Rutgers officially announced the hiring of CBS Sports executive and Rutgers radio color commentator Tim Pernetti as athletic director on Feb. 26, 2009.
With the benefit of hindsight, Pernetti's elevation has proven popular with the broader Rutgers athletics community. Football fans appreciate his demonstrated fund-raising prowess and sleek media messaging. Two years ago, there was widespread concern that Rutgers was going to follow the "Penn State model" in essentially appointing a rubber stamp for the head football coach as athletic director that would be content letting the men's basketball team wither on the vine. At the time, Tim Pernetti's supporters pointed to his wife having played lacrosse at Rutgers, or argued that the comparison didn't fit for other reasons (Pernetti's qualifications, or disputing the PSU analogy).
Recent events however have burnished his credibility as an athletic director determined to improve all department sports. Pernetti has continued former A.D. Bob Mulcahy's pet project of building the school's wrestling program, with the team breaking through into the top 10 this winter. Last year's decision to retain Fred Hill Jr. as men's basketball coach was extremely unpopular. While arguably being an attempt to maintain stability, Hill's short-lived reprieve reignited fears of the men's basketball program spending another decade wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. Now expectations are on the rise, as Rice and staff coax a depleted roster with only nine scholarship players to respectability.
Whether stemming from fallout from a months-long 2008 campaign that brought considerable (and erroneous) bad publicity, or the widespread perception that Pernetti's elevation was pre-ordained, the choice for the athletic director post seemed to be a fait accompli from the moment state legislators pressured Rutgers President Richard McCormick to dismiss Mulcahy. If there was a fair search, the whispers certainly became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not considered was Deputy A.D. Kevin MacConnell, Mulcahy's long-presumed successor. Nor was Richard Costello, who quietly left for Wisconsin-Milwaukee last December (his duties presumably devolved and split up, with no named replacement or publicized search).
The two other finalists were Akron A.D. Mack Rhoades and UNC-W A.D. Kelly Mehrtens. It's worth noting where both figures stand two years later. Rhoades was well regarded at Akron, despite flirting with several jobs before moving on to Houston last summer. Tim Pernetti presumably had a large edge as a Rutgers alumnus and New Jersey native. Rhoades appears to be a rising star, but counter-factually, how long he would have been inclined to stick around were he to have been successful (bringing the stability debate to mind again) at Rutgers? As for Mehrtens, she resigned last fall and has yet to resurface at another job in sports administration.
By no means is Tim Pernetti's work complete, with the football program stumbling last year, and several non-revenue sports still in flux. Even his dwindling cadre of detractors would have to concede that the man is on a hot streak. Keep it up at this pace, and one day Sonny Werblin could be relegated to the second most-influential figure in athletic department history. Things appear to be moving in the right direction. That, in of itself, is quite the accomplishment for two years time. Pernetti may yet prove to be mortal, or leave at some point to concentrate on world domination, but his early track record is settled. Rutgers has been vindicated as making the right choice two years ago.