The other shoe has finally dropped in the Arizona State athletic department. Lisa Love, the embattled athletic director, is out after seven years that got off to a great start but ran into turbulent times that has strained the school’s public image.
ASU formally announced in an 11 a.m. press conference that Steve Patterson will step into her well-worn shoes, moving up into the role of Vice President for University Athletics after less than a year on staff at the school.
Patterson was hired in July of 2011 as the Chief Operating Officer of Sun Devil Athletics and Managing Director of the Sun Devil Sports Group. His background includes executive positions in the NFL, NBA, and NHL. He left a job as president of Pro Sports Consulting to join ASU.
His background in sports management undoubtedly figured in the hire, since ASU is in the process of forming an athletic facilities district that will involve 300 acres of land on its Tempe campus, providing a revenue stream that will help finance new projects and renovate existing facilities.
The reason the school gave for the switch at the top was the usual, that Love is “leaving to pursue other career opportunities.”
She came to ASU after a successful stint at USC and, at the time, was one of just six women who were directing Division I programs that included football. It was a great diversity hire, another feather in ASU’s cap.
And Love has had her share of accomplishments while at ASU. She has received high praise for the school’s academic support program, while the sports teams have won 15 conference championships and seven national titles. In 2008, Sports Illustrated named the athletic department the top program in the country.
But her high-profile problems probably began in the fall of 2009 when she fired the school’s long-time baseball coach, Pat Murphy, when his program came under NCAA investigation for alleged rules violations that later resulted in major sanctions since it was the school’s second major NCAA violation in a five-year period.
The following February, The Arizona Republic published an investigative article that detailed inner strife within the department during the Murphy firing.
Her handling of the football program, however, was probably the defining factor in her inability to build support among the ASU faithful.
She made a controversial hire shortly after arriving in Tempe by bringing in Dennis Erickson to take over the program after Dirk Koetter was terminated. Despite having won two national championships at Miami, Erickson was a career nomad who never stayed more than four years at any one stop. Fans expected the same would happen at ASU, despite the fact that Erickson was nearing 60 and his career was winding down.
He got off to a great start, posting a 10-3 record and earning a share of the Pac-10 crown while being named the conference Coach of the Year. But three losing seasons followed and the heat was on Love to replace him. Instead, she gave him another year and it resulted in an extension of the pain when the Hall of Fame coach could do no better than a 6-6 regular-season finish that included a stinging 31-27 loss to rival Arizona.
But after releasing Erickson, Love and company fumbled the ball again.
The search for a new coach turned into a public-relations nightmare when the first two apparent hires went sour at the eleventh hour, giving the public impression that the process was in complete disarray – and gave the media a field day.
When she did nail down a new coach, the controversy continued. Todd Graham bolted from the University of Pittsburgh after just one season on the job there and was roundly criticized for not telling his players he was leaving.
Graham has since seemed to be gaining support as he begins rebuilding the program, putting an emphasis on local recruiting, building bridges with local high school coaches, and promoting transparency and cooperation within his department.
But it still left a lasting stigma on the program, just one more brick on the pile.
And Love – and the ASU administration – finally gave in to the weight of the load.