Jim Livengood wasn’t UNLV’s choice to fill its athletic director vacancy as of Wednesday afternoon, according to sources with knowledge of the hiring process, but by late that night things had changed.
On Thursday afternoon, Livengood stood in front of a gathering of about 200 athletic administrators, coaches, regents, boosters and media as UNLV’s 11th full-time AD.
School president Neal Smatresk’s first choice was former Oregon and Montana athletic director Bill Moos, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of confidentiality.
An agreement with Moos broke down over a noncompete clause in the $2 million, 10-year buyout that the 58-year-old signed when he left Oregon in 2006, sources said. One source said UNLV and Oregon could have split the final $1.4 million of the buyout if Smatresk had agreed to do so.
"First of all, there’s no offer, except to Jim," Smatresk said. "Secondly, I needed from every candidate to know that they were available to take this position free and clear. Two of the (three) candidates were able to take the position free and clear. One of them couldn’t."
The clause in Moos’ deal said he couldn’t work as an AD or in a similar position with a Bowl Championship Series school west of the Mississippi River.
That didn’t appear to be a problem with UNLV, which competes in the Mountain West Conference. But Oregon’s stance was that the Mountain West is technically part of the BCS because all 11 major conferences fall under that umbrella, even the five without automatic BCS bids.
Livengood said he wasn’t bothered by any perception that he wasn’t the top choice.
"I don’t know that to be true at all," he said.
Livengood, 64, leaves Arizona after 16 years as its athletic director. His contract there expires June 30, and Livengood acknowledged this week that it wouldn’t be extended.
He said he is motivated to succeed at UNLV.
"It’s the time, it’s the city, and it’s the university, there’s no question about that," said Livengood, the Division I-A Athletic Director of the Year in 1999 and 2006.
Terms of his UNLV deal have not been disclosed. The board of regents called a special meeting for 4 p.m. Wednesday to approve the contracts for Livengood and possibly the Rebels’ new football coach, if one is hired by then.
Livengood and Smatresk denied that KVBC-TV owner Jim Rogers, the former state university system chancellor and an Arizona alumnus, was the driving force behind this hire. Other sources agreed, saying Smatresk alone made the decision.
Rogers maintained that he didn’t influence the hiring process.
"I’d say that’s a bunch of foolishness," Rogers said. "I haven’t talked to anybody on the (search) committee. I didn’t know who was on the committee. I still don’t know. I had two conversations about it. I never did anything with anybody to downplay the abilities of the other two people because I’m not qualified to do that. It would be an insult to the committee, which was very thorough."
Rogers did speak glowingly of Livengood, whose resume is arguably stronger than any previous UNLV AD’s.
He has kept Arizona in the black financially throughout his tenure, even though its athletic department does not receive state funding. Arizona has won 10 national championships, including the 1997 title in men’s basketball, and finished in the top nine nationally six times in the all-sports rankings.
"If I had to pick an athletic director in this country as a mentor, I’d pick Jim," Smatresk said. "I think you’re going to look and see a lot of pretty exciting changes in the not-too-distant future."
Livengood immediately faces two major challenges at UNLV.
The most urgent is finding a football coach to replace Mike Sanford, who was fired late in the season.
Bobby Hauck and Dennis Franchione are thought to be the leading candidates. Hauck coaches Montana, which plays for the Football Championship Subdivision national title tonight. Franchione is known for producing success at downtrodden programs such as UNLV.
One possibility that probably can be ruled out is hiring Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, because Livengood said he considers head coaching experience a prerequisite for the Rebels job.
"In terms of where we are now, I think that is better served by someone who’s been in that seat," Livengood said. "This will sound offensive, but I don’t mean it like this, but probably not the right place right now to try and learn about the job.
"That doesn’t mean there aren’t great coordinators out there."
The other significant issue Livengood faces is fundraising.
UNLV had more than $1 million in reserve when former athletic director Mike Hamrick accepted the job as Marshall’s AD in July but is expected to be down to $600,000 or $700,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
Livengood knows turning around a $500,000 deficit in tough economic times won’t be easy, and he said a careful examination of revenues and expenses will define his financial strategy.
"It isn’t to be critical," Livengood said. "It’s just plain knowledge. Every school is different in the funding thing."
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914.