Athletic directors are frequently local stories, but rarely are they national ones. Typically, the only time fans hear about ADs of other schools is when they're in trouble: When they have to fire a coach and then hire one, when they hire the wrong coach, when they are involved in a scandal, etc.
We hear about Steve Patterson getting fired after a disastrous stint at Texas. We hear about Dave Brandon getting canned after a similar disastrous stint at Michigan. We hear about Julie Hermann continuing to fail to adequately lead Rutgers (even if we never actually hear from her personally).
So, with Texas still on the lookout for a new athletic director, let's take the time to run through which ADs have been doing the best job in major college sports. Criteria include success in all sports -- which can be measured by national championships and standing in the Directors Cup -- but particularly in the revenue sports of football and men's basketball. We also factored in avoiding scandals and NCAA issues, national respect (which can be illustrated in part by various national leadership positions), stability, how one handles being the face of an athletic department and keeping all parties -- athletes, coaches, boosters, fans, administrators -- happy. And, finally, coach hirings and firings.
This is an inexact exercise. But when a school as powerful as Texas is looking for a new AD, these are some of the names it should wish to have.
1. Tom Jurich, Louisville.* The only thing anyone could quibble with is bringing Bobby Petrino back, a move that will probably work in the long run, assuming Petrino has learned from infinite past mistakes. Otherwise, Jurich has had one of the most successful runs as an AD ever. He's been the athletic director since 1998, and since then, Louisville has graduated from Conference USA to the Big East to the ACC. Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, which opened in his first year, is poised for a renovation and expansion that will enclose the stadium. The basketball teams have moved into the brand-new KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville. Hires of Petrino, John L. Smith and Charlie Strong have all worked out for the football team (Steve Kragthorpe did not), as they have taken the Cardinals to a bowl game in all of their seasons, and Jurich also hired Rick Pitino to coach men's basketball. He's won a national championship and been to two other Final Fours. In other words, under Jurich, Louisville has gone from FBS mid-major to respected ACC team in football, and the basketball has continued its success in moving to a more powerful conference.
*UPDATE: College sports can't go a week without a scandal. Two days after we published this, a former Louisville basketball staff member was accused of paying an escort service to provide sex to recruits.
2. Chris Del Conte, TCU. What more could you want? Since Del Conte arrived in 2009, TCU has joined the big-time in the Big 12, renovated the outdated Amon G. Carter Stadium for $164 million and spearheaded a $72 million renovation of TCU's basketball arena. It was all fostered through donations. In other words, instead of being left behind in conference realignment, TCU has become a major factor in football and has made necessary, financially sound improvements. It's making the necessary efforts to catch up in basketball, where Del Conte's hire, Trent Johnson, just went 18-15 -- which is a vey good sign for this program, which has not been to the tournament since 1998, when it was still a member of the WAC. If that wasn't enough, TCU baseball has made the College World Series in three of the last six years.
3. Jim Phillips, Northwestern. On one hand, Phillips has it easier than some of his colleagues. Northwestern may be a Big Ten school with fans aching for success, but this also isn't a pressure cooker in which every move is under the microscope and a coach has to be fired every time the team doesn't mean astronomical expectations. But, upon coming to Northwestern from Northern Illinois in 2008, Phillips inherited a job that features stringent academic requirements, along with two mediocre facilities in Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena. Northwestern is a fantastic university but also at a competitive disadvantage against the massive public schools of the Big Ten. Phillips has been an effective face of the department, supporting Pat Fitzgerald and also making a quality men's basketball hire in Duke assistant Chris Collins, who is hoping to finally get the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament. Additionally, he did secure improvements to athletic facilities through a $220 million lakefront complex. Phillips has reportedly been pursued by Penn State, attempting to dig out of crisis, and Stanford, one of the nation's best all-around athletic departments, in recent years, which is a good sign of how well respected he is in major athletics circles. As is the fact that he was named chairman of the NCAA Division I council last February.
