STORRS, CONN., JULY 9 -- Lew Perkins, the athletic director at the University of Maryland for three turbulent years, resigned today to become athletic director at the University of Connecticut.
"I think my life has been enriched. I loved my three years at Maryland. It was tough, but I have no regrets," said Perkins, who signed a five-year Connecticut contract with annual salary estimated at $125,000 to $140,000. "It was a time of great personal growth for me and a great experience."
Perkins, 45, did concede that recently, many of those experiences were negative ones.
"It was in my best interest to move on," he said. The Terrapins currently are appealing a three-year NCAA probation for rule violations during the tenure of former basketball coach Bob Wade.
Maryland's College Park campus president, William E. Kirwan, said today an interim athletic director would be named "within the next few days." A search committee would start work shortly to replace Perkins full time.
Among those who could receive consideration, according to sources, are former Maryland basketball player and current TV commentator Len Elmore, former American University basketball coach Ed Tapscott, George Mason Athletic Director Jack Kvancz and Arizona Athletic Director Charles Harris.
Former Maryland athletic director Jim Kehoe and current assistant athletic director Sue Tyler have been mentioned as interim possibilities, along with several members of the university administration.
Connecticut, of the Big East, sought an athletic director since Todd Turner left in the spring to head the North Carolina State program.
Perkins's name came up for that job, as well as some other positions. He said he had dismissed the inquiries, but a call from Connecticut two weeks ago piqued his interest. The school's search committee had narrowed a list of 60 candidates down to three: Perkins, Kvancz and Kevin White, athletic director at Maine.
Perkins talked informally with university officials, then came here last weekend when he was offered the job. In 1987, when Perkins was at Wichita State, he turned down Connecticut (which turned to Turner) to take the Maryland post. This time he accepted, with, he said, the blessing of Kirwan and Maryland's coaches.
"Lew Perkins took the leadership of our Department of Intercollegiate Athletics at a challenging and difficult time. We greatly appreciate his service to the university over the past three years," Kirwan said in a statement.
Perkins's departure is a link in a series of major events in Maryland athletics. The three-year probation will keep the basketball team out of the NCAA tournament for two years and off live television for one. The athletic department is anticipating a $3.7 million deficit and recently announced a tiering system in which eight sports will lose all athletic scholarships. Perkins had preferred the elimination of four varsity sports and retention of scholarships for the other 19, but was overruled.
Last month NCAA investigators returned to College Park to look into allegations that current basketball coach Gary Williams and his staff conducted practices before the official Oct. 15 starting date. Maryland has admitted to two such workouts, but some former members of the athletic department claimed more had taken place. The NCAA Committee on Infractions will rule next month on the allegations. Maryland also is appealing its three-year probation.
The cumulative effect of the troubles seemed to wear on all parties concerned: Perkins, Maryland officials, alumni and state political leaders.
State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, one of Perkins's early supporters, said last weekend that for the past year Perkins has "been a purveyor of nothing but bad news" and added "we have sunk as low as any athletic program can sink."
Perkins said he understood Miller's frustration and the fact Perkins's plan to eliminate the four sports was not accepted.
"People made too much out of things like that," Perkins said. "It's a business, that's all. You float something out, it doesn't work, you come back and do something else."
Perkins did say he was proud of some of his accomplishments at Maryland.
"I think people will say, five years from now, six years from now, when the facilities are up, the classes are graduating, there are no drug problems, that 'Lew Perkins was all right, he did a good job.'
"It's kind of like when I left Wichita State and we had had a national championship in baseball and things were going well. Someone said to me: 'No one understands what you did. You put the mechanism in place and saw that it would work.' Maryland has a long way to go but the mechanism is in place for it to work."
Ironically, it was his work in concerns like tiering that made Perkins so attractive to Connecticut officials. The Huskies, who won the Big East basketball title along with five other conference championships last school year, face a number of issues, including whether to move from Division I-AA to I-A in football, bestowing varsity status on several club teams, and the possibility that certain schools, including Boston College and Pittsburgh, might defect from the Big East.
"Making tough decisions is a priority for us for the next five years and we think Lew will be able to do that," said Connecticut's interim president Harry Hartley. "I know people were unhappy with his decisions at times; sometimes when you make decisions they're against some people. But negative feelings aren't necessarily bad, it just shows that the guy had the guts to do something -- that's an asset, not a liability."
Until he begins his duties at Connecticut sometime next month, Perkins said he will be assisting in the transition at Maryland and will be available to help in its appeal to the NCAA in early August.
Statement by campus president William E. Kirwan on the departure of Lew Perkins:
Lew Perkins took the leadership of our Department of Intercollegiate Athletics at a challenging and difficult time. We greatly appreciate his service to the university over the past three years.
Mr. Perkins has been asked to consider other positions in the past. In this instance it was an opportunity he could not refuse. The University of Connecticut position allows him to return home to his native New England.
I am pleased that Mr. Perkins has consented to remain at Maryland for a few weeks to help make the transition as smooth as possible. Within the next few days, an announcement will be made concerning interim arrangements for leadership of the Intercollegiate Athletics Department.
Lew leaves many friends at College Park. Our best wishes go with him in his new position at the University of Connecticut.
Change, though never easy, is part of the life of a university. We will use this change as an opportunity to find new leadership who can help the University of Maryland at College Park build an exemplary intercollegiate athletics program.