This is the first of a two-part series. Look for the second part in Thursday's News-Sentinel.
BLOOMINGTON — Fred Glass is impatient to restore the glory back in old IU. He understands that being Indiana's athletic director is not a popularity contest. He has fired people, cut costs and changed approaches. The sign framed behind his head offers a clue to his perspective — “Always forgive your enemies. They hate that.”
The 51-year-old Glass believes in fun. In some ways, he's still the IU student who went nuts during football and basketball games, but with way cooler seats. It's why he has a family photo of riding Disney World's Space Mountain along with wife Barbara (they met at a Hoosier football game) and children Katie, Joey, Connor and George.
“As I get older,” he says, “to have all six of us in one car was fun.”
Glass squints through the glass walls of his North End Zone Facility office toward a snow-covered Memorial Stadium field and a vision of Cream ‘n Crimson excellence.
“This is the last job I want to have. I don't want to go anywhere else or polish my credentials to go somewhere else. The bottom line is, and this is why I took the job, I want to be part of another golden age of Indiana University athletics.”
Sometimes it's about selling a good hotdog at football and basketball games, or creating a family- friendly atmosphere (see Memorial Stadium's Knothole Park) or installing a jaw-dropping scoreboard.
Mostly, though, it's about winning.
“We're acquiring and maintaining the kind of coaching talent to make that a reality,” Glass says. “We're on the launching pad of doing that.”
Glass is starting his third year as athletic director. He's coming off what likely will be the defining decision of his IU tenure when he fired head football coach Bill Lynch (after three straight 1-7 Big Ten records) and hired Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who had never been a college head coach before.
He's fully behind basketball coach Tom Crean, who is in his third season of rebuilding a program decimated by NCAA sanctions and player issues inherited from former coach Kelvin Sampson. The Hoosiers are struggling (26-54 under Crean), but still average 14,262, about 3,000 less than Assembly Hall's capacity. That's good for fourth in the Big Ten, behind Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State.
What's in store for IU? Glass recently discussed that with The News-Sentinel.
Q: How challenging was last year?
A: I've done two years now. I've loved every minute of it. The second year was better in a way since I'd been through one cycle. The first year felt like driving down the interstate full speed with my headlights off. I had no idea what was coming up. I didn't have the sense of the rhythm of the job, the rhythm of the seasons, the meetings, what the Big Ten did. Having more of an idea of what was coming was helpful.
There will be ups and downs with the competition, but overall … I think we're continuing to go in the right way.
Q: You made a change in football coaching. How difficult was that?
A: It was miserable. I have a high regard for Bill Lynch personally and professionally. I was hopeful and believed the program was going in the right way. I was hopeful we'd be in a position to have continuity with Bill. As the season wore on, I needed to start making contingency plans hoping for the best, but planning for the worst. The last two or three weeks were hard. That's all part of the job. You can't carve out the hard part and enjoy the easy part. I'm not … asking for sympathy. If you're going to do this job right, occasionally you're going to have to make tough decisions.
Q: When you make a big hire, as you did with Kevin Wilson, is there a lot of pressure to get it right?
A: Absolutely. Let's don't kid anybody. Nobody cares how well our field hockey team is doing or where we are in the Crimson Cup that much. I'll be judged, when all is said and done, generally on what happens with football and basketball. I understand that. It seems to me this hire will have a big impact on how my legacy is viewed as the athletic director here. Is that totally fair? Maybe not, because I think I'm doing a lot of other things that transcend football and basketball, but it's a reality and I get that. So I wanted to make sure I got it right.
It's very important to be good in football. It reflects dramatically on the university. A lot of people tie their identity with the university on how we do in football. Is that fair? It's not, but it's reality.
It's important for the department to raise the money through football that we need for our other programs. It's important to continue to tie alumni to the university. If people are excited about football, they come to games as students, they're more likely to come as young alums, more likely to be in the alumni association, more likely to give gateway gifts. The stakes are really high in football and I felt that pressure. I wanted to make sure I got it right.
Q: When you see how other schools have struggled with their football coaching hires (Pitt hired and then fired Mike Hayward, for example), how difficult is it to get the right guy?
A: You can do everything right and something falls through the cracks or comes out of left field. It's more art than science. What I tried to do was be as well-advised as possible. It's a strength that I understand that I don't know a lot about all this stuff. So when we're working on the marketing piece and how to deal with Learfield (Communications, which holds exclusive rights as IU's official radio outlet), I hired a professional to help me know how to analyze that.
When it got to picking a new football coach, I'd made big personnel decisions before, but I'd never made a decision on a football coach. Thankfully (Indianapolis Colts president) Bill Polian is a good friend. I spent three hours with him… He really helped me understand the nooks and the crannies, the ins and the outs, how he would do it if he were me.
He turned me on to this Chuck Neinas guy (a nationally renowned sports consultant) who turned out to be the salt of the earth. He gave great advice and unearthed Kevin Wilson. He also steered me away from some other people who might look good on paper, but Chuck is in the industry and he knew things that might disqualify them from Indiana, although maybe not from other places. He emphasized the importance of a good fit. I think I was well-advised in the process. I planned ahead so we were able to do something in eight days and weren't out there kind of flailing around like it is perceived on some other searches we're doing.
Q: Do you have a timetable for when you'd like to see football start winning?
A: I don't have a litmus test that so many wins will be considered a success. I think that's a fool's game. So many different things can happen. You've got to be able to evaluate any program in the context of what's going on. So the short answer is no. The longer answer is we've given him a seven-year contract (at $1.2 million a year) on purpose. We want to give continuity a try at Indiana. We haven't done that in a long time. Continuity can be a key to success here in football.
