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ED GRANEY: By any name, AD must prove he’s right choice

The majority opinion is that Jim Livengood won a race in which he finished second, something that might be impossible to verify and yet certainly plausible when you consider how his new boss introduced him Thursday.

“Without further ado,” university president Neal Smatresk said, “I would like to ask to hear from our next athletic director at UNLV … John Livengood.”

And off we go.

Livengood was going to win the news conference. We heard that all along. That he would appear strong and confident and say all the right things. That he would have you believe UNLV is the place he wants to be and the non-Bowl Championship Series program he wants to build.

That his best moment as AD ultimately might prove to be his first moment.

It’s on him today to disprove the latter.

It’s on him to demonstrate he will work as hard here as he did at Arizona the past 16 years.

“I don’t know if I can do anything but try to prove it,” Livengood said. “Anything I would say is only words.

“The truth will be of what kind of job I do, whether that’s in the first 30, 60, 90 days. Whatever time frame it is, I have to prove this was about coming here and that I and we are going to make a difference.”

Interesting word, perception. It means the process of attaining awareness or understanding of sensory information.

Today, it also defines Livengood and how the search played out.

Consider a few ways.

Perception: That this decision was made long before local candidates and one of the search committee’s leading choices disrespectfully were shunned via e-mail and three finalists were brought to campus.

That the move to hire Livengood was orchestrated by former university chancellor Jim Rogers, who attended Arizona, has the law school named after him at Arizona and is close enough to Livengood to have shared fishing trips.

My thinking: Not so much now. There is a good reason the news conference Thursday had a bit of a defensive feel to it. You didn’t see a lot of people slapping each other on the back and proclaiming they got the guy they wanted from the beginning. I’m pretty sure more than a handful of those smiles were forced.

Bill Moos was the first choice, and for whatever reason — problems with his settlement contract at his previous stop (Oregon), personal issues — things couldn’t get done. The parties tried. It didn’t take.

Say this for Smatresk: He initially pursued a finalist Rogers doesn’t know in the least, and the president deserves credit for that.

Perception: The search had a dog-and-pony show feel to it, that the last time we saw this big a smoke screen, Germany and Britain were going at it in the Battle of Jutland, that Smatresk either is a clever guy or George Costanza knocking over old women and children while running from a kitchen fire.

My thinking: I’m can’t totally paint the president as Costanza sitting on a fire truck yelling at Eric the Clown while taking oxygen. Not totally.

It did become apparent, though, as the process dragged on, and on and on and on, that it was Smatresk’s first rodeo when it came to making this type of hire.

Also, when you consider how late serious issues came up with Moos, no one should be nominating Smatresk for any position where he needs to vet a candidate.

But I also believe Smatresk has a plan, that this isn’t the end of his goal to reshape UNLV athletics into something much better than it is, that he is thinking not only about today but beyond how long Livengood remains here and who he can entice to aid him in that pursuit.

Most of all, I believe Smatresk cares about UNLV athletics becoming great one day.

Perception: That UNLV just gave another outgoing AD a soft pillow in which to land.

My thinking: There is history here. Charlie Cavagnaro was on his way out at Memphis when he got here. Mike Hamrick was on his way out at East Carolina. Livengood was on his way out at Arizona.

It’s not some big secret with Livengood. He quickly needs to hire a competent head football coach who can deliver a respectable product and over time prove he didn’t take this job at age 64 to shake hands, see shows and retire.

“I’m excited,” Livengood said. “I’ll stay excited. There is no question about my work ethic. Let’s get it done.”

Perception: That this hire will be the most important in Smatresk’s career as UNLV president.

My thinking: Without question. If you believe anything in today’s economic climate of a non-BCS school that hasn’t had a winning football season in nine years, believe that the future of UNLV athletics could now rest squarely on one man’s shoulders.

John Livengood.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He also can be heard weeknights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on “The Sports Scribes” on KDWN-AM (720) and www.kdwn.com.

 

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