4. Jeremy Foley, Florida. It's impossible for an athletic director to stick around for a long time and get everything right. Foley hired Ron Zook and Will Muschamp, yes, but he also hired Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan. Florida owned the college sports world from 2005-08, winning two football national titles and two NCAA tournament championships. Foley has been the AD since 1992 but has been on staff at Florida since 1981, which means he was also around when Steve Spurrier was hired. Not everything is perfect, given that new football coach Jim McElwain -- whose hiring was strangely public -- immediately went to work demanding upgrading facilities. Florida has a ton of resources, but its facilities have lagged behind in the SEC. Now, Foley is under the microscope, as in the same year he had to replace both major coaches, bringing in McElwain from Colorado State for football and 38-year-old Michael White from Louisiana Tech to replace the NBA-bound Donovan. Florida has won numerous other national championships under Foley's watch, including softball, women's soccer and men's track, among others. Florida finishes in the top 10 of the Directors Cup standings every year, including second-place finishes in four of the last six.
5. Mark Hollis, Michigan State. Hollis hired neither Tom Izzo nor Mark Dantonio (although he was on staff when Dantonio was hired), but since he became AD at the start of 2008, Michigan State has had unprecedented multi-sport success, becoming a model of stability. The football team has finished in the top 15 four of the last five years and won back-to-back major bowl games. The men's basketball just went to the Final Four and still hasn't missed the NCAA tournament since 1997. Often derided as Little Brother within the state of Michigan and the Big Ten, Hollis has overseen a period in which Michigan State has been a model athletic department. He'll chair the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee in 2016-17.
6. Jeff Long, Arkansas. It's obvious that Long is respected, unless colleagues want to make life miserable for him as the public face of the College Football Playoff selection committee. The chairman, Long is the one forced to go on TV every week and try to explain/defend the decisions of the committee as a whole. Long's tenure has mostly been known for his hiring and firing of Bobby Petrino, amid scandal, and the subsequent hiring of Bret Bielema. Long was the one who hired Petrino, but he also handled the subsequent scandal about as well as possible. Bielema was a good choice, coming off three Big Ten titles, but thus far he boasts a 2-15 SEC record and an incredibly coach-friendly contract featuring a massive buyout after he got an extension through 2020 following a 7-6 season. It's possible that will eventually backfire, but Long was named Sports Business Journal and Athletic Director of the Year in 2015 and has presided over facilities upgrades and a run of success in many sports, including the return of the men's basketball team to the NCAA tournament under Mike Anderson -- hired by Long -- after a six-year absence.
7. Ian McCaw, Baylor. Scandal has crept up again for Baylor over the handling of Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu and his subsequent suspension and conviction for sexual assault. That has cast a shadow over Baylor this fall, but previously McCaw had helped Baylor recover from one of the worst college scandals ever, revolving around the murder of men's basketball player Patrick Dennehy in 2003. McCaw arrived in the fall of 2003, and while progress was slow in many respects for a moribund athletic department, he hired Art Briles in 2008 after missing on Guy Morriss. All Briles has done is take a team that was the laughing stock of the Big 12 and made it into a power, with Robert Griffin III winning the Heisman and now back-to-back Big 12 championships. As the football team rose, McCaw orchestrated the building of the beautiful new McLane Stadium. It's been a remarkable rise as the perception of Baylor football -- and Baylor athletics as a whole -- has undergone a significant shift, with the women's basketball team winning the national title in 2015 and 2012 as well.
8. Greg Byrne, Arizona. Byrne's hiring track record is off to an excellent start. He brought Dan Mullen to Mississippi State, and after arriving at Arizona in 2010, he hired Rich Rodriguez, who led the Wildcats to a Pac-12 South title last year. He inherited and held onto men's basketball coach Sean Miller, who's gone to three Elite Eights. Throw in the baseball team winning a national title in 2012, and life has been good for Arizona's major sports since Byrne arrived, with an athletic department clearly on the rise overall.
