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The Story on Sterk
Written by EC Rules   
Saturday, 13 February 2010 11:47

It was odd driving to the Cougar football event last night knowing that Jim Sterk was going to be noticeably absent. The inevitable questions would lead to rumors and then finally answers. It was interesting to watch it unfold. What was even more telling was the reaction of those I talked to about it and how they were feeling. No one really felt the sadness like they did when Mike Price left or the anger they felt when Tony Bennett left or they joy they felt when Rick Dickson left. Most simply felt …..fine. Here's why.


Jim Sterk was an excellent AD for WSU for a decade. A man of integrity and balance. He never took wild risks and he always managed to keep the structure of the department steady and sound. He always represented WSU well. We could depend on him. We should all thank him for his service and wish him nothing but the best with his new employer. He's exiting WSU in better shape than he left it and he's doing so with his trademark integrity intact.

Nevertheless, it was also clear that his time was passing at WSU. Jim Sterk was perhaps smart enough to realize what needed to be done but not quite dynamic enough to see it all the way through. We told you back in December that Sterk's job was more tenuous than it had been at any point in his time at WSU. There are a few reasons for that.


1) The Martin Stadium Remodel. The uneven manner in which Phase III has rolled out over the course of the past 18 months has been less than stellar. There are certainly external circumstances (i.e. the economy) that have made the job difficult. Nevertheless, when the dust settled and the numbers were plain to see it was clear that WSU was 30% short of it's seat deposit goal and the project would be delayed at least a year. It's not totally fair but one of the central tenets of a modern day AD's job is to raise funds and Sterk has moved WSU miles from where we were in 2000 but the biggest hurdle he has remains unfinished at this point. It was not a situation in which Sterk was pushed out for this lack of movement. It was simply that it made him slightly more vulnerable and it would become even more so if Phase III isn't started by this time next year. 


2) Sterk's relationship with Elson Floyd. President Floyd is a man of action and no nonsense. He will always favor making a decision over waiting for all of the information and analysis to arrive. In some ways, this was at odds with Sterk's personality as he is more measured. Let's be clear, these two men had respect for each other and certainly there was no intention of pushing out Sterk at this point. It's just that the personalities never really meshed either and that would sometimes lead to tension. Again, not a deal breaker by any means but Sterk did not enjoy the unquestioned and unequivocal backing in all instances like he had the benefit of in past years. This was not a problem today but there was certainly no guarantee it would stay that way tomorrow.


3) The football factor. If fund raising is 50% of your job as a modern day AD then 40% is assuring football success if you are at a BCS school. If you did just those two things with extreme effectiveness you would have a job as long as you wanted one. Jim Sterk has been at the top of the mountain in that respect and is currently in the deepest valley WSU has seen. In many ways, he's responsible for both. There remains plenty of belief in Paul Wulff's program but again this is an instance where things could dramatically change this time next year if we are coming off of another 1-2 win season. Another factor where the blame isn't pinned on Sterk and the story isn't totally written but the perception of Sterk as a sitting AD could have been significantly different a year from now if the football program floundered for a third straight season.


4) The Bill Moos Effect. Here's something that not many people know but is easy to understand. Jim Sterk was not a real huge proponent of hiring Bill Moos. In fact, he did try to claim that there was no money in the budget to support the hire. Elson Floyd made that objection go away. There is significant lack of clarity around what Bill Moos is going to do in the department. In fact, he hasn't actually signed his employment contract yet because he's been dealing with some illness with his parents. There is a prevailing belief that he would just focus on big money donors and securing more regular donation from them. Nevertheless, how comfortable would you be if your company hired in a person that held your job at another university, was perceived as successful there, didn't have a clearly defined job role and had a growing level of support External linkamong factions to replace you? Again, it wasn't a situation in which Sterk was going to be pushed out today but there was significant risk about tomorrow.


Add these four factors and the fact that Jim Sterk is still a very desirable AD candidate and you can see why this move made a TON of sense. Grippi is saying External linkthat an extension was offered to Sterk when the SDSU job came open. That does surprise me a little bit but not to a great degree. It's a critical time at WSU right now with the need to have a voice in expansion talks while also continuing to secure Phase III funding while also making (possibly) a tough decision on the football program in a year. I can see why they opted to ask Sterk to stay around even if he wasn't the bulletproof guy internally that he was a couple of years ago.

Regardless, the temperature on the group of donors and players at WSU I've spoken with is clearly one of guarded optimism. There is a general feeling that 10 years is a long time for any CEO and it's probably time for a different voice in the Athletic Department and a person with a different skill set that will further modernize our fundraising pipeline. Personally, I wish Sterk nothing but the best but I really believe this departure is smart for both parties. There is still significant inefficiency in the Athletic Department org structure and a new perspective will help to make us more competitive in a time of extraordinary change. 

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