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Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Turner announces resignation as Washington athletic director

Associated Press

SEATTLE -- If Washington athletic director Todd Turner's abrupt resignation Tuesday was indeed the mutual decision that he and his boss say it was, it could be the most lopsided one in the history of mutual decisions.

The departure of the man credited with restoring integrity to Huskies athletics surprised the program's coaches during a morning meeting called by Turner. It came six days after university President Mark Emmert retained coach Tyrone Willingham despite the football team's continued struggles.

Turner was a staunch advocate for Willingham, to whom Emmert has promised one additional season but no more. The many angry Huskies fans and alumni who wanted Willingham fired after he became the first UW coach to finish three consecutive losing seasons may view Turner's departure, which is effective Jan. 31, as a move to appease them.

But Emmert said, unsolicited, that Turner's leaving had nothing to do with Willingham staying. Emmert instead cited a lack of general "fit" between Turner and all the school wants accomplished inside its athletic department, a $60 million business with 23 sports and about 650 student athletes within the Pac-10.

"There will be a number of folks who will want to, I'm sure, integrate this somehow around coach Willingham. And that's not the case at all," said Emmert, formerly the president at football power LSU.

Hours later, Turner had a different view.

After saying he was "disappointed," Turner was asked if he felt the furor for months over whether to retain Willingham -- who was out recruiting and unavailable Tuesday -- had much to do with his departure.

"For me, it did," Turner said.

The 56-year-old former athletic director at Vanderbilt from 1996-2003 said he believed lack of football wins in his 3½-year tenure at Washington began to trump all else he was accomplishing.

"It just was enlightening of where our society, our culture has gone and where their expectations are about what constitutes a quality program on a campus of higher education," Turner said in a telephone interview.

"Believe me, that is not to say that winning is not important, and Dr. Emmert and I are in complete agreement on that. But the message that our students hear, that our coaches hear, that our leadership hears from the general run-of-the-mill fan is, the only thing they really care about is how many games we win.

"And I have to look at that, after 32 years of doing this, and say, 'Wow, is that really what it's all about? Have I been naive all this period of time? Have I spent all my time working on the student athlete experience and trying to create better lives for people and our proper place in higher education, when all I should have been worried about was how many games we won?

"Why didn't I go to the NFL, if that's what it was about?"

Turner was in the middle of a five-year contract worth $325,000 a year in base salary, with incentives that made the package potentially worth up to $420,000 annually. He had also received a low-interest, $475,000 home loan from the university.

Emmert said the school would honor all terms of that deal through its completion.

Turner said he wasn't sure what his next job will be and that he doesn't have to be an athletic director to be happy, but he expects to remain in intercollegiate athletics somewhere.

Emmert, then the incoming president who was not yet in the job, hired Turner in 2004 when Washington's athletic department was reeling from controversies. That included the firing by then-AD Barbara Hedges of football coach Rick Neuheisel for participating in college basketball betting pools and his resulting lawsuit against the school.

There was also a scandal on the softball team in which a team doctor pleaded guilty to federal charges of improperly supplying players with prescription narcotics.

"We had to, appropriately, really focus on integrity and morale issues," Emmert said. "We've gotten the ship upright and bailed out.

"[But] we also have a lot of other things we need to get done in the athletic program."

Washington's project for desperately needed renovations to 87-year-old Husky Stadium, the Pac-10's oldest venue, has almost no momentum. The complicated effort, fraught with political, infrastructure and financial challenges, is lagging in raising the hundreds of millions of dollars Turner has said it will take to remake the stadium to UW's liking.

Turner was spearheading that project. He said "we haven't asked one person for one nickel for the football stadium," because of pressure from local governments to ensure the project first meshes with a light-rail transportation project that is to run past the stadium.

Emmert acknowledged the stadium renovation is a concern, but that a winning football team should spark money from donors.

Turner took exception to any idea that his business acumen was lacking.

"What are the measurements of running a good business, profitability?" Turner said. "Well, let me just give you a little bit of history on profitability.

"The year before my arrival [2003], we had a reserve of $13.7 million. During the Neuheisel controversies of the following year, because we had to make settlements and make payments, that fund balance went down to $5.8 million. Today, the fund balance is $19 million. Our contributions [from donors] have gone from about $14 million in '04 to almost $26 million this past year.

"If that's poor business management, from a financial standpoint, then I am hard pressed to understand your definition.

"And I feel a lot of pride in the way that we have been able to manage this team of people ... to create an atmosphere that lacked controversy."

Emmert announced Scott Woodward, Washington's vice president for external affairs, will become the acting athletic director when Turner leaves. The school promised a national search for a permanent replacement. Emmert hopes to have UW's 16th athletic director by the spring.