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Rick Greenspan: "A Clarity Of Commitment"

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Google searches relay only so much information. They display the bullet points on a résumé, detail personal failings and public accomplishments, and yield opinions that run the gamut from adulation and deification to aggravation and denigration. Google searches are powerful, influential tools, shaping the image of the researched when a simple handshake might suffice.

At first blush Rick Greenspan is more than what Google revealed. The depth of his character extends beyond the Kelvin Sampson fiasco he governed at Indiana, and his personality isn't fully defined by the loathing he inspires from John Feinstein. Greenspan cultivated a reputation as a skilled administrator at multiple institutions of higher learning, most notably at West Point and in Bloomington. He isn't wholly identifiable by his impressive fund raising credentials nor by his dealings with Sampson. If his introductory press conference proved anything, it revealed a man content with his legacy, anxious to build at Rice, and unafraid to discuss his downfall at Indiana. Greenspan 'won' the press conference by being unabashed in his showcasing of himself to the assembled at The 'R' Room, an honest revelation that doesn't usually accompany a Google search. Greenspan proved that he is a multilayered individual.

"In a public position you really can't necessarily control some of the parts of your image because I don't know that some of those that make that instant analysis are as conversive with why, how and when decisions are made," Greenspan said. "While we all love to be adored and cherished by our public, the most important thing to me is the opportunity to serve our president and serve these students, and do it with great dignity and success. And then the record tends to speak for itself."

Greenspan was the athletics director at Illinois State (1993-99), West Point (1999-2004) and Indiana (2004-08) before resigning his post on the heels of Sampson doing the same following his making impermissible phone calls. Greenspan described the past 15 months away from intercollegiate athletics as a 'sabbatical' that helped stabilize his health and feed his voracious appetite for reading. But after spending three decades in athletic administration, Greenspan was drawn to the chore of advancing the Rice athletic department. This challenge is unique.

One thing that made Greenspan so attractive to Rice president David Leebron was his background. What Rice presently needs is an administrator capable of managing the job while juggling the myriad responsibilities of being in the lead chair at Tudor Fieldhouse. That job description required a candidate with the proper mix of gumption, guile and grit, someone extensively versed in the profession but eager enough to push on walls resistant to pressure.

"Rice is a challenging place to be an athletics director, and we're about to enter a challenging time for NCAA athletics," Leebron said. "That experience, that diversity of experience, and the fact that a combination of a school like West Point, which is a lot like us in many respects, and Indiana - both have a high level of ambition and a commitment to the scholar. The things he talked about from the very beginning, here is a man with a lot of experience to draw on and very genuinely identified the Rice job as the kind of job he really wanted. The values, the role of the student-athletes and what our student-athletes do, he was very passionate and persuasive about not just wanting to be an athletics director again, but why on the basis of all his experience this was really the job he wanted.

"Looking out at the whole world, things that are going to happen and what we need to achieve, we thought that we would be in a great position to draw on Rick's experience and his proven ability at raising funds and building facilities and continuing the trajectory of Rice."

Leebron could not have been more transparent. Chris Del Conte erected buildings and hired coaches, but Greenspan will be asked to take the athletic department several steps further during an anticipated transition. With so much at stake in the immediate future, Rice could ill-afford to bypass a candidate with Greenspan's administrative acumen and experience.

"Navigating this future, navigating a potential conference realignment, generating the enthusiasm of our fans, getting our students involved - not just our student-athletes involved, those are the questions we asked every candidate," Leebron said. "What is your success in getting folks in the stands? What is your marketing success? What is your fund raising success? What is your facilities success? Do you know this environment in a way that, very potentially within the next year, Rice will have to position itself forcibly in that environment?

"We have to watch very carefully as this landscape changes in college athletics."

Rice was especially careful in reviewing the details connecting Greenspan, Sampson, and the 'failure to monitor' infraction that ultimately led to his resignation at Indiana. Leebron tackled that topic with fervor, and Greenspan did not sidestep the perceived blemish on his résumé or the damage done to his reputation as a man of impeccable character who stands on principle.

