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Lessons for UNLV in Rutgers AD debacle


Vetting ...

Did you know the term comes from horse racing, that it originally referred to the requirement that an animal be checked for health and soundness before being allowed to race?

I’m pretty sure some fans of Rutgers would take Kentucky Derby winner Orb as their university president today.

Or at least The Situation.

I might not have believed it a week ago, but I safely can say UNLV president(s) Neal Smatresk/Gerry Bomotti won’t run the worst athletic director search nationally this year.

Rutgers and Robert Barchi are your runaway winners in this regard, and we haven’t hit June.

This goes beyond the controversial selection of Julie Hermann as the person hired to rebuild a shamed department reeling from the Mike Rice stop-throwing-basketballs-at-your-players’-heads debacle and ensuing dismissal of Rice and athletic director Tim Pernetti.

The latter whom, I have to believe, is looking pretty good right now to anyone within a scandal’s throw of the New Jersey-based campus.

Think what you want about Hermann, who we have learned since her hiring at Rutgers owns a past that more than not mirrors the sort of forgettable acts that got Rice bounce-passed to the curb.

Some might believe her alleged actions as Tennessee’s volleyball coach in the late 1990s, making the team endure “mental cruelty,” while calling players things such as “whores and alcoholics and learning disabled,” are sins worthy of redemption after decades have passed; some might not.

It also was reported this week that Hermann was at the center of a 2008 sex discrimination lawsuit during her time as a senior athletics administrator at Louisville, meaning I have to think she’s had better months than the past one.

But what the mess at Rutgers has done is further demonstrate how not to run such a search and in turn respond when skeletons appear from the closet of a candidate or, in this case, the person who lands a job.

Smatresk already is ahead of the game at UNLV — no punch line to follow — by announcing the university won’t hire a search firm in finding a replacement for the man he fired (Jim Livengood).

Rutgers did employ such a firm, paying tens of thousands of dollars to Parker Executive to deliver it a group of finalists that included Hermann, but only after her name was not originally brought forward.

Such firms have long wielded significant influence throughout the close-knit world of collegiate athletics when vetting and suggesting candidates for coaching and athletic director positions. There are more handshake deals and wink-wink conversations with these firms than at a state dinner.

The idea being, however, is that a firm can better manage the process from its outset than a president embroiled in the daily tasks of running a university.

The idea doesn’t always work.

“(Rutgers) had to get this one right,” said Tim Sullivan, columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal who has chronicled the Hermann saga since it was announced she was leaving her job with the Cardinals athletic department. “So much confidence had been eroded there as a result of the basketball coach and athletic director being fired. In that context, you need to change the culture, and what do you do? You bring in someone (in Hermann) with a lot of baggage, which was apparently unknown to anyone at the university or the search firm.

“I can’t imagine Rutgers would have followed through with this hire if they had even the slightest familiarity with what happened at Tennessee. Using a (search firm) all depends on how extensive a background check you want done.”

Take note, UNLV. Discovering what candidates were like as they climbed the administrative ladder can be an exhaustive process but remains an incredibly important one. Every base must be covered; every rumor checked.

Smatresk has given himself the summer to properly execute his search, to cull from what should be a long list of applicants those he feels might possess the qualities (let’s begin with the term YES-MAN) that vice-president-for-finance-and-the-guy-everyone-thinks-runs-the-university Bomotti desires in the next man/woman who won’t own an ounce of power when it comes to the Thomas & Mack Center.

I hope the tag team of Neal and Gerry gets it right. If not, the last thing UNLV should do is follow the Rutgers’ model of not admitting a mistake for fear of further financial loss or mere embarrassment, as if the Scarlet Knights could be any more humiliated today.

Vet carefully, UNLV.

This is far more an important process than determining if a horse is fit to run.

Just in case, we’ll be watching.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.