Bob Mulcahy was removed from his position as Rutgers athletic director in December of 2008. Speculation on his replacement initially focused in on his top deputy Kevin MacConnell, although there was immediate, secondary buzz about radio color announcer Tim Pernetti. At that point, most fans weren't even aware of Tim's role as a high level executive at CBS Sports. The search then immediately went dark for two months.
Later on in February it came out that the search has narrowed down to three finalists - Tim Pernetti, Mack Rhoades, and Kelly Mehrtens. The Pernetti whisper campaign had been gaining steam, with his well-connected supporters raving about his savvy and business acumen. With the other two candidates complete unknowns, there was immediate speculation that Pernetti's ascension was a fait accompli - essentially, a Penn State-style puppet installed by Greg Schiano to be a rubber stamp for the Rutgers football program.
Days later, he ended up getting the job. I didn't really mind the search - the Rutgers athletic program was coming out of a difficult situation that probably scared off candidates with elite resumes. There were fair concerns, but a lot of what was said seemed overblown. Football rightly should rule the day at Rutgers. However, there was no reasonable indication that other sports would be neglected, and the premise that they're competing in a zero sum game is dubious. John Feinstein couldn't be further off the mark - this wasn't some rubber stamp sycophant. Tim Pernetti was a very skilled candidate coming from a non-traditional background, who could have just as easily continued to climb the media ladder without care or worry.
The athletic department is on much surer footing today than it was a year ago, which is undoubtedly a team effort, but a fair deal of the resulting credit should go to Pernetti. He's an articulate face of the athletic department and a gifted salesman. Donations are up to record levels. Stadium expansion went off without a major hitch. Academics remain a top priority. It's a tighter ship in all aspects. The athletics vision of the past decade was never truly in any jeopardy, but there's irony in that making their last stand, critics just served as fuel for a stronger and more effectrive affirmation to stay the course.
On the whole, this is a hiring that's turned out better than could have been expected, as there was no fair reaction a year ago other than complete uncertainty. Challenges do remain however. Football will need to continue to generate new revenue streams, especially with the near term fiscal situation looking grim. Now there's far more attention being paid elsewhere. With wrestling and men's soccer now addressed, there's increasing scrutiny on other university sports to improve. In Piscataway, the focus has now turned to basketball. How exactly is the athletic department to renovate the aging RAC, and is coach Fred Hill Jr. still going to be around if and when those upgrades finally get off the ground? While there's a lot of disappointment over bringing Hill back, it was by no means an easy call, and there was a case for putting that decision off for a year.
There's also the matter of the 800-lb gorilla in the room that is the looming Big Ten expansion. The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein has identifed Rutgers as the leading candidate - confirming what most Scarlet Knight fans already believed. The impetus is the Big Ten's cable network, and Rutgers would bring the most additional revenue to the table. It's telling that the likes of Nebraska and Missouri are groveling in public for their share of the Big Ten's reported $22 million yearly payout ti members, while you won't hear a word from Rutgers (like, say, in the new Scarlet Scuttlebutt interview) as they sit in the driver's seat. It would be hard to say more with less.
Behind the scenes, the last twelve months were extremely successful. Now the challenge is the maintain and improve to greater heights. Most important of all, while there isn't necessarily an outcry for instant gratification, sooner or later the alumni and entire university community are going to to increase their level of expectations over time (ideally, in concurrence with higher levels of program support). Football does need to win a conference championship within the next two seasons. Basketball looms as a daunting challenge, especially if another round of rebuilding is in the works.
Good work so far, but there's that much more yet to be done. By all accounts Mr. Pernetti agrees on that account, which is why I've been so impressed from the very beginning. He's not content with Rutgers taking a backseat to anyone. No one should be.