TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State has never been afraid of thinking outside the box when hiring an athletic director, but you'd suspect the university would like its choice, once hired, to stay inside the box a bit longer.
When NFL executive Ray Anderson was hired in January, he became the Sun Devils' sixth athletic director since 1996, with former ADs such as Kevin White, Gene Smith and, most recently, Steve Patterson leaving for bigger, richer athletic departments.
That shows Sun Devils administrators are pretty good at hiring ADs because they are shortly coveted by other programs, but they'd appreciate some continuity, particularly at a critical time when they are trying to get a stadium renovated.
Anderson is an intriguing pick for a variety of reasons, but a critical one is it appears he really wants to be in Tempe.
"I didn't come here to have this be a stepping stone to somewhere else," he said. "This is where I want to be."
One reason to believe Anderson's not-uncommon assertion is he took a pay cut to come to ASU. As the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations based in Manhattan, he said he made over $2 million a year. His base pay at Arizona State will be $600,000, though potential bonuses could as much as double that number.
Anderson said money wasn't the issue. He said, in fact, he was looking for "a more balanced situation where revenue is not the only driver" and had told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in December that he was looking to move on.
"For me, [his NFL job] had run its course ... my position had evolved into dispute resolution," he said. "It became a lot of arguing, fighting and clawing for territory. After a while, that wasn't fun anymore."
He was contacted by Jed Hughes, a friend who worked for executive search firm Korn Ferry, about the vacancy at Arizona State and was immediately intrigued. Things moved pretty quickly, as his hiring was announced just two months after Patterson left.
The fit 59-year-old said he's in the "fourth quarter" of his career, but that "even the word retirement scares me." He projected he'd like to stick around for 12 to 15 years.
It's unlikely, however, he will face any more important challenge over the next decade than the short-term need to improve the Sun Devils football facilities, starting with the renovation of Sun Devil Stadium.
"We need to spruce up the place, quite frankly," he said.
The stadium project already has begun at a symbolic level with renovation of the north end zone, a demolition that will open up the view to Tempe Town Lake and reduce capacity by about 5,700 seats. But that's not part of an ambitious $260 million plan to completely renovate and modernize the stadium, which will require raising $50 million.
That, once Patterson's challenging child, is now Anderson's to raise. The goal is to open the renovated stadium before the 2016 season.
Anderson, a Stanford and Harvard Law School graduate, knows about dealing with people and negotiating. A former agent, he represented Tony Dungy, Brian Billick, Tyrone Willingham and Marvin Lewis, among others. He's also a quick learner when it comes to AD-speak.
As in, "Your athletic success kind of brands your university, the broad appeal and knowledge people have a lot of times is led by how your football and basketball teams are doing."
Or, "[We need to] strike balance between revenue generation and what's good for the student-athlete and coaches."
Arizona State football seems to be on the uptick under coach Todd Graham, but there's no question the arms race has been renewed in the Pac-12 and the rest of the country. And that ASU lags behind most top-25 programs.
Anderson's chief task as long as he fronts Arizona State's athletic program is to make sure the Sun Devils catch up. And then becomes a member of the elite.
"There's no question our facility, our football facilities, are substandard," he said. "We can't hide from that. I've been in a lot better football facilities than here and we need to do something about it."