9. Joe Castiglione, Oklahoma. Castiglione was hired in 1998 from Missouri, inheriting a football program that hit a wall in the 1990s after the exit of Barry Switzer. Castiglione hired Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops, and the football team has been a model of stability ever since, even if every lapse causes a ton of angst. Stoops won a national title in 2000 and has nine top-10 finishes in the AP poll. The men's basketball team has had ups and downs, but things have stabilized lately under Lon Kruger, with back-to-back top-25 finishes, including a Sweet 16 run last season. And the women's basketball team has been a Stoops-like model of consistent success under Sherri Coale. The football stadium is also in the midst of a $160 million upgrade. Castiglione was named Bobby Dodd Athletic Director of the Year in 2004 and is the current chairman of the NCAA tournament men's basketball selection committee.
10. John Currie, Kansas State. Currie's time at Kansas State will ultimately be judged on how he replaces Bill Snyder, whenever his second retirement comes. In men's basketball, he hired Bruce Weber to replace Frank Martin, who left for South Carolina. Weber took the Wildcats to back-to-back NCAA tournaments (one-and-done in both) before a disappointing 15-17 mark last year. Most notably, recently, Currie has had to deal with the bizarre "controversy" over Kansas State's marching band. In real news, Currie has helped spearhead new football and basketball facilities and upgrades to the football stadium, he has made improving Kansas State's nonconference football scheduling a priority and he won the Bobby Dodd Athletic Director Award in 2013. Kansas State won Big 12 championships in football, baseball and men's basketball in 2012-13.
11. Ross Bjork, Ole Miss. Ole Miss has had a stellar run since Bjork arrived in 2012, with the football team's rise under Hugh Freeze and a pair of NCAA tournament appearances and an SEC title for the men's basketball team under Andy Kennedy. Bjork hired neither, but Ole Miss has hit a period of growth, which is a pattern for him. In three years as AD at Western Kentucky -- where he became the youngest AD in the country -- the football team went from winless to a pair of seven-win seasons under coach Willie Taggart. Bjork reportedly turned down the Missouri job in March.
12. Scott Stricklin, Mississippi State. Like Bjork, his rival up the road in Oxford, Stricklin has been present for an impressive for Mississippi State, both in football and across the board in the department. Its football team reached as high as No. 1 in the AP poll last year and hasn't missed a bowl game under Dan Mullen since Stricklin's arrival in 2010. He has orchestrated $130 million in facilities upgrades.
13. Whit Babcock, Virginia Tech. Babcock has been at Virginia Tech for only a year and a half after coming over from Cincinnati. The jury is still out as we wait to see how he'll handle the end of the Frank Beamer era in the near future, but he already managed to poach Buzz Williams from Marquette to lead the men's basketball team. Additionally, in the wake of the ridiculous notion of player fines from cost-of-attendance money that defensive coordinator Bud Foster rambled about, Babcock promptly shut down the whole terrible idea. Babcock is a former president of the National Association of Athletic Development Directors, and in his short time in Blacksburg he has overseen the building of Virginia Tech's brand-new indoor football facility.
14. Kirby Hocutt, Texas Tech. Hocutt has had a quick rise, becoming AD at Ohio at age 33 in 2005, then spending four years at Miami before taking the job at Texas Tech in 2011, just before the Nevin Shapiro scandal hit the Hurricanes. Hocutt is clearly well respected, as he was tabbed to replace Oliver Luck on the College Football Playoff selection committee this season, with a nomination from Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. He's the committee's youngest member at 43. Hocutt is also chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Recruiting Subcommittee, and his most notable move thus far at Texas Tech is hiring former quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, then just 33, as head football coach. The big question has been a messy basketball situation, with the Billy Gillispie era quickly ending in disaster, but the hiring of Tubby Smith was likely a good fit for a tough job to stabilize what had been a broken program.
