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Maryland AD Kevin Anderson's goal: 'Finish first in everything we do'

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 6, 2010; 1:05 AM

There was a time when a college athletic director's job was largely ceremonial - a golden parachute for a beloved former football coach tasked with glad-handing alumni in exchange for a cushy salary and plush office.

Today, it's a profession unto itself, demanding an executive who is, at turns, a personnel manager, fundraiser, budget analyst, public-relations expert and ethicist.

As Maryland's first new athletic director in 16 years, Kevin Anderson has been charged with all that. And he takes over at a challenging time, with constricting state budgets forcing public universities nationwide to rein in their spending and scale back their ambitions.

Yet upon being formally introduced as Debbie Yow's replacement in September, Anderson, 55, who came to Maryland after five years as Army's athletic director, pledged that under his watch the Terrapins would compete to win and "finish first in everything we do."

It was an inspirational rallying cry, to be sure. But it leads to two questions:

Is Anderson's vision reconcilable with a broad-based athletics program such as the one at Maryland, which fields 27 sports for nearly 700 athletes on an annual budget of $55 million (down from $58 million in 2009)?

And, as a relative outsider, will Anderson - a California native who compiled his impressive resume exclusively in the Pacific-10 and Patriot League - be effective in energizing the Terrapins fan base?

Yale Athletic Director Tom Beckett, who worked alongside Anderson at Stanford in the early 1990s, has little doubt on either count, characterizing Anderson as "a rising star" in athletic administration.

"He is a tireless worker," Beckett said. "He has the ethics of the finest people you will meet. He's someone who values the idea of developing a team. And his skills as a leader are extraordinary."

Invested in young people

In conversation, Anderson is warm and direct, measured and thoughtful. Unlike many in college sports, he doesn't come across as a salesman. Yet he views college sports as having something to sell: The exceptional talent and commitment of student-athletes, who he believes, if coaches and administrators do their jobs well, will become the country's next leaders.

"We're investing in our young people for tomorrow, for this country," Anderson said. "If the athletic departments are successful, the byproduct is someone who is going to be productive, a good citizen and an active participant in growing our community and leading the country."

At Maryland, Anderson's first order of business is football.

Questions about Coach Ralph Friedgen's job security, which were fueled by last season's miserable 2-10 campaign, have tapered off after the Terrapins' 6-2 start to this season.

When asked about the coach's status in a recent interview, Anderson pointed to Friedgen's winning record (then 4-1) and stressed intangibles, as well.

"Coach loves these kids, and he's very good with them," Anderson said. "He is involved with them day to day. And in terms of academics and the mission of graduating these kids, he firmly believes in and participates in that. That's part of the components I'm going to be looking at. But he understands as well as I do that it does come down to wins and losses."

The more vexing question Anderson faces is how to boost the Terrapins' football revenue.

Even though the team has improved this season, game-day attendance remains poor. The smallest crowd of the Friedgen era, 33,254, showed up for a September game against Florida International. Last Saturday's homecoming game against Wake Forest didn't do much better, with 39,063 in a stadium that seats 55,000. And plenty of luxury suites remain unsold.

Maryland is hardly alone in struggling to keep its football program solvent. In 2009, only 14 of the 120 schools that compete in NCAA's top football classification brought in more money than they spent.

Based on Anderson's record at Army, he seems suited to the task of increasing Maryland's athletic revenue

Anderson came to Army in 2004 and proceeded to turn a deficit of more than $1 million into a surplus of $2.73 million. He helped broker a five-year, $55 million deal with CBS to broadcast the Army-Navy game. He upgraded locker room and practice facilities. And he hired several young, ambitious coaches who quickly produced: Rich Ellerson in football, Zach Spiker in men's basketball, Michelle DePolo in softball and Russell Payne, a former assistant to Maryland's Sasho Cirovski, in men's soccer.

"The vision he gave us all was that he wanted the coaches to have everything they needed to win. He wanted the teams to win. And he trusted the coaches in terms of what we thought we needed to be successful," Payne said. "He was really responsible for the resurgence of Army athletics over the last half-decade."

'He is firm but fair'

Before taking over at Army, Anderson was executive associate athletic director at Oregon State, where he was in charge of marketing and promotion. Before that, he worked for Xerox, then in the athletic departments of Stanford and California-Berkeley.

While at Stanford he met Dusty Baker, then manager of the San Francisco Giants, when both served on the Giants' community-outreach board that raised money to build ballparks for local kids.

Baker said he was struck initially by Anderson's low-key demeanor, with no apparent need for the spotlight, and the ease with which he could relate to people from all walks of life. They have been friends since.

"He is firm but fair," Baker said. "He knows how to talk to young people and get the most out of them. He's a straight shooter. But stern, too, which is what you need."

What struck Terrapins men's basketball coach Gary Williams, a member of the Maryland search committee charged with finding Yow's successor, was Anderson's ambition.

"The challenge of running major college football and basketball programs appealed to him," Williams said. "He made that clear when we asked him questions in the interview process. That's what I wanted to hear. I want to win another national championship, and I think football can be great here. He felt like he wanted that challenge, and that's what appealed to me most."

No doubt it will help Anderson to have the good will of Maryland's most powerful coaches, Williams and Friedgen, whose relationships with Yow had grown strained over the years, as he embarks on his ambitious agenda.

"My expectation is that we compete at the highest level," Anderson said. "Yes, I'm realistic about how some of these teams are resourced. But I can't sit down and look a young person in the face and say, 'Oh well, I don't have any expectations for you to win.' There are obstacles in life. Sometimes we don't have the resources we need. But my expectation is that we find a way. And we're going to do the best possible job. And we're going to find a way."

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