surrounded that entire situation and, ultimately, nearly led to his firing by the University's Board of Curators.
"There are probably others as well," Alden admitted. "I could probably go through a few.
"Those types of issues are very emotional. You're trying to make sure that you have a steady hand from a leadership standpoint. You're trying to overcommunicate is what you're trying to do, and you're trying to be sensitive to those types of issues and how you're dealing with those. There's a lot of internal stuff you go through. There's a lot of sleepless nights you go through."
"It's hard to bat a thousand."
Alden said he communicates with Rhoades, his successor, "at least every other day." After 17 years on the job, there are pieces of advice he can pass on to the next man up, along with the figurative torch.
"It's given us an opportunity to bounce around some ideas, for me to also answer questions that he might have," Alden said. "And for him to start to build relationships beyond maybe what's going on inside the athletic department.
"You'd have to ask Mack how it's gone, but I think it's gone pretty well. During the transition process, at the beginning of that, what I tried to lay out was, in my opinion, here are the eight, I'm just using a number, here are the eight to ten things that I think are important that you're at least going to have to be familiar with."
Alden mentioned the upcoming softball stadium, multimedia rights and Mizzou's contract with Nike as some of those priorities. Rhoades becomes the man to address all those questions in 12 days. Alden will soon thereafter be making the drive to a different office on campus for the first time in 17 years.
"It hasn't hit me completely yet. I've been processing it as we've gone through," Alden said. "We still feel really good about where we're at. Probably better today than we did before, just as you kind of get closer to that. Each time and juncture that we go through is just another step in that process emotionally that you just kind of have to go through."