The University of Colorado made new athletic director Rick George the highest paid administrator in the history of the school and the CU system Wednesday when it hired him to lead its financially troubled athletic department.
George, who previously worked at the school (1987-1991) as director of football operations for former coach Bill McCartney, called the athletic director position his dream job. He said it is one of a small handful of jobs that were attractive enough to get him to leave his post as president of business operations for the Texas Rangers in Major League Baseball. George had been in that job since 2010. His first day at CU will be Aug. 12.
"I'm here today because I'm convinced this is the best job at the best university in the best conference," George said at his midday introductory press conference on the club level at Folsom Field. George is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he played football for four seasons in the 1980s.
After doubling the football coaching staff's salary pool to approximately $5 million in December when it hired Mike MacIntyre and recently giving basketball coach Tad Boyle a sizeable raise, CU leaders are putting up the money to back up rhetoric about competing for Pac-12 Conference and national titles.
Chancellor Phil DiStefano said George's name landed on his desk early in the process of searching for a replacement for former AD Mike Bohn, whom DiStefano ousted in late-May after eight years. DiStefano said he, President Bruce Benson and a small search committee settled on George recently when it became clear he was their best candidate.
DiStefano said George was the sole finalist for the job, though he did talk with approximately six other people who had interest in the position. He
In addition to his $700,000 base salary, George is eligible to earn incentives for fundraising, sponsorship, licensing, academic achievement and other successes that could raise his compensation to as much as $1.3 million a year. The contract must be approved by the Board of Regents next month, but that is expected to be a formality.
"It's to get that talent," DiStefano said explaining why he felt he needed to pay George twice as much as CU was paying Bohn. "To be competitive in the Pac-12, with coaches' salaries and AD's salaries I believe you have to be competitive. You have to pay the market price."
George inherits an athletic department mired in debt caused by forfeiting nearly two years of conference revenue when it moved from the Big 12 to the Pac-12 , three football coaching changes in seven years and poor football ticket sales in 2012.
DiStefano said at the outset of the search that he wanted to hire a candidate who could run the athletic department more like a business and balance its budget every year. Perhaps most importantly, DiStefano valued a candidate with a strong record in fundraising.
George worked in fundraising at Vanderbilt University after leaving CU. He also worked for a nonprofit children's charity group raising money before he moved back into the sports world leading the Champions Tour and the PGA Tour in professional golf.
CU announced plans in February to raise at least $50 million privately of $170 million in funds needed for facilities upgrades and new construction in and around Folsom Field. The athletic department has never raised even $16 million in one year but a feasibility study conducted last year by an outside agency said $50 million was an achievable goal without including a timeline for doing it.
George wasn't specific when asked what he will do differently that will allow CU to meet its historic fundraising goals, but he made it clear he believes reaching the goal and more is possible.
"I've got to be out in front in our fundraising," George said. "I'm excited about that. I think it's about relationships and people believing in what you're doing."
George said one of his first priorities will be getting all CU supporters to put aside disagreements and hurt feelings from the past and come together to support the department.
"I know today this is kind of a divided Buff nation," he said. "It's time that we get that nation back together. We don't need to point fingers anymore."
DiStefano was specific about what convinced him that George can get the fundraising job done.
"When you look at his record with sponsorships with the PGA and what he has turned around in the Rangers as far as selling tickets and if you look at his resume from when he started to now, he's the president of business operations," DiStefano said. "He has the right personality. He has been part of CU when we were in our glory days and we want to bring back those glory days.
"I think that he can work with not just the major donors that we talk about all the time. What we have to do to raise the $50 million and to raise more than $50 (million) is bring in new donors. You don't want to rely on one or two people all the time. I think he has the skills the personality to get in front of people and to convince them to invest in CU."
George and CU badly need first-year football coach Mike MacIntyre to show progress in turning around the department's flagship program. George said he met MacIntyre for the first time on Wednesday and is eager to work with him and help him in whatever ways he can. MacIntyre said he believes George's reputation as a great recruiter will help his program. George played an integral role in recruiting some of the biggest stars of CU football in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Alfred Williams, Deon Figures, Joel Steed and Mike Pritchard.
"The other thing that is exciting to me is he has worked in have-not situations, nonprofits and that kind of thing, where you have to go and talk to people and raise money," MacIntyre said. "That's an art. It really is.
"The thing to me that weighs over everything is his passion to be at CU. It's going to take an ultimate amount of energy and passion for us to be successful."
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