15. Kevin White, Duke. Swarbrick's predecessor at Notre Dame, White's track record hasn't always been great. After all, he hired George O'Leary, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis, which turned into a rather remarkable run of failures for Notre Dame football. (To his credit, he hired Mike Brey to lead the men's basketball team.) However, since arriving at Duke in 2008 (two years after the lacrosse scandal), White has shepherded an impressive era of Duke athletics. The Mike Krzyzewski era has continued unimpeded, with two more national titles. And White finally made a perfect football hire, by bringing in highly respective coach David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe has taken the Blue Devils to three straight bowl games -- an impressive feat given that they hadn't gone bowling since 1994 and went 2-33 in three years before Cutcliffe's arrival. Duke also just finished a much-needed overhaul of Wallace Wade Stadium that got rid of the ugly track around the field. White has been honored with several national athletic director awards in recent years, and Duke has finished in the Directors Cup top 10 three times since he arrived.
16. Gene Smith, Ohio State. The tenure of Smith has hardly been perfect. He's been athletic director since 2005, and in that time Ohio State went through its tattoo scandal (which, while overblown in some respects, still was a scandal) that resulted in Jim Tressel's ousting and NCAA sanctions -- including a bowl ban in 2012 that prevented an undefeated Ohio State from playing for the national championship. Beyond the bumpy handling of sanctions, though, he has run a massive athletic department relatively smoothly. He hired Urban Meyer, and he's overseen an era of basketball stability under Thad Matta, who led Ohio State to four straight top-10 finishes in the AP poll from 2010-13. Ohio State prints money and wins championships, so beyond one scandal --- which the Buckeyes quickly revered from -- he's been successful, with Ohio State also regularly recording top-10 Directors Cup finishes and rising to national prominence in wrestling.
17. Debbie Yow, N.C. State. Like much of the rest of top-tier sports management, athletic directors tend to be male and white, sorely lacking in diversity. Dow is one of only three women running athletic departments at the Power Five level, joining new Penn State AD Sandy Barbour and Rutgers' embattled Hermann. A former head women's basketball coach at Kentucky and Florida, Yow has been AD at Saint Louis, Maryland and now N.C. State. Her sister, Kay Yow, was a legendary head coach at N.C. State and died of breast cancer in 2009. Since arriving in 2010, Yow's two major hires have been promising, with Mark Gottfriend in men's basketball and Dave Doeren in football, even if the firing of Tom O'Brien seemed strange at the time. Gottfried has taken the Wolfpack to four straight NCAA tournaments after they had a five-year absence, while Doeren struggled in his first year but improved to 8-5 last year and is currently 4-0. Under Yow's leadership, N.C. State has achieved school bests in the Director's Cup and graduation rates. An indoor football facility also opened this summer.
18. Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame. Notre Dame hasn't won a national championship in football since 1988, and yet the athletic department remains a behemoth. Swarbrick, who has been in charge since 2008, got rid of Charlie Weis and brought in Brian Kelly, and he's successfully navigated the murky waters of conference realignment. While it's a shame that Notre Dame's individual Big Ten scheduling arrangements -- particularly Michigan -- have taken a big hit, Swarbrick got Notre Dame into the ACC in all sports as the Big East crumbling, but he maintained a semblance of independence for the football team, which is only a partial member of the league. This may be frustrating for everyone on the outside, but he's managed to walk a fine line in upholding Notre Dame football's connection to the past -- even if it means replacing a poorly maintained grass surface with turf and finally putting up video boards at Notre Dame Stadium. He also got rid of the Adidas partnership -- the company hell-bent on ruining uniforms -- and switched to Under Armour. The women's basketball team is a national power, and Notre Dame has been a top-10 school in the Directors Cup. Swarbrick is one of the most powerful people in college football, and unfortunately that power has come up woefully shorty in the Lizzy Seeberg and Declan Sullivan tragedies -- especially when compared with his reaction to the Manti Te'o saga.
19. Chris Hill, Utah. Hill has been at Utah since 1987, overseeing the rise of an athletic department from the WAC to the Mountain West to the Pac-12. He hired Rick Majerus, who took the men's basketball team to the national title game, and he hired Urban Meyer, who took the football team to an undefeated record and the Fiesta Bowl. Meyer's replacement, Whittingham, has gone 89-43, winning a Sugar Bowl and now making the Utes a player in the Pac-12. There's a lot to love. Through a long tenure, there have been bumps, though. In 2013, Hill had fired swimming coach Greg Winslow after allegations of abuse, although it was argued that he acted to slowly in responding. Utah and BYU are no longer playing every season. And at the end of last season, there seemed to be a growing gulf between Whittingham and Hill, due in part to contract structures for assistants, with several assistants leaving in recent years. Now, of course, Utah is fresh off one of its biggest football wins ever.
