Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, "Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who will argue with you." Julie Hermann appears to be applying that advice lately.
Julie Hermann's tenure as Rutgers Athletic Director has not started as smoothly as any (non-Rutgers 1000) Rutgers fan would have hoped. Rutgers fans can (and do) debate whether there exists a media-driven witch-hunt with her name at the top of the hit-list, but it is impossible to deny there is, charitably, some room for improvement in her performance to date.
But Ms. Hermann has done a few things right lately, and she deserves credit for those decisions just as much as she may deserve blame for some of her less savvy comments. In particular, she has made some very promising hiring decisions within the AD in the past few weeks.
First and most prominently, she plucked Tom Luicci from a 35-year career at the Star Ledger to be Rutgers Athletics' in-house message guru and minister of scarlet propaganda (unofficial titles). That is fantastic, and Tom is already cranking out positive articles on scarletknights.com. I note that to my knowledge, the Star Ledger did not run one article praising Luicci's long career or wishing him well in his new endeavor. Anyone else think the relationship between newspaper and long-serving ink-stained reporter got weird and a bit strained at the end?
Wednesday, Rutgers announced two more savvy hires, naming former football hero Marco Battaglia and longtime alumni maven and businessman Andy Sisti as Directors of Development/Major Gifts. In those roles, Battaglia and Sisti will be tasked with shaking the money tree to make the B1G contributions fall out.
Battaglia was a first team All-American tight end at Rutgers in the early '90s, and played for six NFL teams over nine years. According to Mr. Luicci, Battaglia is No. 6 all time on the school’s career receiving yardage list (2,221), No. 5 all time in career receptions (171) and is tied for No. 5 in career touchdown catches with 16. This hire is smart for several reasons.
First, Battaglia bleeds Scarlet, and has been a popular and well-liked ambassador for the school and football team for years. Second, this shows some political savvy, because one of Ms. Hermann's recent unfortunate comments questioned the financial benevolence of Rutgers former football stars. In response, many fans rightly pointed out that most of the NFL Knights are in their early- to mid-twenties, and have not yet achieved the financial ability to consistently make it rain on their alma mater. Well, Battaglia was doing his thing in the League before NFL careers were a common occurrence for Rutgers football players, and he is in great position not only to lead by example as an older NFL player, but to leverage his football contacts to fill Rutgers coffers and smooth any ruffled feathers among our NFL Knights.
Sisti is also a great choice. He graduated Rutgers in 1976, and used his business administration/accounting degrees to run Point Pleasant Distributors, an Allenwood beer distributor, for years. He is also Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors at Manasquan Savings Bank since 2005, and has been very active in Rutgers alumni circles. He is well-connected to increase alumni donations. On his (already updated) LinkedIn page, he describes his job as follows:
Responsible for taking the lead on special fundraising projects as assigned by the Senior Associate Athletic Director/Chief Development Officer and may serve as the point person for head coaches on capital and special projects. Responsible for developing relationships with donors and potential donors. Work to raise the public perception of Rutgers to the high level that it deserves. We are now Big Ten and should be proud of it. We are a superior academic institution, made up of top notch professors, coaches, students and student athletes. I am proud of being a member of the FAMILY and encourage you to become a part of us. Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any questions.
Sisti is also an interesting hire because of his past outspoken criticism of Julie Hermann, and vocal support for Tim Pernetti. He started the "I Support Tim Pernetti" Facebook page, took out at least one full page ad in the Targum in support of Pernetti, and called Pernetti's forced resignation "a disgrace." Obviously, he has thrown his support full-force behind the goal of promoting Rutgers Athletics, and has made amends with any lingering resentment over the way Pernetti was treated last year. If a "Tim guy" like Sisti can get behind Julie Hermann's Athletic Department, every Rutgers fan should do the same.
That does not mean truly bone-headed statements and actions should be immune from criticism or media coverage in the name of "circling the wagons," but its time to move forward and hope (and pray) that Hermann has learned from her mistakes; that she is surrounding herself with smart, capable people who are willing to argue with her when necessary; and that Rutgers is on the right path toward reaching its potential.