BOISE, Idaho -- Boise State President Bob Kustra made clear his top priority in the job description for a new athletic director: Candidates must play by NCAA rules as they strive to advance Bronco sports to the next level.
But interested candidates should also have the skill to help Boise State transition into a tougher new conference, and quite possibly with the stigma and challenges of NCAA sanctions the school faces for violations in the football program and other sports.
The next Bronco sports chief should also know how to raise money -- either from a small base of fans, alumni and corporate donors or through innovative marketing -- needed to expand the Bronco Stadium, build a swanky new football complex and sweeten the contract that keeps football coach Chris Petersen from trading southwestern Idaho for the next high-profile coaching vacancy.
Kustra, a former Illinois lieutenant governor who came to Boise nine years ago, announced Wednesday the ouster of longtime athletic director Gene Bleymaier. Kustra praised Bleymaier's achievements over the last 30 years, but said the university needs new leadership as it emerges from its first investigation into NCAA infractions.
Kustra was out of town and did not respond to an interview request from The Associated Press on Thursday. He intends to appoint an interim athletic director after Bleymaier officially steps down on Sept. 8 then being a national search for a permanent athletic director.
Like Bleymaier, Kustra dreams big for Boise State. Kustra has been a big proponent of getting Boise State into a higher-profile conference and he's been a vocal critic of the BCS for creating a system that works against schools from smaller conferences without automatic invitations to the big postseason games.
The question facing Kustra and the kind of candidate he will seek hinges on how continued athletic success fits into his bigger vision for the university.
"It's the same for every college president these days," said Michael Mondello, a professor at Florida State University's sports management school and researcher focused on money in college sports. "How do they want to deal with the fundraising pressure? What role do they want athletics to play if they really value the academic growth. It's a tough business model."
With the financial and compliance challenges facing the next Bronco sports chief, Mondello said Boise State could be the latest school to look beyond career administrators or former coaches to fill the job. Last year, Michigan hired the former CEO of Domino's Pizza to manage the athletic department and its $122 million budget. In 2008, Notre Dame hired Jack Swarbrick, a lawyer and sports agent, to help revive Irish football and basketball programs.
The trend of hiring business and marketing minds is even playing out at smaller schools. In April, George Washington University tapped Patrick Nero, whose background is in fundraising and marketing, to be the new athletic director.
"When you are running a major athletic department these days, and the money you need to raise and money being spent requires a far different skill set than what we saw from those in the job 15 or 20 years ago," Mondello said. "There is a whole business and marketing side of it that fits in so well with people who have expertise or degrees in those areas."
Bleymaier leaves with an impressive resume of achievement and growth for Boise State sports.
He shepherded the school through three conferences, and each time the Broncos became the dominant team in football and other sports, including wrestling and tennis. He grew the athletic department budget from $2 million in his first year in 1982 to nearly $31 million this year.
A former college football player, Bleymaier was also the mastermind behind the football stadium's signature blue turf, the boss who hired the line of coaches credited with changing Boise State from a Division II upstart into a powerhouse that has elbowed its way into the national title debate the last two years.
Twice he successfully tapped a small fan, alumni and corporate base for money to expand Bronco Stadium, and was at the start of a third drive to add 20,000 more seats and a fancy new complex for football offices, locker rooms and training facilities.
"The legacy that he created will leave us with a solid foundation for many years to come," Kustra said.