FORT COLLINS — Colorado State University president Tony Frank on Friday announced the firing of athletic director Jack Graham, saying it had become clear the two men had irreconcilable differences of opinion about the direction of the department.
"I have elected to terminate Jack Graham's employment as athletic director," Frank said in a statement sent just after 3:30 p.m. "While I am grateful to Jack for the energy he's brought to CSU in establishing a culture that expects excellence within Ram Athletics and his actions in hiring great coaches and staff, there have come to exist some substantial differences in our views.
"Based on our differences, I have chosen to exercise the termination for convenience clause within Jack's contract to allow the university and the athletic department to move forward, building on the successes that Jack brought to our program. As a personnel issue, this will be the university's only comment on this personnel action."
Graham, a former Rams quarterback who had retired from a successful business career when he was hired as his alma mater's AD nearly three years ago, released his own statement expressing surprise and disappointment with the decision.
He listed his major accomplishments while AD, which include hiring nine head coaches; extending contracts for football, men's and women's basketball and volleyball; increasing ticket sales; setting "records for fund-raising for athletics at CSU; and gaining "tremendous support for the stadium."
The latter referred to the proposed on-campus stadium, a project Graham championed even before he took the job.
"I sincerely hope that the university's decision today will not derail the significant strides and positive developments that have been made in CSU Athletics and our fundraising efforts for the new stadium," Graham said. "I will personally miss the opportunity to continue to build on what we have accomplished during the past two and a half years."
John Morris, Graham's deputy AD since July 2012, was named interim athletic director.
"CSU athletics has made great strides in the past few years, thanks in significant part to Jack Graham's vision and passion for CSU," Morris said in a statement. "With our outstanding student-athletes, coaches and staff, in addition to the tremendous support we receive from everyone in the Rams community, we will continue to build on the strong momentum that has been created."
Morris was senior associate AD at Washington for eight years before coming to Fort Collins.
"In John, we are fortunate to have a seasoned, successful administrator who has the respect and support of the entire athletic department to help guide us through this transition," Frank said in the release.
Frank attended a CSU system board of governors meeting Friday in Pueblo, and the announcement of Graham's firing came in a news release.
The university release emphasized that the firing of Graham "is unrelated to the stadium issue," alluding to the Graham-led campaign to raise $110 million by October to greenlight the on-campus stadium project. That $110 million would be about half the cost of the stadium, and Frank two years ago set that as the goal before the project could move forward. Frank will brief the CSU system's board of governors on the status of the stadium project in October, and the university release noted his presentation would address the "impact of the leadership change."
After the Rams' Friday football practice, coach Jim McElwain — Graham's first hire — said he heard the news just before going on the field.
"I haven't had much chance to wrap my arms around it," McElwain said. "I do know this, that Jack and Ginger are great friends. He's the guy who brought me here. But I know Tony Frank and this administration, and the reason I came here is because of great leadership. Tony's a guy we support 100 percent, obviously, and he's always been in our corner."
Graham assumed the AD role on Dec. 1, 2011, succeeding the fired Paul Kowalczyk. Prior to that, Kowalczyk asked Graham to contribute to a Hall of Fame project in Moby Arena. Graham declined and approached Frank, asking if he could lead the fund-raising for what he believed would be a true difference-maker — an on-campus stadium.
Struck by Graham's ambitious project and energy, Frank sounded him out about becoming AD himself, and Kowalczyk's firing and Graham's hiring were announced shortly thereafter.
In the nearly three years since, Frank and Graham at least publicly seemed to be on the same page, with Graham essentially making the choices to hire football coach Jim McElwain, men's basketball coach Larry Eustachy and women's basketball coach Ryun Williams.
Morris was hired as deputy AD in July 2012, and even his official CSU bio noted he "handled all day-to-day operations of the athletic department." His hiring freed up Graham to deal with stadium fund-raising.
Graham's contract runs until November 2016. CSU officials said that under a "termination for convenience provision," Graham could be fired "at any time for any reason." Graham will receive salary and benefits for 90 more days, and will receive monthly payments in line with his annual $260,000 salary. If he takes another job — unlikely at this point — any salary he gets in that role would be subtracted from what CSU owes him. The university release said Graham would be paid with private funds.
"Our athletic department has made great strides in the last few years, and I wholeheartedly expect that progress to continue," Frank said in the release. "This in no way diminishes our institutional commitment to excellence in athletics. We're excited about the future of our program and looking forward to a great year."
Frank said of the upcoming search for Graham's successor: "As I have always said, athletics is a key part of our overall success as an institution, and we'll be looking for the kind of positive, forward-thinking leadership that can play a pivotal role in our continued overall success as an institution."
Terry Frei: email@example.com or twitter.com/tfrei
CSU athletic directors
Jack Graham 2011-14
Paul Kowalczyk 2006-11
Mark Driscoll 2003-06
Jeff Hathaway 2001-03
Corey Johnson 1990-93
Oval Jaynes 1986-91
Fum McGraw 1976-86
Jack O'Leary 1974-76
Perry Moore 1968-74
Jim Williams 1965-68
Bob Davis 1953-65
Harry Hughes 1911-53
George Cassidy 1910-11
Claude Rothgeb 1906-10
John McIntosh 1904-05