Livengood? Good riddance.
While at the helm, athletics director Jim Livengood oversaw some of the more damaging instances in UA athletic history. He hired the disgraced John Mackovic, whose tenure was defined not only by poor football, but more importantly and more damaging, player unrest. The large group of football players that basically stormed then-President Peter Likins' office did as much damage as Mackovic by garnering embarrassing national headlines.
The saddest mistake in the hiring of Mackovic was that Dick Tomey had to be fired, a bad call on Livengood's part. Sure, Tomey ran the ball too much, was fairly predictable and his teams were often mediocre, but his players were always impressive individuals.
Then Mike Stoops was hired amid much fanfare and took the UA to its first bowl game in a decade. The only problem is it took five seasons to get there, a near-eternity in college sports. Any other coach at almost any other big school would have been replaced. Stoops is starting to look like a good hire, but can he lead Arizona to a Pac-10 title or a Rose Bowl? Time will tell.
Another huge bruise on Livengood's tenure was the Lute Olson situation. Olson, a legend, had earned the right to come back to Arizona if he chose, but was there anyone who actually thought he would be coming back?
It had to be a tough decision, but what would have been best for the UA is not going through two interim coaches, getting weaker each year, with no firm direction. On top of it, the two interim coaches, Kevin O'Neill and Russ Pennell, actually did a pretty good job, but were not given the opportunity to continue as head coach. Two years later, O'Neill got an opportunity from USC and defeated the UA team in Los Angeles.
It's not even the process of Olson's retirement that was most embarrassing, but the hunt for a replacement that followed and the numerous rejections the UA had to deal with. Mark Few? Not interested. Rick Pitino? Not interested. Even Tim Floyd was flown into Tucson to discuss the job, but he didn't end up taking it. Talk about rock bottom — that was difficult to take, but ended up being a blessing in disguise.
While the non-hire made Livengood look bad, the fact that he was pursuing a mediocre coach with a reputation for questionable recruiting tactics made him look worse. After Floyd and his violations were exposed and he was forced to resign from USC, Livengood breathed a sigh of relief, and yet managing to dodge that bullet ended up not being enough to garner a contract extension.
Men's basketball and football are the most important sports at many schools and while Livengood did very well as a numbers guy and was great at keeping the department in the black, he was a disappointment as a recruiter. In 16 years as the UA athletic director, he failed in getting to the Rose Bowl and only inherited the already successful Lute Olson. Livengood's reputation here could eventually be defined by the Sean Miller hire. For his sake, let's hope Miller starts a dynasty and his own tournament streak.
— Chris Ward is an English senior.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
Athletics director gave solid 16 years
As a sports reporter for the Daily Wildcat for three and a half years, I got to know Jim Livengood pretty well. No, we weren't buddies by any stretch of the imagination, but whether we spoke together on the phone, in his office or during Mother's Day brunch at the Tucson Country Club, he was a kind and honest man. He spoke quickly and annunciated all of his words.
And damn was he good at what he did.
Now that Livengood has left the UA after 16 years for the same job at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, we can thumb through the proverbial yearbook of his tenure at the helm of the Arizona Athletics department and only hope that his permanent successor does as well.
Yes, the UA football team encountered some rough years in the late 1990s and early 2000s — but hey, that's sports. You can't win 'em all. It's no wonder that the team has gotten better in each year of Mike Stoops' reign. Livengood had a problem, and he fixed it.
And sure, he named Kevin O'Neill the permanent successor for former men's basketball head coach Lute Olson before Olson nixed the plan, but you've got to try to save the future of recruiting some way.
But what about the fact that Olson decided to originally retire without even telling Livengood? you ask. Well, that blame should go toward Olson, not the athletics director.
Livengood said himself that an athletics director usually spends seven or eight years at one school. He made it 16 and left the UA with the Athletics Department — which has no funding help from the state — in the black during a huge recession. The $14 million Richard Jefferson Gymnasium was built under his watch, and there are plans to spend $378 million to revamp Arizona Stadium and McKale Center.
There has to be a reason why Livengood's contract wasn't renewed past this upcoming June, all but forcing him to find a new job, but I'm not yet sure what that reason is.
Nevertheless, he hired cross country coach James Li, who has produced numerous Olympic runners; baseball coach Andy Lopez, who has led Arizona to trips to the College World Series; Niya Butts, who is slowly rebuilding the women's hoops program; and, oh yeah, that man named Sean Miller was a pretty big score, though his team's progress — much like Mike Stoops' — will take time.
The UNLV Rebels just got one hell of an athletics director. The UA and Tucson community should realize this.
For Arizona's sake, hopefully the next athletics director can live up to Livengood's name as well.
— Lance Madden is a journalism senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.