"We learned a lot about the details of what happened at Indiana," Leebron said. "I'm not going to comment on anything that happened at another school, but we talked to people at West Point, we talked to people Rick has really worked with closely, we started to understand the details of what had transpired, and we did a lot of due diligence. No one was getting past the door if we had any doubts whatsoever on that issue.

"Based on our knowledge of the situation we have confidence in Rick's integrity, and based on that confidence in the facts that we understood we are certainly willing to give him a chance. We think he is going to be a great leader of Rice athletics, and people will see very quickly that he's going to be a leader of Rice athletics who shares Rice values and executes his job with great integrity." 

Said Greenspan, who again intimated that the Sampson hiring was not his decision: "If you're a person that treasures your integrity - and for me I always said I don't want to do anything that makes my two children who are involved in athletics anything but proud of me - that was my greatest concern, that they would look at me and say, 'Dad, what did you do?'

"I'm not an excuse maker and I'll never make excuses. I was the athletic director at that point in time, and that's what happened."

Beyond the raging controversy at Indiana and a track record that stretches back to the late 1970s, Greenspan and his union with Rice represents something supporters of the athletic programs have spent ages clamored for: a true commitment to athletic excellence. Rice could have easily taken the path of least resistance, made the safe hire in naming a successor to CDC, and gone about its business of incrementally developing its athletic department. Instead it chose Greenspan, whose past isn't without blemish, but whose demeanor is reflective of a leader accustomed to winning. Greenspan doesn't come across as an individual apt to acquiesce to adversity or prone to pouting over what can't be done. He will push and prod Rice to be greater than it has ever been, to strive for levels of excellence previously unfathomable, and to preach accountability both in the classroom and on the playing fields.

That Rice opted to name a veteran athletics director with a relative amount of baggage speaks to its desire to ascend. Those days of straddling the fence of commitment to Division I intercollegiate athletics appear over. Greenspan has succeeded, raised funds and graduated student-athletes everywhere he's been, and Rice seems willing to let him to do the same here.

"Having him as athletics director reflects a clarity of commitment," Leebron said of Greenspan. "It's very important that as we go through this period that people understand that we are committed to Division I-A athletics. We brought in (an athletics director) who can help us fulfill that commitment at the highest levels within the context of how Rice does things.

"We're not going to do things the way a lot of other universities are, but we're going to be forceful competitors in Division I-A, proud members of our conference, and when we look at athletics directors, one of the things we're certainly looking at is we wanted the appointment of the new athletics director to reflect the clarity of our commitment."

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7 Comments

Very informative, thanks MK. Great stuff from you and Leebron.

Outstanding article. One question on Greenspan - how old is he?

Mark: Thanks. Greenspan graduated from Maryland in 1975, so that puts him in his mid-to-late 50s. - MK

MK -- Thanks for the article; very interesting. Anything new to report on the conference realignment alluded to?

owl-1983: Nothing new to report on that front. We're all waiting for that first domino to fall and for some program to join the Big 10 and make them an even dozen. - MK

Very insightful analysis. Great stuff as always. Bolsters my confidence in this hire.

Great stuff MK. This blog post and your articles on the past 2 baseball games have, IMO, been exceptional. Keep it up, and even though you are sometimes limited in your new position, I'm thrilled you are working at Rice instead of the Chron!

mrbig: Thanks! Interesting discussion over at the Parliament on my story from Rice-Cal, Game 2. If I've learned one thing from my two missteps during football season, it's to watch my language while writing for the mothersite. Oddly, I didn't foresee this being a problem with baseball because that sport more than any other brings out the fanboy in me. I have to work harder to be objective covering Rice baseball more than any sport because I am so fond of everyone involved with the program. I find it humorous that someone would find that particular story negative given the lengths I went to pull punches and not string any players out. - MK

Thanks, MK for the update. It's great to have the search behind us and thus be able to move forward. As to whether this is the "right" hire or not, I have to trust in Leebron and let history be the final judge.

MK -- Love your reporting, please don't change a thing. If anything your article was easy on the team.

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