20. Ray Anderson, Arizona State. It's hard not to be impressed with what Anderson has done already. On the job for only a year and a half thus far, Anderson was previously the NFL's executive vice president for football operations. At Arizona State, he has hired Bobby Hurley to coach the men's basketball team, made men's hockey a varsity sport, hired Bob Bowman (coach of Michael Phelps and the U.S. Olympic team) as coach of the swimming team, hired Tracy Smith (took Indiana to the College World Series) as baseball coach, signed a lucrative deal with Adidas and continued football and baseball facility improvements. Not a bad start.
21. Bill Battle, Alabama. Battle played for Bear Bryant, then coached at Tennessee, but he returned to Tuscaloosa as the athletic director in 2013 -- replacing the legendary Mal Moore. Battle inherited Nick Saban, so all is good on the football front. Basketball could have been in trouble after Battle failed to land Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, but he saved himself by hiring Avery Johnson. Battle is a proven businessman with SEC coaching experience and deep ties to the university. Now he just has to keep Saban happy, which is not the easiest job.
22. Mack Rhoades, Missouri. Missouri's new athletic director has been a builder in the past. It's not often that new college football stadiums are built, but Rhoades got them done at both Akron and Houston. Before leaving Houston, he made the aggressive but risky hire of Kelvin Sampson to coach men's basketball and made a great hire for football in former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, after parting ways with Tony Levine following an 8-5 season. It remains to be seen what he'll do with an established athletic department, but he's made waves at both of his stops with an aggressive approach.
23. Craig Littlepage, Virginia. It's hard to judge exactly where Littlepage is heading right now. He's been exceedingly patient with football coach Mike London, who has missed a bowl in four of five seasons and is well on his way to another losing season. Littlepage and the athletic department haven't helped thanks to brutal scheduling that has, in part, set London up to fail even when the team does show improvement. So does the rest balance things out? Littlepage has been at Virginia since 1990 and has been the AD since 2001. Virginia has finished in the top 10 of the Directors Cup standings five of the last even years. It just won the baseball national title and has also won titles in men's tennis, soccer and lacrosse and women's lacrosse and rowing. In what's turned out to be one of the best hires in recent history, Littlepage hired Tony Bennett from Washington State to fix the men's basketball program. Bennett has gone to three NCAA tournaments, winning 30 games each of the last two seasons, even if both ended in disappointing NCAA tournament exits. Frustration about football mediocrity is warranted, but Littlepage has built up enough of a resume elsewhere to hold up his reputation.
24. Dan Radakovich, Clemson. Radakovich was a finalist for the Sports Business Journal AD of the year award this past year. Since he arrived from Georgia Tech in 2013, he has helped facilitate upgrades for athletics facilities and improved academic performance, and he is also serving as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. At Georgia Tech, Radakovich hired Paul Johnson from Navy, a move that has resulted in four division titles and two Orange Bowls. Of course, the first Orange Bowl season saw its ACC championship vacated due to NCAA violations that were partly blamed on Radakovich. Radakovich seems to be forgiven, however, as he is one of 10 athletic directors on Mark Emmert's advisory council.
25. Scott Woodward, Washington. Woodward came to Washington at a rough time in 2008,just as Tyrone Willingham was taking the football team to a 0-12 record. Woodward got rid of Willingham and hired Steve Sarkisian, who, despite never really breaking through, pulled Washington out of embarrassment and left on a 9-4 record in 2013. When Sarkisian left for USC, Woodward pulled off the rare move of making a coaching upgrade in becoming the AD to finally lure Chris Petersen away from Boise State. Additionally, Washington just finished off the beautiful renovation of Husky Stadium.