When it comes to removing Jeff Hathaway, 'why' isn't important

This may shock regular readers, but I don't think Jeff Hathaway is a good athletic director and I've been waiting for him to get fired for months now (even if I thought it would take longer than it has).

The faults of his administration are many and they run the gamut from run-of-the-mill failure (not being able to communicate with coaches), to negligence (not having a head of fundraising for several years), to gross incompetence (the Burton affair). The fact that new UConn president Susan Herbst is moving to replace him doesn't surprise me --- hiring a new head of fundraising that did not report to Hathaway was pretty telling -- but what has surprised me is the reaction of some in the media who are painting this as a battle of personalities between Hathaway and Jim Calhoun.

And if you're thinking that media bit is a not-so-subtle reference to Jeff Jacobs you're correct. I know Jacobs is not popular with a lot of UConn fans, but to me he's the only member of the Connecticut press that's a must-read, mostly because he actually challenges UConn. Every time I get frustrated with the Horde's inability to break news or give me an interesting take, Jacobs will come along with a column that includes a good scoop or gets me thinking -- and I often agree with him. But not on this.

He's filed two columns since the Hathaway story heated up. The first fretted over the national perception of and reaction to Hathaway's ouster. The second decries the public humiliation of Hathaway because Jacobs' reporting (which I don't question for a second) indicates that Calhoun's distaste for Hathaway is the impetus for the current mess. With respect, Jacobs has missed the point.

Here's Jacobs in his second piece:

There undoubtedly will be some who read this piece and say, "Herbst doesn't need Calhoun to see Hathaway deserves to be fired." But the deeper we get into conversations with Calhoun friend and Calhoun foe alike — we're talking significant names here — the more often these words are repeated: "This is all about Jim Calhoun vs. Jeff Hathaway." Folks, that's the truth.

That may be the truth, but it misses the point. I have had the opportunity to meet Jeff Hathaway several times. I never spoke to him for more than five minutes, and he was always nice and personable -- exactly what you'd want your AD to be when a student or alum is able to grab his attention at a game or around campus. I have no complaints about his personality. Jim Calhoun obviously does. But even if that is spark that lit the fire, this is not about personality. This is about the fact that Hathaway is not a good athletic director. I do not care about why this situation came about, I'm just happy it did.

To be fair, Hathaway has his positives. The $80 million IMG deal he inked is great for the university. The SNY partnership is nothing to laugh at either. However, after that my list dries up quickly. The success on the court or on the field is impossible to deny, but the credit for that goes to coaches that Hathaway did not hire, and you can't even give him credit for staying out of the way, since it seems like a product of his inability to get along with his coaches rather than a reflection of his ability to work with them.

When Justin first wrote about this, I took to the comments with a list of Hathaway's "accomplishments:"

  • Inheriting two Hall of Fame basketball coaches and the almost ideal program builder for football.
  • At different times alienating either one, two or all three of the above coaches, with the added bonus of allowing a massive rift to fester and worsen between Calhoun and Geno.
  • Having the first hallmark of his administration be a cars-for-tickets scandal.
  • Presiding over steep declines in ticket sales despite having a men’s basketball team that went to three Final Fours and won two championships during his tenure and having a women’s basketball team that put together an unmatched, off-the-charts string of successes.
  • Presiding over a department that did little or nothing to help foster an environment of fan enthusiasm and support at games.
  • Allowing the NCAA compliance department to become severely understaffed.
  • Dealing with the NCAA in a way that allowed Calhoun to perceive that he was being thrown under the bus: Telling them that the Nate Miles recruitment was the "most intense" he'd ever seen.
  • Allowing the office of chief fundraiser to stay open for years and years, all the while failing to produce a basketball practice facility.
  • Not only not backing Randy Edsall in meetings with the admissions office. That’s fine in and of itself — if you think a kid shouldn’t get in, I understand. The problem: Hathaway apparently wouldn’t even go to the meetings. Even if you’re going to disagree with your coach, you can’t hang him out to dry.
  • Ending his one and only meaningful coaching search by having the school’s largest athletic donor pull out in a nationally embarrassing fiasco that was a fireable offense in and of itself.

That's a whole lot of trouble for just eight years, but I'm willing to admit that most of it was survivable. Well, survivable until the Burton mess. An athletic director doesn't coach, doesn't recruit and doesn't supervise workouts. What an athletic director does is cultivate relationships with donors, raise money and keep everything running smoothly so the coaches can win. When things blow up with your biggest donor as badly as they did with Burton you've failed at your job, and done so in a way that endangers the entire athletic department. You know what inspires people to give money? Confidence, and nothing builds confidence like other people giving money. The inverse is true as well and even if Hathaway and Burton came to some sort of truce the damage was done.

In his first column Jacobs was worried about the perception that a coach just hit by NCAA sanctions was forcing out his athletic director. I don't see it that way, and Susan Herbst shouldn't either, because national perception isn't the concern. It's donor perception that matters, and I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be comfortable giving money to Hathaway.

Here's Jacobs in his second column:

There was not unanimity within the university family whether to wait for the results of the 360 or try to negotiate immediately. The school, for now, has settled on waiting. The matter could eventually end in arbitration or mediation. Who knows what people said in those interviews, but it's going to have to be new and explosive to prove Hathaway was incompetent, dishonest or purposely negligent.

I don't think Hathaway was purposely negligent, and there is no reason to call his honesty into question, but his competence is a real issue. Not having a head of fundraising, not being able to communicate with his employees and not being able to manage his donors are all marks of an incompetent AD. I'm sure Jeff Hathaway is a nice, bright, hardworking man, and I'm sure he can bring a lot to the table of an athletic department, but if his time at UConn has showed one thing, it's that he can't direct one.

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