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Thursday, December 1, 2011
Colorado State fires Paul Kowalczyk

ESPN.com news services

Colorado State has fired athletic director Paul Kowalczyk and replaced him with former Rams quarterback John C. "Jack" Graham, the university announced Thursday.

Amid Kowalczyk's dismissal, football coach Steve Fairchild's future at the school is uncertain, sources told ESPN's Joe Schad on Thursday.

Under Fairchild, the Rams are 3-8 overall and 1-5 in the Mountain West. They have lost seven straight games heading into the regular-season finale Saturday against Wyoming.

Graham, who played for CSU from 1973-74, will evaluate all athletic programs and meet with donors and supporters.

"I want to see our football program a consistently Top 25 ranked football team in the country. I want to see us playing in bowl games every year. I want basketball programs to be consistently competing for conference titles and championships and in NCAA tournaments," Graham said. "We have high standards and expectations."

Graham said his goal is threefold: to keep the school's squeaky clean image -- it's never run afoul of the NCAA -- maintain high academic standards and win.

"We will talk openly about the good, the bad and the ugly that exists inside our athletic department including the football program," Graham said. "I am not happy and I know no one is happy of where our football program stands today."

He's going to ride up to the Wyoming border with Fairchild on Friday, when the two schools' ROTC groups exchange the traditional game ball ahead of Saturday's season finale.

"Is it an interview process? I think that is a fair characterization," Graham said. "Steve has a leg up because Steve has four years of history at the institution and 17 of our 24 starters are coming back next year. There is a ton of work that Steve and his staff have done. I need to know what work has been done and where he thinks the program is and what he thinks it can look like in 2012."

The Rams are 16-32 under Fairchild, who was hired before the 2008 season after the firing of longtime coach Sonny Lubick.

Graham graduated from CSU in 1975 with a degree in history and went on to become an international businessman. He's a novice, however, at running an athletic department.

"He has experience in business," university president Tony Frank said. "And there are pros and cons to that. So, bringing in someone without that AD experience means that we get a completely fresh set of eyes and a different look of how that world works. On the other hand, it gives him a very steep learning curve and puts a lot of pressure on our staff to make sure that we're doing the right things in terms of all the rules, regulations and compliance that come with a clean NCAA program."

Kowalczyk had been in charge of the Rams' athletic department for six years, and last year signed a five-year contract extension through 2015.

"What made the decision hard for me was I considered Paul Kowalczyk a good friend," Frank said. "He is a wonderful human being and he worked hard on behalf of the university. I just thought that there was a need to have someone taken us to the next level, specifically in the category of winning. And better sooner than later."

Graham will make $260,000 a year over five years, the same deal that Kowalczyk had. Kowalczyk will receive a full buyout for the 3½ years remaining on his deal, which will come from private funds, Frank said.

Since his arrival in Fort Collins in 2006, Kowalczyk was instrumental in the upgrades of the Rams' training facilities, but he had a hit-and-miss record with coaching moves.

Kowalczyk's most questioned decision was his firing of Lubick after four straight non-winning seasons. Lubick was 108-74 overall at Colorado State, as the Rams won or shared six conference titles and went to nine bowl games.

A loss Saturday to Wyoming would leave the Rams with their third straight 3-9 finish under Fairchild, who has a year and $750,000 left on his contract.

Kowalczyk's hiring of men's basketball coach Tim Miles in 2007 turned out better. The Rams have gone 40-31 over the last two-plus seasons, and on Wednesday night beat archrival Colorado 65-64.

In 2009, CSU opened a training facility that includes an indoor football practice field, basketball and volleyball courts and an academic and strength and conditioning center.

Under Kowalczyk, the school also upgraded Hughes Stadium, furnished Moby Arena with new video boards and opened a $2 million tennis facility.

Information from ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.