Carl James, who is expected to be offered the athletic directorship at the University of Maryland, is a man well respected by his peers nationally, yet scorned at Duke University, where he served his alma mater as athletic director for five years.
In many ways, he is like Jim Kehoe, the man he will succeed Sept. 1, a pragmatist who can make enemies merely by virtue of his decision making. Yet, in personality, he is a complete opposite to a controversial Kehoe - low key, a man who prefers to remain in the background, a Southern gentleman, if you will.
James, 49, currently serves as executive director of the Sugar Bowl, a position he took six days after resigning at Duke last summer. There, he ran afoul of Duke alumni, coaches, administration and the press in running a program that was subsidized with $500,000 annually by the university.
He said he never overspent his budget. But, in the process, James eliminated scholarships in nonrevenue sports and scheduled financially attractive road games against such football powers as Michigan and Alabama. Sources say he lacked autonomy and was merely the fall guy for the Duke administration.
"I had a good relationship with the administration," James said. "Some new people came in and maybe their background and expertise led them to make a different decision from the ones I would have made. I had two choices - agree or do something else."
His alleged power struggle with the football coach, Mike McGee, was played out of proportion, sources said. McGee simply wanted what any coach would: more money, a willingness to stretch Duke's tough academic requirements and fewer opponents like Michigan and Alabama.
"I was glad when Carl quit at Duke," said Gene Corrigan, James' classmate at Duke and the athletic director at Virginia. "He loved that place so much, but he couldn't do a lot of the things he wanted to do. He was frustrated."
James said, "I couldn't work magic. Some of the decisions I made weren't popular. I made them after a lot of work and did what was best for Duke, not for the individual coach."
One of James' most unpopular decisions at the time has turned out to be the one that returned the Blue Devils to the athletic glory days of the 1960s under Bill Murray football and Vic Bubas in basketball. James hired Bill Foster as basketball coach in 1973 over Neal McGeachy, a popular assistant.
Bucky Waters had resigned as basketball coach and James, who had been in office 15 days, named McGeachy interim coach and set out on a 20-day nationwide trip to round up candidates, James was accused of being indecisive and a procrastinator.
"We were not able to attract many people to the job at that time." James said. "In some quarters, hiring him (Forster) was not the popular thing to do. But I felt it was the best thing to do, not for Carl James, but for Duke."
The Blue Devils were runner-up to Kentucky for the NCAA championship last season and will be the early favourites to win it next season.
But, even today, one southwestern athletic, director praises James as "a good man who will do a good job," but adds, "I don't know how decisive he is."
James' reputation as a procrastinator was not enhanced by what has become known as the Penn State fiasco. Duke had a football contract with Penn State, which wanted out so it could play Rutgers for considerably more money.
The series eventually was canceled, after seven months of hassling. Penn State came out looking good. Duke did not, especially when it took James some time to line up another opponent.
When he left Duke, James was the chairman of the Atlantic Coast Conference athletic directors. In that job, he had a reputation among his peers as a thoroughly organized person. He also had been a leader in the effort by the major football schools to protect themselves when the NCAA studied ways to reduce costs as inflation spiraled.
"He has good ideas and a good concept of the role of intercollegiate athletics," Corrigan said. "I don't know of anyone I have higher regard for, personally or professionally."
The public James and the private James are different, according to those who know him well. The public James is a serious, austere person; the private James is an outgoing individual with a good sense of humor who can take the spotlight.
James was a student politician at Duke, as well as a football player of some reknown and a discus thrower; his public posture is a pragmatic one: "The athletic director runs the program, but the coaches and the players are the stars. The athletic director should be in the background. He does not need to be in the limelight, but needs to be supportive."
Maryland President John Toll is expected to recommend James' appointment to the board of regents soon. Little if any opposition is expected there. That would pave the way for James to be offered the job.
Yesterday, James termed as "very speculative at this point" that the job would be offered and he would accept it. He also volunteered it could be a home coming for his wife Marjoria who is a Washington native and attended Anacostia High before going to Duke.