If you talk to Kevin he says he's a win-now guy. He's not telling these seniors it's a four-year program. He wants to win next year. That sounds good to me. We'll see how that works out.
Q: Where do you want to see the football program?
A: I think Iowa is a bit of a model. Iowa is competitive year in and year out. Fairly frequently they pop out to be in a BCS game or even go to the Rose Bowl and win Big Ten championships. That's where I'd like to be. I don't think we'll be a dominant team in football like an Ohio State or Penn State, but I think we can be like Iowa or Wisconsin where we are perennially a tough team to contend with and we contend for championships.
Q: Do you have the football resources to have that kind of success?
A: We do. I give credit to President (Michael) McRobbie. When I took this job, I said to him I need to know your commitment to excellence extends to athletics just like it extends to teaching and research. He said it did. He's put his money where his mouth is. For example, when we made the coaching change, I told him if we're going to get a credible, quality staff that's competitive in the Big Ten, we'll have to make an X amount of dollar increase. By renegotiating our Learfield deal we brought in about half that to the table (about $1 million). Through additional money through the Big Ten Network, which flows through the university, he's going to make the rest of that available, too.
The short answer is now we do have the resources. We've added a couple of million dollars to our annual operating budget. That's enabled us to hire a higher-quality coach, hire higher-quality assistants, and additional strength and conditioning coaches.
We do have those resources now. We haven't cannibalized parts of the department. There are new revenue streams, and I think they'll help us be competitive.
Q: What is a realistic football attendance figure for Indiana to achieve?
A: I think we ought to sell out — 52,929 every game. We sold out Michigan. I think our fans are responsive if we give them something to come and cheer about. I think we will sell it out. Frankly, we haven't given them a huge thing to cheer about on the field, although the teams have been competitive. We've been close.
We set a record (in 2009) on attendance since 1992, and we had that kind of attendance (41,833) on a team that went 4-8. Last year we increased it again (to 41,953) in a year when we didn't play Purdue or Ohio State at home on a team that was 5-7.
I think the environment that is being created with the (renovated) Memorial Stadium, the scoreboard, the William Tell Overture timeout, the $5 tickets for students … it's all coming together to create an environment where we're averaging 42,000. If we start being more competitive, I don't think it's unreasonable to sell out. All that money falls to the bottom line of the department. The additional investments we've made in football come from things independent of football. That's why it would be so huge for the department for football to be successful. Then I can take that money and spend it on – football and basketball, yes – but also swimming and diving, cross country, field hockey and so forth.
Q: Where do you see basketball? Where do you want it to get to?
A: We sit here 0-4 in the Big Ten on the day of the interview. That's not where anybody wants to be. In terms of having the right coach, we absolutely do. I love Tom Crean. He's doing all the things the right way. Lesser coaches would have let some of the knuckleheads around a little longer to make the fall not quite so precipitous. He did the right thing. He cleaned house. It was a house that needed to be cleaned. He's building it back up the right way. He's got quality kids. They're doing well academically. The record will catch up with that. Next year we'll be even more improved. I think it's going the right way. Hoosier Nation is sticking with us. With the records we've had, to still be killing it attendance-wise, is a great tribute to Indiana basketball and the people who have supported it through the years.
Q: When you see the kind of recruits Crean is getting, how optimistic does that make you?
A: I can't comment on any specific person, but the kids we're getting, the kids we're in the midst of getting, are high-quality kids. That demonstrates that Tom does have the program going in the right direction. He's attracted those kinds of kids. That gives everybody hope, including him and including me.
Q: Because of the basketball losing in recent years, and the slow Big Ten start this season, fans are becoming impatient. Is that a concern?
A: Generally, I think you should get impatient under the right circumstances. I have with a couple of our programs (football and men's soccer), but I certainly wouldn't apply that to basketball.
First of all, I like it that people care. I like it that it's life and death, and people are impatient. If they weren't impatient, then that would mean we didn't have the kind of expectations around here we ought to have.
I don't begrudge people for being impatient. This is my responsibility. I'm the steward of that program. It's easier for other people to forget how far down the program was. I know people (say), I want to quit hearing that. Well, you shouldn't want to quit hearing that because that was just a few years ago. We did the right thing. We're building it back up the right way and it takes a while.
I'm very patient with what Tom is doing. He's doing it the right way. There's a lot more progress than meets the eye. I think we're on the verge of a breakthrough and all this grumbling will be a thing of the past … well, it won't be a thing of the past because it will always be there. Even if you win the national championship, people sometimes have a frustration here or there. I'm glad that's the case. That's Indiana basketball.
Coach Wilson came from Oklahoma.
They had wild football success that we'd give our eye teeth to have, and they're going crazy and complaining about this and that. Basketball at Indiana is like football at Oklahoma. I'm glad people have high expectations.
Q: Will Indiana ever build a new basketball arena to replace Assembly Hall?
A: That's a back-burner issue. It's gotten the attention of the board of trustees from time to time. I think Cook Hall with all its bells and whistles and attractiveness to student athletes, buys us some time to not have to do anything with Assembly Hall.
Assembly Hall works fine. It's a great venue. It works economically. The main challenge … is that it's old. We just put $3 million in the roof, which stinks because nobody sees it. It's like status quo, but it cost $3 million. If the economy picks up and we start getting hotter than a firecracker, would we look at it? Yeah, maybe. It's not anything I'm burning up to do in the next 10 years here.