How Chancellor Rebecca Blank will find Wisconsin’s next athletic director and the ‘high cost’ of getting it wrong

University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank speaks during an event Tuesday announcing the retirement of Athletic Director Barry Alvarez.

JIM POLZIN [email protected]

The search for the next University of Wisconsin athletic director officially is underway, and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank made it clear she understands the magnitude of finding the right person to replace Barry Alvarez.

“Leadership matters for maintaining the culture and the ethos and the quality of programs we have here,” Blank said Wednesday, one day after Alvarez announced he’ll be retiring this summer. “And if we get it wrong, we will not maintain that and that would be at a very high cost to our students, to our university, to the state.”

The job will be posted until April 28, at which time a nine-member search committee appointed by Blank will begin sorting through candidates in an attempt to narrow the field.

UW Athletic Board chair Pete Miller will lead the committee, which includes Badgers football coach Paul Chryst. Miller said the process will be “thorough” and that he hopes a hire can be made “within a few months.”

Alvarez said Tuesday his final day will be June 30, but Blank said she doesn’t necessarily view that day as a deadline by which to make a hire.

“I want the right person,” she said, “as opposed to a fast search.”

Blank last fall began a four-year term representing the Big Ten Conference on the NCAA Board of Governors. She said she has reached out “to people in college athletics who have broad networks, both inside and outside the Big Ten,” in an effort to advertise the position.

“I want a very strong and diverse pool” of candidates, she said.

UW unveiled a comprehensive “search prospectus” Wednesday morning that included details on what it is looking for in its next athletic director.

Under “principal duties” for the position, it says the role requires someone who “develops and sustains a departmental culture that values diversity and inclusion, including such areas as recruitment, hiring and programming.”

Alvarez considered his coaching background a plus as he made the transition to leading an athletic department. These days, more and more director roles are being filled by people with a background in business.

The key, Blank said, is finding someone who can navigate both worlds during a time of immense change in college sports.

“We’re looking for people who hire and mentor great coaches,” she said, “and we’re looking for people who can run and manage a very complex athletic program … in a world where there are lots and lots of issues in front of athletics.”

A “special meeting” of the Athletic Board was held late Wednesday morning in closed session. UW spokesman John Lucas said the justification for doing so was “related to discussion of both the performance of (Alvarez), as it relates to the search for his successor, and the discussion of specific individuals who could be candidates for the position.”

That would seem to include one obvious internal candidate: UW deputy athletic director Chris McIntosh, who has been groomed by Alvarez for the job.

Blank was asked if she has concerns that the selection of a candidate publicly supported by Alvarez would be viewed as a rubber-stamped decision.

“As far as I can see, for every other athletic director search that has happened around this university, the process has been the following: The chancellor threw open his or her door and announced the candidate,” she said. “I have (put) a serious search committee together with a great chair. I’ve already made calls to a number of people around the Big Ten and elsewhere saying, ‘If you know good people, encourage them to be part of this search.’ We’re doing a national search and we’re going to look for the best candidate.”

Alvarez, according to Blank, will provide “advice and commentary” during the search process only when asked, but the search committee includes several people with close ties to him.

Members include Ted Kellner, a Milwaukee-area businessman, major donor to the university and one of Alvarez’s best friends.

Also on the committee are three Alvarez hires: Chryst, softball coach Yvette Healy and Alando Tucker, who worked in administration before moving into an assistant coaching role with the men’s basketball program.

Another committee member, Jeff Mack, played under Alvarez and now works in business development at Park Bank in Madison.

The other members of the committee are Elzie L. Higginbottom, a Chicago businessman and former UW men’s track and field standout; UW Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology chair Laurel Rice; and UW student-athlete advisory committee chair Eden Rane, a member of the lightweight rowing team.

Miller said the group’s mission is to pass along a group of qualified candidates — he estimated three to five finalists — from which Blank could choose.

“As the chancellor said, we’re eager to have a broad pool of applicants and a really high-quality pool of applicants,” Miller said. “This job is a very attractive one in so many ways, so we’re eager to pass a really high-quality slate onto the chancellor.”