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Rutgers AD Pat Hobbs: the new puppet master?

Pat Hobbs was on sabbatical from Seton Hall Law...playing golf in the Carolinas. Enjoying life. And now he's in charge of the Rutgers Sleeping Giants. And he ain't the Sandman.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

So, a university president walks into a bar....tell me if you heard this one before.

A university president walks into a bar and says, "I'm looking for a new athletic director."

The crowd gets quiet. They look at the man standing in the doorway, wearing scarlet academic regalia.  Finally, after seemingly an eternity, someone asks the question that everyone is wondering.  "What school?"

The university president looks down, bites his lower lip and says, "Rutgers."

After a long silence, a few in the crowd start to shake their heads.  A few others snicker and turn back to their drinks.  The murmur and droning of the crowd starts to rise up again when suddenly a patron stands up and asks, "What are your expectations for the job?"

The crowd falls silent again, and stares at this stranger.  Tall and thin, a graying crewcut.  He repeats his question.  "What do you expect from your new AD?  Do you want to win?"

It was a question the university president wasn't expecting.  Win?  He thought to himself, "I never thought about that, about winning."  He walked over to the stranger and said, "Let's talk."

From the time Robert Barchi became President of the State University of New Jersey, he never appeared to be overly excited about athletics.  His comments about being in the Big Ten seemed to me to be measured and deliberate.  There was never an excited voice, never a joyous feeling.  I mean - and I've used this comment more than once - the man said that he would pass on the Big Ten if it required Rutgers to build anything.

Pass.  On the Big Ten.

This was the man who also passed on viewing the Mike Rice video that his first athletic director brought to him.  Didn't have time.  Or a video player or something.  The possible blatant misbehavior of his head basketball coach, something that could lead to legal action, and the President couldn't view it.

Barchi ended up having Rice fired and then letting Tim Pernetti fall on his sword.  Barchi survived and two people lost their jobs. One definitely deserved to, the other maybe. Since that point in time, he's gone through another AD and another basketball coach. But the guy who was in charge stayed above the fray and kept his office in Old Queens.

And it always struck me that, despite her own failings and missteps, Julie Hermann was held back from doing very much as AD.  Because she was told to.

There were no plans to build anything, even though there was a University Master Plan in development that would include athletics.  And last June when the plan was released, there was no time line, no solid cost estimates.  And there seemed to be no pressure to get anything done.  Well, there was the indoor training facility for baseball and softball.  In January 2015, a fundraiser was held to kick off the fund raising for the $3.3 million facility.  And the hope was that it would be done.  By now.  As in this spring.  Which brings us to the groundbreaking....last October.  At that time, Julie Hermann said, "I didn't put a hard deadline on it because we're not going to raise the costs. We know where our number is, we know what it takes to build. So we'll find the contractor to get it done.''  Good thing, because the construction wasn't even approved by the Board of Governors until last month.

But I digress.  The point is that nothing was happening.  Until Barchi decided to fire Hermann and football coach Kyle Flood.  Suddenly there was a sense of urgency.  Why?

Getting rid of Flood was, unfortunately, a decision that was not hard for even a non-sports guy like Barchi to make.  And considering the numerous gaffes that Julie had made over her time at RU, it wasn't a tough reach for Barchi to simply make it a clean sweep.  But it was after those firings that things got heated.  It was then that Barchi had the epiphany that athletics - the proverbial "front porch of the university" - was important.  And again I ask, why?  Maybe someone gave him a copy of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Or was Pat Hobbs.

It was a matter of mere days between the firing of Hermann and Hobbs being hired.  No extensive search. No committee.  There apparently were conversations within the BoG with Barchi. "The board and I decided that it was an appropriate time for us to take a new direction, and we asked Kyle Flood and Julie Hermann to step down from their positions," said Barchi.

BOOM!  Pat Hobbs.  The reports said he and Barchi hit it off very well.  Maybe the interview was the best Barchi ever had with a candidate.  Regardless, in short order, Pat Hobbs became the AD that Rutgers needed.  Badly.  And he was given the authority to do what had to be done....hire coaches, spend money, gear up a multi-million dollar building campaign.  And I ask again....why?  What changed?  Who had the salacious photos of Barchi?  JK!!

Let's go back to the bar. 

"What do you expect from your new AD?  Do you want to win?"

Pat Hobbs may not have said those exact words, but I'm thinking maybe he said something pretty much like that.  Yes, Ray Lesniak was pounding the idea of better athletics into Barchi's head.  Greg Brown, chair of the BoG, had long been a supporter of athletics.  But it strikes me that if Hobbs was that good and had Barchi's ear in the interview, maybe he was the one who turned the tide.

"What do you expect from your new AD?  Do you want to win?"

If you want me, I need to have full authority.  If you want me, you need to decide to act like a Big Ten school.  If you want me, you need to be willing to take some chances and spend some money.  If you want me, we're doing it my way.

From my perspective, Barchi has been significantly low key, even absent, over the last few months since Hobbs was hired.  He's appeared at the press conferences introducing both Ash and Pikiell.  Other than that, he's been the University President and not an athletic cheerleader.  But there is no doubt that the atmosphere surrounding Rutgers Athletics is different.  Aggressive approaches were taken to hiring new coaches in the two most prominent programs.  Money was spent to make their salaries - and those of their assistants - competitive in the Big Ten.  An athletic fundraising campaign to raise $100 million - that's a tenth of what the entire University raised over seven years in the Our Rutgers, Our Future campaign - was announced.  I don't see that as Barchi.

"What do you expect from your new AD?  Do you want to win?"

If Pat comes back into the bar, let him know I'm buying.