NAU’s Jim Fallis is leaving AD post…is ASU’s Love next?

The announced departure of Jim Fallis at Northern Arizona University means that Arizona State‘s Lisa Love will become the longest-tenured athletic director at the three state Division I colleges.

And she has been there fewer than seven years.

However, that could change in the not-too-distant future.  Love’s base of support at ASU has been eroding lately and there’s widespread speculation that her time in Tempe may be drawing to a close.

If Love goes, that would mean Greg Byrne down in Tucson would become the elder statesman.   The ASU grad took over at the University of Arizona just one year and 10 months ago.

Fallis is said to be leaving NAU for “personal reasons.”  He just announced he would not seek an extension to his expiring contract, but would stay around to fulfill job obligations throughout the remainder of his contract, through the end of June.

The decision comes at a time when Fallis is said to be a finalist for the vacant AD position at his alma mater, Northern State University in South Dakota.

It also comes on the heels of an investigation he conducted into potential school and NCAA rules violations by his long-time head basketball coach, Mike Adras.  Adras resigned nine games into the season, just before word of the investigation went public (See phxfan article 1/31/12).

The administration has put a good face on the situation, issuing a statement praising Fallis for the good work he has done for the university, citing the academic achievements of the athletes during his time there, as well as the 28 combined BCS titles.  But details about his reasons for leaving were not included.

Jim Livengood was also facing an expiring contract when he left Tucson at the beginning of 2010, after almost 16 years, to take a similar position at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.  But Livengood saw the handwriting on the wall and anticipated that his contract was not going to be renewed.

Like Fallis, he accomplished a lot in his time on the job.  He was a great fundraiser and respected administrator during a period of considerable growth in the department.  The athletic programs won 11 NCAA Championships during that time, beginning with a national softball championship the year he arrived.

But his downfall involved the delicate nature of hiring, firing, and caring for coaches.  Despite the success of his final big hire, Sean Miller, to run the basketball program, he had huge missteps that included the disastrous hire of John Mackovic to run the football program and the messy departure of hall-of-fame basketball coach Lute Olson.

Byrne, who was hired away from Mississippi State to replace Livengood, has been a breath of fresh air for Wildcat Nation.  Considered one of the rising young stars in the profession, Byrne wasted no time in proving the wisdom of his hire.  He has taken the marketing of athletics to the next level in a social media era, made an immediate connection with boosters and the fan base, and is hot on the fundraising trail.

On the other hand, Love’s star is fading in Tempe.  She was considered somewhat of a rock star when she arrived in 2002 to replace Gene Smith, who left for the AD post at Ohio State.

Love had been the senior associate athletics director at USC, where she had also been the head volleyball coach.  At ASU, her actual title is Vice President for University Athletics.

Her credentials included a couple of tours as vice president of the Pac-10 Conference and time spent on the NCAA Management Council.

But ASU has been dealing with major NCAA violations in its baseball program; a football program that stalled under a controversial coach whom she hired and supported for five years, despite the angst it was causing among fans and boosters; and then directed a search for a new football coach that turned into a public relations disaster when the first two potential hires turned sour at the eleventh hour.

And the coach she did finally hire, Todd Graham, was a controversial pick after bolting the Pittsburgh program after just one year, and leaving his players to find out about his departure after he had left.

Fallis may have decided to leave NAU, in part, because he wasn’t interested in taking the heat that will come with the unfolding of the Mike Adras resignation.

And there is some question, too, just how long Love will be able to withstand the heat in Tempe.  A second consecutive disappointing season in men’s basketball is just going to turn up the thermostat.

If Love leaves, Byrne gets a new title.  He would become the ‘dean of Arizona athletic directors”… not by time on the job.  By default.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)